As one Philadelphia course falls, another prepares for a major lift

Area golfers could gain in the wake of the loss of a mediocre course.
Cobb's Creek Golf Course has world-class potential among municipal layouts.

It's usually hard to find silver linings to the closure of a golf course - especially one that dates some 80 years - but in Philadelphia, one course's end looks like it will be followed by another course's rebirth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Golf Course, located in a park of the same name, will close later this week. In truth, the 6,000-yard par-69 layout has barely hung on for the last several years, with its mediocre layout and poor siting finally catching up to it. Philadelphia's Parks and Recreation Department cited "frequent flooding and unprofitable operations" as main motivators for the closure.

In the end, FDR was just not right as a golf course, even though it operated for the better part of a century. The low-lying corridors were often more quagmire than fairway, and the doomed course has one of the lowest ratings of any on Golf Advisor: a woeful 1.8 out of 5. ''I had low expectations going into the round," wrote recent reviewer JDNJTX, "and the course failed to meet even a low bar."

Another review from this spring by user Zebra16 said, "Every year when I think the course conditions can not get any worse, I am proven wrong."

Luckily, the city is not simply going to let the husk of FDR Golf Course turn into an eyesore in an otherwise happening part of town; it is near Philly's three major sports stadiums, the redeveloping Navy Yard district and the meetings of the Schuykill and Delaware Rivers, as well as Philadelphia International Airport. A Master Plan calls for major upgrades to the golf course land and surrounding park as useful green space for South Philadelphians and visitors. Near-term steps include fixing existing park roads, as well as turning over 40 acres of the park into wetlands. Other components of the $200 million plan include the construction of several new athletic fields, storm water redirection and the establishment of several park employee positions.

Golf might still be part of the future of FDR Park. The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia has had a 4,000-square-foot facility at the course, and the juniors who benefit from the program are about to lose a main place to play. The Parks & Recreation department's page about the park renovation says they are "working with First Tee of Greater Philadelphia to find an appropriate way for it to continue its youth golf programs at FDR Park" and that "[t]he Master Plan also includes an option for a public golf driving range." Whether the city adopts that option remains to be seen.

Addition by subtraction?

Meanwhile, a couple miles northwest, a committed group of advocates is making progress in their years-long crusade to see Philadelphia's most historic muni reborn.

Cobb's Creek Golf Course has one of the more storied histories of any city course. A municipal facility from inception in 1916, its layout was crafted by Hugh Wilson, who is credited as the main architect of Merion Golf Club's famed East Course; and William Flynn, whose work at Shinnecock Hills in New York and several famous Philadelphia-area courses makes him one of the greatest American course architects.

A map of Gil Hanse & Jim Wagner's proposed restoration/renovation plan for Cobb's Creek

Decades of benign neglect have Cobb's Creek in only somewhat better shape than FDR - its Golf Advisor rating is a paltry 2.5 at present - but there is no denying the quality of its bones. The routing runs along the eponymous body of water on the front nine before turning uphill onto some of the city's best terrain. Area golf historians Mike Cirba and Dr. Joe Bausch have played and advocated for the course potential for years, and their Friends of Cobb's Creek organization has morphed into the Cobb's Creek Restoration & Community Foundation. Led by Chris Lange, Chris Maguire, and John Burnes, the group seeks not only to see the course restored to its proper glory by Philadelphia-area native Gil Hanse, but also to use the facility to enhance the education of area youth through various programs.

In July, the formation of the new organization coincided with the announcement that it had signed a long-term lease with the City of Philadelphia for the purpose of undertaking the proposed course renovation. If current fundraising targets through 2019 and 2020 are met, the course will, according to Cirba, "undergo construction and seeding during 2021 with a planned reopening during the May or June 2022 time frame."

The $20 million project is ambitious, but if it succeeds, it will raise the profile of Philadelphia community golf considerably. And if the more holistic efforts at FDR come off, it will mean more to admire outdoors in the City of Brotherly Love.

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Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
14 Comments
Commented on

Hi Tim,

Any updates on the Cobbs Creek GC renovation in Philly? Since the Non-profit" received the property along with Karakung GC from the city on a long term lease(gift), the non-profit has gone silent.
Mike

Commented on

To all naysayers : Be patient and have faith.

With the people involved this is a can't miss project !

I've played and enjoyed the " Crick " for 50 years and will be happy to say " I told you so " to all the people who don't believe it can happen. . JCR 4/24/20

Commented on

Promises, promises. We've been listening to this for years now and the only thing the rich guys have managed to do is accelerate the deterioration of both Cobbs and Karakung, where a few of us have played for 50+ years. Meanwhile they all play at Merion and Philly Cricket, etc. Surprise.

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Commented on

Shawnee State Golf Course In West Portsmouth, Ohio is run by the State of Ohio. At one time the course was in excellent shape and well cared for. Hosted several tournaments in its prime. It is just now starting to turn into a great course with the trees on the front 9 starting to get mature and a majestic view of the Ohio River with the approach on #5. It is scheduled to shut down in a few days. They had interested buyers but backed out on the deal. The other party made a good offer but the State of Ohio walked away and so did the interested buyers. The State of Ohio is not saying what they are planning to do with the course but say it won’t be open for golf. Sad day for Southern Ohio golfers. There is only one other local course and it is packed.

Commented on

I know Mike Cirba and his passion for golf. This is a massive undertaking but I agree that the old course at Cobbs Creek has great potential. There are a lot of good golf holes there and with Gil Hanse involved this can only be a good thing for public golfers and the city of Philadelphia. San Francisco renovated and revived Harding Park, why can't this project succeed here?

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Commented on

Another insightful article, Tim -- thanks.

As a fan of public golf, I'm watching the 'changing landscape' as you and your fellows at Golf Advisor monitor and report on the tug or war between developers who are hungry for urban land, and golfers who value older, often classic public links courses.

I know I can count on Golf Advisor to continue timely and quality reports like this. I just recommended your site to my golfing nephew.

Jim

Staff
Commented on

Very kind of you to say, Jim! We're all big believers in the power of local golf course to support the game at large, and look forward to uncovering more in 2020!

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Commented on

Garbage...keep that dump open and funnel all the women, juniors and old farts over there, keeping them out of my way.

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Commented on

Those people you want kicked off of “your” course are the paying customers that keep rates affordable. If you want the course to yourself, pay for it.

Commented on

Someone who is appreciative of the game would not comment as you did.

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Commented on

What I appreciate is not being bothered while I crank country music in my cart while we light up the blunt in between shots...

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Commented on

I don’t like country music

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Commented on

But the weed in the blunt is ok, right?

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Commented on

Yea, we'd hate for you to have to wait while you're trying hard to break 100 for the first time.

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As one Philadelphia course falls, another prepares for a major lift