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July 17, 2023

Restoration work begins at Cobbs Creek Golf Club in West Philly

The project will revitalize the historic course, which closed in 2020, and add a short course developed by Tiger Woods' foundation

Development Golf Courses
Cobbs Creek Golf Provided Image/Cobbs Creek Foundation

The revitalization project at The Cobbs Creek Golf Club in West Philly includes restoring the historic course and adding a short course and education center designed by Tiger Woods' TGR foundation. Renovations got underway Monday.

The revitalization of the Cobbs Creek Golf Course in West Philly, a years-long project to reopen the historic course and build an education center designed by Tiger Woods' TGR Foundation, got underway Monday.

The 107-year-old course along Lansdowne Avenue, divided by Cobbs Creek, has been shut down since 2020 and had become virtually unplayable in the years before its closure. The Cobbs Creek Foundation, the private nonprofit leading the renovations, said it plans to invest at least $100 million into the 340-acre property over the next few years — up from an earlier budget of $65 million. 

"We are thrilled to begin the first phase of what will be a monumental and exciting project for the community and region," Jeff Shanahan, the foundation's president and CEO, said at Monday's groundbreaking. "By breathing new life into this historic landmark, and returning it to the welcoming, inclusive space that it was when it opened more than a century ago, this will become a place that Philadelphians can enjoy for generations to come."

The initial work includes the construction of the TGR Learning Lab, a driving range building and a reservoir and pump house. The full project, to be finished in 2026, includes an 18-hole championship golf course, 9-hole course, two-tiered driving range and short course designed by the TGR Foundation. There also will be a new clubhouse and restaurant. 

The TGR short course is meant to introduce students and visitors to golf, teaching them the fundamental skills of the game. 

Plans for the TGR Learning Lab were unveiled in March, with Woods' foundation committing to develop and operate a year-round educational hub for kids and teens. The 30,000-square-foot facility will offer project-based classes and career training in fields such as robotics, cyber security, multimedia design and artificial intelligence. 

Construction of the TGR Learning Lab is expected to begin this fall. Work on the short course, driving range and maintenance facility will follow. They are expected to be completed in 2025. 

The final stage of the project involves restoring the upper and lower sections of the creek, and renovations of the main courses and clubhouse. 

When Cobbs Creek Golf Course opened in 1916, it was among the few clubs in the United States to welcome all ethnicities. It became a treasured course among a generation of standout Black golfers, including Howard Wheeler and Charlie Sifford, the first African American to win a PGA tour event. 

The course began to decline in the 1950s, when the U.S. military annexed approximately 15% of the property to use as an anti-aircraft battery. The course was forced to reroute some of its most iconic holes and lost the reputation it had enjoyed during its early years.

Over the past several decades, the course fell into disrepair as flooding from the creek caused severe erosion to many of its greens and fairways. The clubhouse was destroyed by a fire in 2016

The revitalization project has faced criticism from environmental activists and community members angered by the removal of trees in the area last year. There are fears that this will lead to more flooding and erosion, and could contribute to heat disparities in the surrounding neighborhood. 

Despite these objections, the city granted the Cobbs Creek Foundation exemptions from anti-erosion regulations earlier this year, permitting the construction of taller buildings and allowing planners to operate more freely on slopes throughout the property. The foundation argued that the exemptions were necessary to move forward with wetlands restoration intended to prevent chronic flooding and restore the original layout of the course. 

The reservoir and pumphouse that will be installed during the first phase of the project are part of a full irrigation system being installed at Cobbs Creek Golf Course. The reservoir will help with flooding, but most of the flood control  measures will be through wetlands and creek restoration, a foundation spokesperson said. 

Renovations to the 18-hole championship course are intended to put Philadelphia back on the radar of the PGA Tour. The 9-hole course will be built on land from the Karakung course, a former beginner's course that was established at Cobbs Creek in 1929. 

"A century ago, the Cobbs Creek Golf Course was one of the nation's finest public courses, welcoming players of all backgrounds, ethnicities and skill levels," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "Today we are embracing that history while investing in the future. This project will return a storied public golf course to its rightful place as a community beacon, and in doing so uplift one of our city's great sporting legacies and create jobs right here in Cobbs Creek."