Philly Muni – Cobbs Creek (Olde)

Cobbs Creek (Olde):  6,207 yards, slope 127 from Blues.

Course:   Really has the potential to be an interesting course. My understanding is that the Olde course hosted a major way back when and used to be considered one of the better municipal courses in the country.  You can see the bones of some holes and shots that are fun to play.  On Hole 2, the approach to an elevated green with bunkers on the right and carrying a gorge and the clubhouse in the foreground is up there.  Same with the approach on 3 over a creek surrounding the green on 3 sides.  The tee shot on 5 makes you decide between two fairways, on one of each side of said creek that runs through the middle of the hole.  11 through 15 are long and hilly and 17 and 18 have great elevated tee shots.  Oh how I wish this course would get its act together.  They hold some interesting tournaments, such as the Irish Open (an early season tradition) and the Superintendent’s Revenge.  I like the events, but it’s the course that is a negative red bird.

I’m not alone on this one either.  Geoff Shackleford, writer of many golf design books, contributing writer for Golf World and Contributing Editor to Golf Digest, lists Cobbs Creek on courses, “If I had control of the USGA’s Millions, the Public Courses I’d invest in for a Design and Maintenance Restoration Designed to spread the gospel of Golf.”  This is truly a piece of history in serious need of restoration, obviously a well known fact in the general global golf community.

Gripes:  After most of the course dwindled next to nothing many years ago, feeble attempts were made to at least get some players in the door. Then Billy Casper Management took over management and it seemed like Philadelphia would actually have a respectable muni once again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look promising. Almost nothing has changed. There are more workers in the club house, but I have no idea what they do since it still took a few minutes for someone to man the grill area. They certainly are not part of the groundskeeping crew, as the course is in very bad shape. Many holes have a very small fairway up to a green, but these fairways are tiny and narrow. Maybe you could argue that part of the challenge is trying to keep your ball on a smaller fairway; that would be fine except there is no concept of a rough here. Rough, or off fairway, is or should be more than just overgrown weeds, dirt mixed with gravel, and/or crabgrass. Rough still needs to be maintained or created to some extent, but here, it is completely ignored. Most of the holes are played on sidehills, so you need your tee shot to actually start off fairway and roll on. You can’t do that here since the rough is non existent. So really, there are some holes you cannot hit the fairway with any type of tee shot. I would say that this makes the course unplayable. The bunkers vary from puddles of mud to some that are ok. The tee boxes are the worst I’ve ever seen. There is no grass on most of them, just bare dirt. The greens are average, I mean, they are not dirt and have some grass on them, and are very slow. I didn’t really an issue with them though.

Generally, this course is not worth playing for the amount they charge. That is disappointing for me personally, but I’d rather make the trip to further away courses for a better experience and the same green fees. My main complaint is that something must be done about all of the off-fairway areas. There really is no excuse to completely ignore these areas. Any course where recovery shots and scrambling can’t be considered is unplayable. A lot more grass and fescue needs to be installed to cure this. I only hope that Casper figures this out and takes care of it. With the fees they charge, I have no idea what they’re doing with the money they’re currently making.

Bar/grill:  It’s a room with a tv.  Or you can sit outside. 

Clubhouse:  Barely adequate.

Nearby:  That’s a big fat no.  Not the best area, so stay at the course.  The beer is cheap-ish.

Getting there:  Off Route 1 and Haverford Ave. in West Philly.


March 2012

Played the Irish Open recently, which is an annual scramble the course hosts near St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s a fun time and so early in the season that it’s a good no pressure way to work off all that Winter rust.  It’s also within a very small window in which the course conditions are in good shape.  There’s grass on the tees, the greens are green and the bunkers are well packed.  Usually once Summer rolls around the fairways and everything else dry up and things go downhill quickly, per my initial review.

This is one of my first course reviews and reading it now, I don’t think I emphasized how much I like the lay out of the course.  I didn’t realize it at the time of the first review, but the course is designed by Hugh Wilson, the same guy who designed Merion East, a perennial top 10 course in the world.  So you have someone of that caliber designing a course all of us can actually play almost within shouting distance of Merion?  If the local municipalities could figure out a way to restore J-Ville, then it can be done with the Olde course as well.  Billy Casper Management is still in charge, so we can only hope that they figure it out one of these days and start putting real money into getting this course back into great condition as its lay out deserves.  I would certainly be willing to pay a healthy greens fee if that actually happened.

This time out, things actually look a little promising.  The greens rolls true and fast, the bunkers had the same natural rough outline and edges to that of Merion, sand was soft and the conditions were good.  The only issue I had were some of the trees obviously needed to be trimmed, especially on the Fifth, where the  limbs made it impossible to tee off to the right fairway, thereby completely eliminating one option in playing the hole.  Otherwise, conditions were good.

The split fairway at the Fifth.  The limbs at the top right of the photo make it impossible to play your ball up the right fairway.  
From the tee box at the Fifth

In fact, I would also say that the course was downright difficult.  There were some tricky pin placements, but the greens had to be off the stimp charts.  I could really notice the undulations and sloping of the greens, no more so than on the Seventeenth, which sloped from the back to front with the pin in the back. Every ball I saw that was even simply tapped directly fell to the bottom of the green.

Seventeenth par 3 from the tee box

The rough, which dries up to dirt and patches of crab grass during the Summer and renders most of the course unplayable, was ample enough to do its job of keeping balls in or being used in approaches to the green, such as the green on Number 9.  You had to use the rough to the right of the green for the ball to fall towards the pin. Otherwise, sticking the green was almost impossible due to the fast greens.  It did its job in that respect.

Bottom line, I liked playing the course this time.  The conditions were good, but could get so much better.  Unfortunately, I suspect that this is as good as it will get for now.  I’ve had this sense of optimism for this course after prior Irish Opens, only to come back in June or July and be massively disappointed.  I’ll come back again this season, hoping that things are different and the “Olde” is getting the course maintenance its design deserves.  I can only hope that one of these times it actually happens.

My initial review didn’t describe many of the holes, so I’ll go through them here.  The First is a par 4 and your first run in with the creek, which is about where your drive will end up.  You then have to carry the creek, the hole dog legs right to a green with a bunker left and another right.  The Second is another par 4 where you have to re-carry the creek to a raised green with the clubhouse in the background.  I think this approach is a little tougher than it looks, but I like it.

The Second

Approach to the Second

The Third is another par 4.  The tee shot is to a fairway that descends to the creek.  You have to carry the creek to a peninsula green.  The Fourth is the first par 3, where you must, broken record, carry the creek to a generous sized green.  The tee box is set to an angle of the green, which makes it a little tougher.  The Fifth is a great hole, as it’s a par 4 with the creek splitting the fairway almost down the middle (pictured above).  You have to go up one of two fairways, then stick the green.  The Sixth is a short par 3, where you must carry the creek to a larger green.  The Seventh is a par 5.  The fairway slopes from right to left, but is plenty wide and the green is raised, undulating, and protected by rocks and bunkers in front.  The creek is no where in sight (some how).  The Eighth is the second par 3 about 170 yards with the green set on a side hill sloping from right to left and a large bunker on the left side of the green.  The Ninth is a par 4 that goes straight up hill to a green that slopes severely from right to left.  Definitely one of the tougher approach shots on the course here.

The Tenth is a par 4 that also goes up hill.  The tee shot is blind and the green is surrounded by a moat type bunker, similar to what you’d find at a lot of Seth Raynor designed courses.

Approach shot at the Tenth.  Very lengthy bunker protects the green in front and back.

The Eleventh starts off the real tough part of the course.  It’s a  longer par 4 that is tree lined on the left and right to a large undulating green.  The Twelfth is the toughest hole on the course.  It’s a par 5 that dog legs left.  Trees are on the right and the fairway severely drops off to the left.  The approach is tough, as it seems like your ball is sucked into the drop off point over on the left.  And the green is protected by deep narrow bunkers.

Fairway of the Twelfth

Fairway of the Twelfth

Green at the Twelfth.  Notice the narrow bunkers and how easy it is for balls to roll off green into them.

The drop off on the left side of the Twelfth.  This photo really doesn’t show how steep a drop off it is.  The tee shot for the Thirteenth is set back in those trees.

The Thirteenth is a par 4 with a tee shot over a mini valley to a green requiring a mild approach.  This hole gives you a break before taking on 14 and 15.  The Fourteenth is a par 5 with an elevated tee shot.  The fairway is tree lined on both sides and has a ridge running through the middle at one point.  The green is large, but slopes all over the place.  Putting here s tough.

Tee shot at the Fourteenth

Approach shot at Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a par that goes up hill and right.  Again, a real tough approach here.  The green slopes from left to right with a bunker in the back and right of the green.  This fairway is tough to hold, as it too slopes severely from left to right.  The green is also fast.  Just a nice tough little par 4.  The Sixteenth is another short par 4 that dog legs right.  Driver is usually too much off the tee.  The approach is fairly easy and no bunkers really come into play.

The Seventeenth is the best par 3 on the course (pictured above).  The tee shot is elevated and the green is surrounded by bunkers.  The green is really fast and is set on the hillside.  One of the better holes in the area.

The Eighteenth is a nice finishing hole with a tough approach.  The tee shot goes downhill and is blind.  The approach is to a green nestled between a grow of trees, bunkers and slopes.  The green is also multi tiered, which makes putting a potential disaster.

The Eighteenth fairway

The approach at Eighteenth


March 2013:

Another Irish Open is in the books.  Although this Winter has been stubborn and we started playing when it was barely above 30 degrees, there was a nice turnout.  The course itself looked very similar to how to how it looked this time last year.  Conditions were fine and the greens were in nice shape, with the exception of the Third, which was pretty beat up on the right side.  I’m sure it was the cold, but the greens were very fast and felt more challenging than they usually are.  The tee areas are still not that great, as most are bald or have minimal grass.  But conditions were very playable and I never found any conditioning issues affecting play.  Spring is usually the best time to play here because the Summer dries the course up and they have a tough time keeping up, or don’t have an adequate system in place, with irrigation.  Although I played here during the late Fall 2012 and wasn’t too annoyed.

The design still holds up as challenging, even though it looks like the slope rating went down a few points.  Accuracy is demanded here, with the holes presenting a variety of approach shots that must be played well for a chance at par.  The course is set on hilly terrain and many of the holes bring Cobbs Creek into play, which makes for many blind and elevated tee shots (some times both at the same time) and forced carries, while the creek acts like a burn on a few occasions, or a forced water carry on a few others.  Bear in mind that Cobbs Creek splinters and branches out all over the place into mini tributaries, exponentially increasing its presence around the course.  One tip I can give you is that at all costs, try to stay below the hole; anything above is very difficult to chip or putt close.

I have played a couple other Hugh Wilson courses since last time I was here and a few things stuck out for me, especially with some of the subtlety built into the course.  On the First, I believe Wilson wanted the approach shot to be on the longer side by using the creek to break up the hole.  Even if you hit it to the creek, you still have almost 200 yards to the green.  Nowadays, some guys might be able to carry the creek altogether with their tee shot, which probably provides more options off the tee than Wilson originally intended.  Still, Wilson took what might have been a standard dog left right and used the creek to make it unique.  Same with the Second; the uphill approach shot to an elevated green must carry the creek again, increasing the pressure of that shot.  And the Third, likely one of the toughest approach shots on the course, is across a very wide portion of the creek to a peninsula green.  There should be water running along the left side of that green, but now it’s a dry creek bed.  Wilson also utilized the hills to diversify the lies you’ll get.  Sloping fairways give you sidehill and downhill lies, which makes you think about where you want the ball off the tee.  On the Second and Third, I almost prefer longer approach shots on level ground instead of pushing the ball close to the creek for downhill approach shots, which are more difficult for me to pull off.  The Fifth, which I gushed about above, brings the creek in play on the tee and approach shots.  The tee shot here is the most difficult on the course.

Ranking the front 9, I’d go 5, 3, 7, 2, 1, 9, 4, 8, 6.  You’ll face almost every shot you can imagine on the front for the most part and the par 4/5’s all have distinct character.

On the back 9, the course gets longer, or at least it seems like it does.  This might be because there is only one par 3 on this 9, while there are 3 on the front.  If there is a head wind on the Twelfth, which has known to happen occasionally, I’m not sure most people would be able to get their second shot to the green.  The green is set to the left of the fairway behind trees and a deep valley to the left, making you place a high draw on the ball into the green.  That’s a tall order for most when you’re 200+ out.  The Fifteenth green is set on a hill side, sloping severely from left to right.  The approach shot here is tough from any where.  The Sixteenth tee shot give you many options; it’s a banana hole that keeps curving right to the green.  You could reach the green with a perfect tee shot, but figuring out just how much club to take off the tee for a well places second shot is always interesting.  The Seventeenth green is almost impossible if you’re uphill, at all, from the hole.  You’re pretty much in the hills on the back 9 so you don’t see much of the creek, but putting gets much tougher.

Ranking the back 9, I’d go 17, 12, 18, 15, 14, 11, 13, 10, 16.  A lot of dramatic elevated tee shots during the back 9 and the elevated changes bring out a lot of Wilson’s creativity.

Generally, Cobbs Creek Olde continues to be an underachieving architectural gem that I always enjoy playing.  The course could truly be one of the best munis in the country (I believe it was ranked as such in the past), as the design and character of the course among the hills and creek are very well done.  The course has a very interesting history.  During its creation, many architects provided input on the layout, including George Crump.  What makes that interesting is Crump, creator of Pine Valley, enjoyed the very same process when designing PV, as pretty much every notable designer (including Wilson) visited the site and gave Crump advice.  PV opened in 1914 while Cobbs Creek opened in 1916.  At the time, the two courses were compared to each other and debated locally.  Golf was immensely popular in the early 20th century and Cobbs Creek was a well regarded course, hosting a number of famous tourneys.  The original course was a lot different than what you see today.  Initially, the City Line driving range was actually part of the course and the routing seemed to have a lot of the holes running parallel with City Ave. than today.  The Army ended up purchasing some of the course for missile silos, at which point the routing had to be changed.  One of my recommended links is to a site that does a great job outlining the history of the course, so check it out if you’re interested in finding out more.

At any rate, there is an effort to restore the course to its original design.  Gil Hanse has agreed to do the restoration work and this plan would return the course to its original eighteen holes while turning the Karakung course into a 9 hole.  I’m sure (or at least hope) this plan also includes upgrading the clubhouse, carts, mowers, irrigation system, etc. to make sure the course receives the maintenance and service it deserves.  Sign me up to help in any way to make this happen.

As for now, the course seems to remain in the same shape I’ve seen for the last few years.  I mean, the Third green was closed for a while, but is now open.  I will say that it looks like green fees have been reduced, so it really isn’t that bad of a deal to play here.  I think this has led to a reduced staff.  I recently visited during the weekend to use the driving range, but they ran out of balls and they were being picked.  The range was littered with thousands of balls and probably should have been picked a few times by then.  The carts are also in need of an upgrade.

I’ll keep coming to CCGC when I want to practice on a challenging design without paying a whole lot of money.  Everyone I’ve played or interacted with at the course is friendly and willing to share stories and there is a lot of camaraderie here, with golfers waiving singles through, etc.  I’ve seen a lot of non golfers walking the course.  They never get in the way, although I’ve heard stories of kids running around taking golf balls in the fairways.  I’ve never seen it though.

I’d love to see this place restored.  The potential is here for Cobbs to become one of the best public courses in the state and anchor the re emergence of a prestigious Philadelphia public golf scene as it was almost a century ago.  

One thought on “Philly Muni – Cobbs Creek (Olde)

  1. Check out PlanPhilly dot com and notice that on August 16, 2017 a posting about Fairmount Park Conservancy And Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is seeking proposals for RFP For Site Master Plan For FDR Park. It would be VERY interesting to see if this master plan includes an analysis of the golf course.