A glorious and inclusive past

Cobbs Creek was considered America’s finest public golf course when it was built in 1916, said Chris Maguire, president of the Cobbs Creek Foundation.

The course was also unique for its inclusiveness. It welcomed people of all races, ethnicities and genders at a time when most golf clubs only allowed white men.

The course was home to Charlie Sifford, the first African American to win a PGA Tour event.

Senator Hughes met Sifford, who died in 2015, through a scholarship fund he helped create in honor of his father, who was also a golfer and president of a golf course in New York. Jersey.

“Mr. Sifford, on his face he was gruff and a little unpleasant. But once you dug a little deeper he was just a big teddy bear – with that cigar he was constantly smoking He was just a wonderful guy,” Hughes said. “And he talked, quite often, about the hell he had to go through to become a professional golfer.”

World heavyweight champion boxer Joe Louis, who became the first black golfer to compete in a PGA Tour event, also reportedly played at Cobbs Creek.

The course hosted the 1928 United States Public Links Championship, two “Daily News Opens” on the PGA Tour, as well as the United Golfers Association (UGA) Championship, which held tournaments for black golfers similar to those of the PGA during segregation, Parks Department spokeswoman Maita Soukup said in a news release. The course was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame last year.

“All the black golfers in that area — in Philadelphia, in Jersey, in Delaware, in Maryland, in New York — they would all come to Cobbs Creek,” Hughes said. “It’s the place that welcomed them and made it easy for them. They did not have to look over their shoulders, and we must recognize this place of great historical value.

The historic golf course sits near another of Philadelphia’s recreational sites – Laura Sims Skate House at Cobbs Creek Park, America’s first skating rink designed by an African-American architect for a predominantly black community.

A “stranded asset”

A lack of city funding for maintenance, coupled with chronic flooding and erosion, has made the course virtually unplayable, said Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.

The city has just signed a lease to redevelop the Cobbs Creek golf course, which has fallen into disuse. (Emma Lee/WHY)

“We saw the golf course as really, essentially a locked asset,” she said. “It’s something we haven’t been able to invest in and have desperately needed for decades.”

The dealer who ran the course for about a decade has been unable to generate the revenue needed to maintain the course, Ott Lovell said, a problem compounded by the fact that much of the course is “under- navy” most of the time.

“Plumbing issues, hydrology issues, environmental issues like weeds and invasive plants, capital issues – the building,” she said, referring to the historic clubhouse that burned down.

Hughes last golfed at Cobbs Creek about 10 years ago.

“The price was in serious decline,” he said.

The course has even become a nuisance to surrounding communities, Jones said.

“As the golf course deteriorated, people began to complain more about fairways that allowed golf balls to enter rear windows, car windows and damaged property,” Jones said. “The landscape has deteriorated due to erosion. … He was plagued by people sleeping in the park.

When the course closed in 2020, Jones said, nearby residents felt mixed emotions — for some nostalgia, for others relief.

The city has just signed a lease to redevelop the Cobbs Creek golf course, which has fallen into disuse. (Emma Lee/WHY)