Despite all the challenges of 2020, the sport of golf has seen a resurgence. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have flocked to golf courses as it’s a sport that allows easy social distancing and enjoyment of the outdoors. Since courses reopened in May, most have been packed, even into the Winter. The Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) revealed that from April 1st to November 14th, tracked rounds were up 28% over 2019. And this doesn’t count most of the public golfers packing courses throughout the region. Despite the upturn, there are a few courses that have seen their final days in 2020 and a few more that never made it to opening day. Unlike the courses that closed in 2019, there are plans (or hope) for most to return.
Cobbs Creek Golf Club
While there will be a happy ending for the two courses at Cobbs Creek, both the Olde Course and the Karakung course closed for play in their current format on 10/30/2020. Some sections of Karakung had been closed for a few months, but the final five holes remained open until the end. The 3rd green was also washed out over the summer with a temporary green in play for the last few months. Course maintenance had declined in the last couple years as Billy Casper Golf wound down their management contract, but the conditions this October were surprising good.
The property has been turned over to the non-profit Cobbs Creek Foundation, which will restore the Olde Course to it’s original* routing while adding a practice/short-game area and new 9-hole course on the former Karakung property. In addition, there are plans for a combined “Championship” routing to have the club host tournaments. The work will be carried out by Hanse Golf Course Design. Based in Malvern, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner are at the top of their craft in both new golf course construction (Inniscrone, French Creek, Pinehurst #4, Streamsong Black) and world-class restorations (Aronimink, Merion East, Winged Foot). Additional work will stabilize the creek and improve storm-water management for the park and neighborhood.
(*1928 version after the original 14th hole was replaced with current 17th)
The Cobbs Creek that return in 2023 will be significantly different than the one you visited for the last decades. While many holes on the Olde Course will remain in the current configuration (1-5, 9-13, 17-18), there are significant changes coming to the western part of the property to bring back the original routing. In the early 1950s, the course was modified due to the erection of an anti-aircraft battery where the current City Line Sport Center driving range sits today. Those changes were skillfully made by Parks Superintendent Garrett Renn (Mountain View, Wedgewood, Cranbury, Little Mill) in conjunction with pro-golfer and architect George Fazio (Westover, Kimberton, Downingtown), but a superior design was lost. Here are the changes coming to the Olde Course:
- After playing the 5th hole, the 6th will play from the current teeing ground, but shift 90-degrees right, up and over the hill to the 16th green.
- The current 6th green will remain a par-3 to become the 12th hole and play from the current 14th tee.
- The current 7th hole will become the par-4 9th, also playing from the current 14th tee area.
- The 8th green will be used for the par-5 13th hole and play from a tee behind the current 6th green onto the property occupied by the driving range today.
- The current 14th green will be a par-3 playing from the current 8th tee (ever wonder why the green slopes back right to front left?).
- The current holes 9-13 will be reordered as 14-16, 7-8 and 11.
- Length will be added to many holes, notably the current 2nd, 4th, 9th and 15th.
While I loved the modern version of the Olde course, it’s clear that the restored routing will be far superior. Taking back the land lost to the military installation brings the creek back into play on another hole and in turn makes better use of the ridge where the 14th and 16th tees are today. The course has needed tree management for too long, and this will open up longer views on the course and improve turf health. I’m also very interested in the 9-hole course. The back of the Karakung property has some terrific land and fewer holes will allow for a more accessible course with wider playing corridors. Practice facilities in the city are also a great need, so the practice course, driving range and First Tee facilities are a welcome addition. I cannot wait for Cobbs Creek to return. It will surely be one of the best clubs, public or private, in the Philadelphia region.
Below is a selection of photos from just prior to closing in October of 2020 and a few historical images. Click for a full photo tour of Karakung and the Olde Course from the amazing Bausch Collection.
Locust Valley Golf Club
For nearly 20 years, there were stories and rumors that Locust Valley was about to close. Unfortunately, that day finally came to pass on October 23, 2020. Prompted one such story in 2019, I took the journey up to the Lehigh Valley in October when it appeared destined to close at the end of year. While it survived yet another season in 2020, I’m glad I made that trip when I did, playing Tumblebrook (below) the same day.
Opening in 1954, Locust Valley was designed by father/son duo of William and David Gordon. The club was originally a private Jewish country club, transitioning to a public course in the 1985, when many members left for nearby Saucon Valley CC and Berkleigh CC. A par-Set over a hilly piece of property in Coopersburg, it featured a great set of greens. The 9th was considered their “signature” hole, a downhill par-3 over a pond. But the highlights for me were the par-5 7th and 16th holes, with two of the most intriguing greens on the course. Locust Valley was a good quality, local course that will surely be missed.
Tumblebrook Golf Course
Around the corner from Locust Valley is a 9-hole estate course designed by Donald Ross in 1931 called Tumblebrook Golf Course. Owned by Lower Saucon township, it has passed through a number of operators in recent years and did not re-open in 2020. While some hope remains that the grounds will feature golf again, there are stories that the township will turn it into parkland and athletic fields.
While the famous Ross was the designer, it was certainly not a property he spent much time at. The course is very basic, with an 18-hole par of 71 maxing out at 6,019 yards with multiple sets of tees on most holes. Ross could have used the creek and surrounding features in more creative ways. The creek is traversed on four tee shots, but doesn’t really present any danger. Overall it’s a pleasant setting on moderately hilly terrain, and a relatively easy walk as I breezed around in about an hour. The fairways and rough were playable and the greens were in very good condition. Aside from border OB, it is hard to lose a ball. I had a blast and would play here often if it was close to home. Hopefully it returns in 2021 and remains a golf course for years to come.
Additional 2019 Closures
There were three course closings in 2019 that I missed with my post last year. A couple of these are on the periphery of the region. One will return in 2021, another was recently purchased, and the last will be replaced by housing.
Hopewell Valley Country Club
This is another golf course closure with a happy ending! Located in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, NJ, Hopewell Valley G&CC closed in August of 2019. In 2020, Mercer County agreed to purchase the club and the plan is to re-open in Spring of 2021. The County operates four other courses – Mountain View, Princeton CC, and Mercer Oaks East and West. Hopewell Valley was designed by Thomas Winton in 1927 and operated as a private club for most of its existence, opening to the public in 2016. The course is a par-72, with yardage of 6,621 from the back and 6,281 from the middle tees. For a photo tour of the course, click here.
Mahoning Valley Country Club
Founded in 1926, Mahoning Valley was a private club for the first 80 years, only recently opening to the public. Located in Lehighton, off of the PA turnpike’s Northeast Extension, it was about a 90-minute drive from Center City, at the base of the Poconos. The course did not re-open for the 2019 golf season. A report from October about a clubhouse fire on the property indicated the course had recently been sold and renovations were being made, so perhaps it will re-open. A 6,670-yard par-73 course, the front-9 was built by Maurice McCarthy (Hershey CC) with the Gordons expanding the course to 18-holes in the 50s. Click here for a photo tour of the course.
Beckett Golf Club
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t even know this course existed until recently. Located in Woolrich Township, outside Swedesboro in South Jersey, Beckett GC had been a 27-hole facility, but sold off some property earlier in the 2010s. Online searches don’t reveal much detail, other than a lawsuit regarding a golf outing for a gentlemen’s club. There are currently seven parcels for sale, so it doesn’t look like this will return. Based on online reviews, it looks like it won’t be missed by many. Click here for a photo tour of the original 27 holes.
There was a lot of pain, hardship and suffering in 2020. Fortunately, golf provided an outlet for recreation, camaraderie, exercise and sanity for many people, with rounds way up over prior years. I hope the trend continues in 2021 and helps fend off any future golf course closings in the area. I never want to see a course close, but the good news is that compared to other years, course closings were scarce and a few courses will return in 2021 and beyond.
Best of all, there’s a great hope for what is to come at Cobbs Creek. Having grown up in the city playing the municipal courses, we always had to venture out into the suburbs to play a “nice” golf course. In the last half decade, many Major golf championships have been held at municipal courses, showing off the value of public golf to cities. While Cobbs may never host a US Open, it’s restoration will be a major win for public golf in the region. Philadelphia has much to be proud of, and soon we’ll have a golf course that will rival the best in nation. Spring 2023 can’t come soon enough.