PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia today announced a multi-year lease agreement with the Cobbs Creek Foundation to restore and revitalize the Cobbs Creek Golf Course and create a brand-new education and community center on the site of this historic course. The Cobbs Creek Foundation (The Foundation) will invest at least $65 million to restore the historic course and surrounding areas into a high quality public space for all Philadelphians, with construction scheduled to begin Spring 2022. When completed, the course will generate sustainable tax revenue for Philadelphia through the creation of more than 150 jobs – including more than 120 jobs to support the golf course and 16 at the community and education center.
The revitalization of the Cobbs Creek Golf Course will breathe new life into the 105-year-old course, following years of erosion and flooding from the creek that washed away large sections of the greens and fairways, making the course essentially unplayable. In addition, a 2016 a fire destroyed the golf course’s historic clubhouse.
One of the finest public golf courses in America when it opened in 1916, the Cobbs Creek Golf Course welcomed players of all ethnicities decades before other courses and the PGA allowed non-whites to play. The newly unveiled plans celebrate the golf course’s long-standing history of accessibility and inclusion for all Philadelphians.
“For more than a hundred years, Cobbs Creek Golf Course served as a public course welcoming players of all backgrounds, ethnicities and skill levels,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “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. The plan for the Cobbs Creek golf course celebrates our city’s identity, embraces a history of inclusion and brings forth a shared message of unity within our city that we can all rally around.”
Facing significant capital needs and course safety concerns, in 2020 the Cobbs Course Golf Course closed. Today the course is poised to make a triumphant return, promising to put Cobbs Creek Golf Course back on the map as one of our country’s most beautiful and inclusive public golf courses.
“We are very proud to partner with the city of Philadelphia in the restoration of this historic landmark,” said Chris Maguire, chairman of the Cobbs Creek Foundation. “We are fortunate to have a national treasure in our backyard and our mission is to utilize this resource for the direct benefit of the youth of the surrounding community.”
The project will improve the course by rehabilitating the severe erosion along Cobbs Creek and its tributaries, helping to ease area flooding and create a more resilient ecosystem. The plan calls for the revitalization of more than three miles of Cobbs Creek and related tributaries, as well as the restoration of natural habitats that could create up to 37 acres of wetlands. Improved roadway and pedestrian enhancements will ensure the community has safe access to the site.
Additionally, a new Cobbs Creek education and community engagement center, driving range, short course and restaurant on the Cobbs Creek campus are also planned, with an expected completion in 2023.
Finally, a 9-hole course, short course and an 18-hole championship course capable of hosting PGA Tour events, designed by the renowned golf course design team of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, will open to the public in 2024. Currently, Philadelphia is the largest U.S. city without a stop on the PGA Tour.
“The comprehensive restoration of Cobbs Creek’s Golf Course will have a lasting impact on the Overbrook Park community. The project will create jobs, educational opportunities, and will be an anchor for the neighborhood, West Philadelphia and the region,” said District 4 Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr.
Education and programming
Along with the physical restoration of the course and expanding the campus, the Cobbs Creek Foundation will establish robust programming for the Cobbs Creek community, designed to grow visitation, drive revenue, and raise awareness of the course’s significant role in America’s golfing history.
The Cobbs Creek Foundation will expand community partnerships at the site, collaborating with local schools to provide youth programs that build students’ life and career skills through the prism of playing golf. Foundation educators have begun to engage residents with the goal of creating an educational model that is created by the community and for the community. In early 2022, the Foundation will begin offering new community-driven education programs and support services to families in partnership with neighboring schools.
“The investments that Cobbs Creek Foundation is making will forever change Overbrook Park,” said State Representative Morgan Cephas. “I’m grateful that the Foundation has found a way to expose minority youth to non-traditional sports and activities and that they are committed to working with their neighbors and being true community partners in their efforts.”
The Cobbs Creek Foundation’s revitalization plan calls for a minimum investment of $65 million to restore and develop the golf course, as well as the education and community center, and includes up to $15 million to restore Cobbs Creek itself. Restoration efforts will support more than 750 jobs and provide more than $56 million in total employment compensation. When fully operational, the campus is expected to create 150 jobs, providing staff with compensation totaling more than $6.5 million annually, and generating more than $350,000 in tax revenue for the local economy.
History of the Cobbs Creek Golf Course
Designed by legendary local architect Hugh Wilson, who created Merion Golf Club, with the help of other notable architects of the early 20th century, Cobbs Creek quickly established a reputation as the best public course in the country when it opened in 1916. In a time when most golf clubs only allowed white men, Cobbs Creek welcomed all races as well as women. Along with hosting the 1928 United States Public Links championship, two “Daily News Opens” on the PGA tour, the course hosted the United Golfers Association (UGA) Championship four times, an organization for Black golfers that paralleled the all-white PGA. Charlie Sifford, the first African American to win a PGA tour event, called Cobbs Creek Golf Course his home. Cobbs Creek was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 2021, one of only seven courses to ever receive the honor, due in large part to its history of inclusion.
“Cobbs Creek is legendary because Cobbs Creek opened itself up to golfers like Charlie Sifford, the first African American golfer to be admitted to the PGA tour,” said State Senator Vincent Hughes. “For 14 years, Mr. Sifford, who I spent time with when we honored him as an African American Legend of Golf, battled to integrate the PGA Tour. Without places like Cobbs Creek, pioneers like Mr. Sifford may never have had the opportunity to break down barriers and make the sport fully accessible. The revitalization of Cobbs Creek invests in and honors a place that welcomed Mr. Sifford and other golfers of color. Additionally, Cobbs Creek’s new innovative programing will introduce a new generation of black and brown children to both the sport, and the business of golf. And that is certainly an investment worth making.”
The Cobbs Creek course faced setbacks that nearly cost Philadelphia a crucial element of its cultural heritage. During the early years of the Cold War, the U.S. military annexed 15% of the property for use as an anti-aircraft battery. The resulting loss of acreage created a need to significantly re-route the golf course, damaging some of the course’s most renowned and dramatic holes.
“The revitalization of Cobbs Creek isn’t just preserving Philadelphia’s past, it’s an investment in our city’s future,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “With the renewal of this beloved pillar of our community we can provide educational opportunities for students, generate revenue for the city and increase tourism, all while cultivating community togetherness and protecting our green spaces for our children and grandchildren for decades to come.”
To learn more about the Cobbs Creek Golf Course, including the education and community engagement center, please visit https://cobbscreek.org/.
About Cobbs Creek Foundation
Cobbs Creek Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 2018 whose mission is to create an economically sustainable golf and educational campus which provides opportunity for the diverse youth of Philadelphia. In addition to building and improving the physical assets, the Foundation is focused on partnering with local schools and engaging continually with the community to ensure the most beneficial outcomes.
About Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR)
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) advances the prosperity of the city and the progress of its people through stewardship of nearly 10,200 acres of public land and waterways, and management of 500 recreation buildings, 166 miles of trail, and 250 playgrounds. PPR offers safe, enjoyable recreation, environmental and cultural programs and events throughout Philadelphia’s parks and recreation system. PPR promotes the well-being and growth of the city’s residents by connecting them to the natural world, to each other and to fun, physical and social opportunities. In 2017, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, set about implementing the park system’s first strategic plan: Our Path to 2020 and Beyond. As a result, PPR is undertaking a period of historic change, setting the department on a course to become a modern, equitable and exceptional parks and recreation system. Visit us at www.phila.gov/parksandrec, and follow @philaparkandrec on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.