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November 11, 2022

Philadelphia Art Commission approves plan for partial renovation at historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course

The city-owned course will have a new driving range and education center after months of design pushback over environmental concerns

Recreation Golf
Cobbs Creek Golf Course renovation gets final approval Courtesy/Cobbs Creek Foundation

The Philadelphia Arts Commission granted final approval on design plans to restore the historic Cobbs Creek Golf course. The golf course was given the go-ahead on a new driving range and education center.

After months of hiccups, parts of the historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course in West Philly received final approval for a restoration project.

The Philadelphia Art Commission, the design review board for the city, finally gave the go-ahead on the project, which includes a driving range and an education center at the century-old golf course. 

The golf course opened in 1916. Home to PGA events, it was also at the forefront of integration, welcoming Black golfers before many other courses across the nation — or even before the PGA — did. However, the now city-owned course has deteriorated over the years.

On Wednesday, after months of back and forth and votes against the restoration plans, the Art Commission finally gave its go-ahead, WHYY reported.  

"I'm confident that the issues raised by the commission have been addressed," Art Commissioner Carmen Febo San Miguel said. "I'm pleased with some of the adjustments that have been made and how the project is really paying attention to environmental issues."

In January, the Cobbs Creek Foundation unveiled its renovation plans with a $65 million proposal to revamp the course into one that could once again host PGA events. 

The original plans to revitalize the golf course included a 9-hole course built on the club's Karakung beginners course established in 1929, as well as the previously mentioned education center and driving range. The plan also called for a restaurant and a new 18-hole course.

The environmental issues Febo San Miguel raised included the removal of trees from the course. In February, hundreds of trees were cut down by the Cobbs Creek Foundation, which leases the golf course land from the city, drawing ire from the local community and environmental activists. Although the city had approved the removal of select trees for the project, it had stipulated "some, but not all" and limited the scope to 90 acres of the 350-acre area. The mass removal raised concerns about flooding, which the area and the course already deal with, and heat. There is a heat disparity in areas with fewer trees, which tend to experience hotter temperatures.

The Cobbs Creek Foundation pledged to plant 1,500 new trees and other plants in the aftermath.

In September, an architect working on the plans for the renovation noted that progress had stalled after the Art Commission refused to vote in favor of the project for the third time.

"I'm really troubled by some of the lack of integration of the feedback we've offered," urban planning scholar Matthew Jordan-Miller Kenyatta told WHYY at the time.

"To me, it's wasting my time," Raed Nasser of the Art Commission told WHYY. "If you're having trouble taking care of these items right now, how will it be later on in your project? I mean, to me, it's a little bit troubling."

But this week, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell presented the revamped plans to the Arts Commission with her endorsement, and the group finally granted the Cobbs Creek Foundation permission to proceed.

The project will result in converting 12 acres of trees into a green space. To address environmental concerns the Cobbs Creek Foundation will plant its pledged 1,500 trees and donate $250,000 to TreePhilly, a city program that helps residents plant and care for trees across Philadelphia. Native plants have also been incorporated into the design, along with solar panels and bird-safe glass.

The next step is securing zoning and building permits from the city. The original plan was for the education center to open in 2023, followed by the golf course opening in 2024. 

The foundation is committed to offering community programs, including free golf lessons for children. The Philadelphia Tribune reported in August the education center expects to serve 500 school-aged children at its new education center.