Philadelphia and the History of Golf

After native Philadelphian Johnny McDermott became the first American to win the US open in 1911, the game of golf in America began to grow. Suddenly, there was a demand for more golf courses and an entire industry known as Golf Course Architecture would be created. Some of the very best architects in the world would hail from Philadelphia, and they were collectively known as the Philadelphia School of Golf Course Architecture. Among the notables were Hugh Wilson (Merion), Albert Warrant Tillinghast (Philadelphia Cricket), William Flynn (Shinnecock Hills), George Thomas (Los Angeles Country Club), and George Crump (Pine Valley).

Because the game of golf was growing at a record clip, the Golf Association of Philadelphia, City Council, and the Mayor’s Office joined forces to create a suitable public course for the citizens of Philadelphia. They acquired an old parcel of farm land along Cobb’s Creek in West Philadelphia and, in 1913, they turned to Hugh Wilson for his architectural prowess.

Work would be completed on the city’s newest treasure in 1916, built and collaborated upon by the Philadelphia School of Golf Course Architecture. This new course located in Fairmont Park would be known as Cobbs Creek, and it was widely considered to be the preeminent public golf facility in the United States.

Cobb’s Creek would provide thousands of residents with access to the great game, and be another jewel in the crown of Fairmont Park. It would host the PGA Tour and the Daily News Open. Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, and Bob Hope would all come to know and admire Cobbs Creek. The United Golfer’s Association (UGA) would also host their National Championships at Cobbs, and early African American Golf heroes would win and lead a new generation into the game including Howard Wheeler, former heavyweight champion Joe Lewis, and Charlie Sifford. Sifford, a Philadelphia resident and Cobbs Creek regular, would go on to become the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour.

In the early stages of the Cold War, unfortunately, the United States military would develop a missile site on the Western most parcel of Cobbs Creek alongside City Avenue. Several holes needed to be rerouted or were simply lost. The creek was disrupted and began to overflow from intense Development Upstream. Our early civic leaders’ vision was misplaced and our pioneering architects’ great work was tainted.

The Foundation will restore and maintain Cobbs Creek Golf waterway, create wetland, and restore and maintain the historic routing of the Cobbs Creek golf course.

In addition, the Foundation will focus on improving the lives of young people in the community by teaching them life skills through the great game of golf. Our goal is to augment the wonderful education and environmental education programs for our children throughout the city.