Cobbs Creek Golf Club

Despite flaws, still a gem of a course

It's probably fair to say that more golfers have played enjoyable rounds at Cobbs Creek Golf Club over its 81-year history than at any other course in the Philadelphia area.

At a glance
Getting There: Cobbs Creek is at 72d Street and Lansdowne Avenue. Call 215-877-8707.

Greens Fees: Weekends and holidays, $35 to walk, $50 to ride; Weekdays $29 to walk, $44 to ride.

Carts: Walking permitted any time.

Spikes: Metal permitted.

Amenities: Well-stocked pro shop, snack bar, driving range, putting green. Outings welcome.

Rating: Crown jewel of city courses, needs tender loving care.

Information accurate as of 8/15/2002

It's also fair to say that at one time or another over the years, many of those same golfers have found themselves fuming, seething and wondering why they went to Cobbs in the first place. This is because the crown jewel of the six city-owned municipal courses can get more crowded than a Tokyo subway car. Because some golfers can't fathom having to hammer a tee into bare ground or fix crater-size ball marks left by previous groups.

Because of fairways burning out in hot weather for lack of a sprinkler system, and the choking waves of dust left by carts with no cart paths to follow.

Because of neighborhood kids who wander the course with impunity, sometimes acting as if the paying customers are the intruders.

We could go on.

It's all part of the catch-22 and, yes, even the charm, of Cobbs Creek.

The thing is, what makes the course such a valuable asset to the city -- its affordability, convenient location, classic layout, open arms to any and all golfers -- also is precisely what can make a round there so maddening.

At Cobbs Creek, it's not uncommon to be transfixed by the grandeur of No. 12, the awesome 638-yard par-5 hole designed by Hugh Wilson, who also laid out world-famous Merion East.

Yet it's also not unusual to find yourself searching for a blade of grass on the tee, all the while wondering if that guy in the middle of the fairway teaching his girlfriend how to play will ever notice you. Will he ever think to let you play through? Does he even know to let you play through?

"It's all part of Tigermania," assistant pro Michael Kummer said last week.

"People see Tiger, and they just want to get out on the course. It's great for us, but at the same time, people come out without knowing the rules or etiquette of the game. When somebody walks up to the counter, there's just no way to know whether they know to fix ball marks."

Tigermania? Certainly, Tiger Woods' phenomenal rise may have contributed to, even exacerbated, the situation at Cobbs Creek. But anyone who has played there over the years can testify that it has been this way at least since Tiger was in diapers.

And that's a shame. Cobbs Creek is like a grand old mansion gone to seed. Underneath it all, it's a wonderful layout. And, truth be told, the course is probably in as good a condition as it has been in years -- during a round last week, only the first green and several tees were in bad shape.

But it could be so much more. With a healthy dose of tender loving care -- or, more accurately, cash -- Cobbs Creek could be a showpiece.

None of this is necessarily blaming the people who run the place -- Golf Corp. of Dallas, which has a long-term management contract with the city. Golf Corp. is caught between a need for cash to improve the place and a city that wants to keep greens fees as affordable as possible.

The result, of course, is that Cobbs Creek, like that grand old mansion, gets the occasional metaphorical coat of paint but none of the badly needed structural improvements.

Will things ever change? Probably not.

Fact is, unless they reduce the number of rounds played and increase the greens fees, there are no simple ways to transform Cobbs Creek into the course it could be. And so it remains what it is: a crown jewel without most of its luster.

* * *

As aggravating as that can be, if you play the course when it's not too crowded, Cobbs can provide a pleasant round of golf. There are, after all, several terrific holes.

Is there, for instance, a better par 4 in the area than No. 3, with its 493 yards of treachery in the form of a creek that runs right up the middle of the fairway? From the tee, do you play it safe and take it left of the creek, or do you chance it to the right for the short iron into the green?

No. 8, though only 311 yards, is another terrific par 4 -- uphill, fairway mounds and a hungry bunker guarding a small, flat green. Or how about the 447-yard 10th, with its sloping fairway and tricky second shot into a green with bunkers left and back?

The 12th, at 638 yards, is perhaps the longest par 5 in the area. Even from the elevated tee, nobody, with the possible exception of Tiger, is going to reach this green in two. Still, perhaps the most fiendish hole on the course is the 486-yard 13th, an uphill beast with a sloping fairway that kicks most any tee shot far to the right. Problem is, for a decent shot at the green, you're advised to drive up the left side. Even then, the green is hard to hit. It's a wonderful golf hole.

As it lies, Cobbs is a treasure. Maybe, just maybe, it will someday become even grander.

Originally published August 24, 1997