Closed the last several years because of fire and flooding, the 105-year-old Cobbs Creek Golf Course will get a $65 million restoration complete with a new community and education center, Philadelphia officials announced Wednesday.
The money was raised by the nonprofit Cobbs Creek Foundation to not only restore the main clubhouse but to create new “high-quality public space for all Philadelphians.” Construction is expected to begin this spring.
Officials say the course, when complete, will generate tax revenue for the city through creation of more than 150 jobs. Of those, 120 jobs will support the golf course, and 16 will support the community and education center.
The public course was closed in 2020 due to insufficient money to address structural and safety concerns. A fire in 2016 destroyed the clubhouse. But years of flooding from Cobbs Creek, followed by erosion, washed-away sections of the greens and fairways, made the course unplayable.
The 18-hole course was notable for its inclusiveness when it opened in 1916 and welcomed players of all ethnicities decades before other courses and the PGA allowed people of color to play, officials said.
“For more than a hundred years, Cobbs Creek Golf Course served as a public course welcoming players of all backgrounds, ethnicities and skill levels,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “We are partnering with the Cobbs Creek Foundation to invest in this local treasure, and make sure that Cobbs Creek maintains its place on the map of America’s first, best, and most welcoming public golf courses.”
Chris Maguire, chairman of the Cobbs Creek Foundation, called the course “a national treasure in our backyard” that provides a resource for local youth and residents.
Plans call for the education and community engagement center, driving range, 9-hole short course, and restaurant to be complete by 2023.
An 18-hole “championship course capable of hosting PGA Tour events” and designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner is expected to open by 2024.
Officials noted that Philadelphia is the largest U.S. city without a stop on the PGA Tour.
Plans include a $15 million restoration of three miles of Cobbs Creek and tributaries, as well as natural habitats that could create up to 37 acres of wetlands. Eroded areas on the course along the creek will also be rehabilitated to ease flooding.
“The comprehensive restoration of Cobbs Creek’s Golf Course will have a lasting impact on the Overbrook Park community,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr., whose district includes the golf course. “The project will create jobs, educational opportunities, and will be an anchor for the neighborhood, West Philadelphia, and the region.”
The Cobbs Creek Foundation said it “will establish robust programming for the Cobbs Creek community” aimed at increasing visitors and driving revenue, while raising awareness of the course’s history. The foundation plans to expand community partnerships and collaborate with schools.
Cobbs Creek Golf Course was originally designed by Hugh Wilson, who also created Merion Golf Club. Officials say it was the best public course in the country when it opened at a time when most clubs allowed only white men to play. But Cobbs Creek admitted people of any race, as well as women.
It hosted the 1928 United States Public Links championship and two Philadelphia Daily News Opens on the PGA tour. It also hosted the United Golfers Association (UGA) Championship four times, an organization for Black golfers similar to the all-white PGA. Charlie Sifford, the first African American to win a PGA tour event, used Cobbs Creek Golf Course as his home base.
Cobbs Creek was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 2021, one of only seven courses to ever receive the honor.
“The revitalization of Cobbs Creek isn’t just preserving Philadelphia’s past, it’s an investment in our city’s future,” said Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell.