The Cobbs Creek Olde Course is the crown jewel of Philadelphia’s public options, though a bit tarnished at the moment. Originally built to be the best municipal course in the country, over the years it had to be modified and has suffered from neglect. However, Cobbs still a great place to play a round.
Located in the Overbrook section of West Philadelphia, Cobbs Creek Golf Club features two 18-hole courses – the Olde Course and the Karakung Course. The Olde Course is longer, more expensive and more crowded but also features much better hole design and variety. The original clubhouse burned down in January of 2016, so the pro shop and food service are located in a modified double-wide trailer.
Cobbs Creek’s History
Cobbs Creek was established in 1916 and designed by Hugh Wilson. Wilson is most famous as the architect of Merion Golf Club’s East Course, which hosted the US Open most recently in 2013. At the time, Philadelphia was trailing other major cities in inter-city golf competitions and wanted to build a course that would challenge the best golfers in Philadelphia. Wilson was part of the Philadelphia School of Golf Course Architecture. Other members include William Flynn (Shinnecock Hills), A.W. Tillinghast (Winged Foot, Bethpage Black), George Thomas (Riviera) and George Crump (Pine Valley). Flynn and the others certainly had a hand in sculpting the original layout.
The Olde Course proved extremely popular and in 1929 the Karakung Course was established. The Olde Course experienced significant modifications in the 1950s as the Army took over a section of the property and the original routing was lost. Cobbs was also home to legendary African-American golfer Charlie Sifford, the first black golfer on the PGA Tour. A terrific book of the complete history of Cobbs Creek GC can be found here via Trenham Golf History.
Coming soon the newly formed Cobbs Creek Restoration and Community Foundation will start an overhaul of the facility to bring the Olde Course back to it’s former glory. Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner are on board to perform the restoration, so we can expect great things.
The Olde Course
The Olde Course has incredible bones, so it’s great news that the hard work of the Friends of Cobbs Creek will soon result in a world-class public course in Philadelphia. Today, the track is still a lot of fun to play at a very reasonable price (max of $52 to ride on weekends). The Olde Course offers a wide variety of golf holes and the greens are particularly tricky. Built for much slower green speeds, many require a delicate touch to get the ball close with today’s faster greens. Most greens slope back to front and keeping the ball under the hole is a must. While there aren’t many bunkers (and little sand in those that are there), hazards often come in the form of the creek or thick woods, so accuracy is crucial. On weekends and holidays, expect a long round, often topping 5 hours. However, a mid-day weekday round could easily be played in 3-hours or less.
The first two holes start on the South (or East?) side of Landsdowne Avenue, the same side as the clubhouse and parking lot. The 1st is a short, but tricky, par 5 with a tributary of the eponymous creek crossing at around 300 yards from the back tees and 250 yards from the middle tees. The second is a moderate par 4 requiring a 220 to 240 yard tee shot to leave an uphill 120-yard approach. The green is a severe back to front with the pin always in the back and protected by bunkers.
Crossing Landsdowne, the next three holes crisscross Cobbs Creek while weaving through the woods. The 3rd is a short par 4 where a hybrid or long-iron off the tee is required. The creek fronts the green and the pin typically in the front, forcing delicate distance control. The 4th hole is a shorter par-3 where the green is bordered by the creek on the right and back sides. The creek crosses the hole twice between tee and green, with the place to miss being short or right. The par-4 5th hole is one of the most fun holes you’ll play. The fairway is bisected by the creek. Unfortunately, a lack of tree management has made the right side nearly impossible to play to without a severe cut/slice.
The next section of the course is where most of the changes occurred to the original routing. The short par-3 6th is a simple wedge shot over the creek to a relatively flat green. The 7th is another short par-5 with a wicked back to front sloping green. The 8th is a moderate par-3. Of any hole at the Olde, this is most affected and has a hard sloping right to left green. The 9th is a short, uphill par-4. Long hitters can go for the green, but the narrow shoot is best navigated by a hybrid/long-iron to the bottom of the hill and a wedge back up to a tough right to left green.
The next four holes are original and full of challenge. The 10th is a shorter par-4 with the green protected by bunkers in the front and back (it was a terrific green complex back in the day). The 11th is a moderate length, straight par-4 with a two-tiered green. The 11th is the toughest hole on the course, a long par-4 where par is a stroke gained. The tee shot is pinched by a tree on the right. The green is bordered by bunkers at the back and front-left and slopes from right to left. A three-putt is common here. The 12th is a moderate par-4 from an elevated tee. The fairway dips down severely, so getting to the top of the hill is critical for an easy approach.
The 14th is a monster, combining the original 9th and 10th holes for a 614-yard par-5 from the back. Though downhill from an elevated tee, three good shots (or two amazing shots) are required to reach another difficult green. The par-4 15th heads back up hill to a tucked green. The short par-4 16th is a temporary relief, though a misplaced tee-ball will be punished. The longish par-3 17th is the signature hole, though not original. Most tee grounds lie to the right of the original (restored and only used in tournaments). A severe back to front green is surrounded by bunkers. The closing 18th is a downhill right-to-left dogleg, where driver is usually too much club. Again, a back-to-front sloping green challenges a short approach.
Overall, the condition of the course is usually decent, particularly the greens, though tree management and attention to the fringes are extremely lacking. Birdies can be made, but like any good course, they come with the risk of bogie or worse. You’ll hit a lot of different clubs and types of shots, which for me means a fun round.
The Karakung Course
To be honest, I’ve only played Karakung a few times. And even then, I have as much experience with it as host to a FootGolf course as a regular golf course. That said it’s an excellent course for beginners. Like the Olde, the challenge is navigating creeks and woods to keep the ball in play. The holes are generally short, but a good amount of elevation change or change in direction to keep it interesting. The stretch from 2-13 navigates a very interesting piece of the property. For a normal fee of $29 with cart, this is a good value to get out and knock the ball around.