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Philadelphia's historic eyesore: Cobb's Creek Golf Club's magic blunted by bad conditions

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Philadelphia boosters treat Cobb's Creek Golf Club's Olde Course as the city's showcase municipal golf course, and it should be. But the landmark course and its ingenious old-school layout by Merion designer Hugh Wilson are let down by poor conditions.

Cobb's Creek Olde Course - Third Green
Seventy percent of the third green at Cobb's Creek's Olde Course is roped off.
Cobb's Creek Olde Course - Third GreenCobb's Creek Olde Course - Blind Tee ShotCobb's Creek Olde Course - Par3Cobb's Creek Olde Course - High Wilson's Routing

PHILADELPHIA - Most of the third green is roped off. A sign asks golfers not to putt from inside the ropes but to move their balls to the small area that's actually open.

To take a drop, basically. From one part of the green to another.

Just when you thought you'd seen it all in golf ...

This was the scene as of late June at the Olde Course at Cobb's Creek Golf Club, a Philadelphia golf institution that deserves so much better.

A lot of money is being spent on marketing Philly's historic munis, with GolfPhilly.com touting packages to the courses. From the look of the Olde Course, not enough money is going into maintenance.

This is the city's showcase municipal track, a 91-year-old Hugh Wilson design that hosted a PGA Tour event in the 1950s. It's even an official Philadelphia landmark.

If they ever treated the Liberty Bell like this, there'd be a national uproar and congressional hearings. Cobb's Creek is history that's been left to rot.

"It's a shame," golfer Shelly Crittenton said. "There's a lot of character in this golf course. But it's hard to see it when the course looks like this."

It isn't only No. 3, a drivable, should-be-fun par 4 that, ironically, has been featured (sans rope zone, of course) on GolfPhilly.com's home page. It's sometimes hard to tell the fairway from the rough here. There are patches of dirt, and wild grass. You can hit it right down Broadway and still come up with a cruel lie.

With green fees peaking at $41 weekdays and $46 weekends, this is no resort-course fleecing. Arguably, these are muni conditions for muni prices.

But Cobb's Creek clearly wants to be more than just another muni, and it should be. There's terrific potential in this ingenious old-school layout by Wilson, who also designed the legendary Merion Golf Club.

There are go-for-it par 4s (four are less than 305 yards from the back tees), showy par 3s, several blind tee shots and sharp doglegs to small greens.

The 10th, a 297-yard par 4, all but screams at you to tap into your inner John Daly - except you're shooting blind uphill from the tee.

You cannot see how close the green truly is. Nor can you see the big, slanted bunker in front of it. There's no going around this bunker - you either let it fly or brace yourself for one hell of a sand recovery.

No. 6 should be similarly engaging, a rinky-dink 122-yarder that's all carry over a bushy marsh to the tightest of greens. But it's hard to focus on the clever design or the pinpoint shot you need to pull off when the tee box is all dirt.

The staff has a lot of love for the quirky, 6,202-yard course. The marshals and cart attendants truly seem to care about the place and want newcomers to enjoy it as much as they do. The starter goes out of his way to see if a single wants to play alone or be paired up. A lot of high-dollar resort courses couldn't care less.

Too bad the starter can't breathe life back into some of this old grass.

Cobb Creek's Olde Course: The verdict

Cobb's Creek's operators clearly see the Olde Course as one of those special munis that almost defy the term, and Golfweek once rated it the sixth best municipal course in the country.

But any comparison to the likes of Torrey Pines or Bethpage Black is laughable. The bad course conditions take a big bite out of any magic.

Still, if you go into a round at the Olde Course prepared for the rough fairways it can be an interesting play. Especially if you take advantage of the $15 riding ($10 walking) specials after 6 p.m.

At those prices, Cobb's Creek is a near-steal. At the full rates, it's a little more iffy, but golf-history buffs might still want to check out Hugh Wilson's work.

You'll leave knowing it could be a lot more. Maybe the people in charge will catch on someday.

Philadelphia-area restaurants

Philadelphia has emerged as one of the best restaurant cities in America. You'll know why if you go to a splurge spot like Striped Bass or Morimoto's.

And in the fierce debate over who has the best cheesesteaks in America's cheesesteak capital, our vote goes to Pat's over Geno's.

Philadelphia-area hotels

Philadelphia is full of nice high-end hotels; one of the best and most often overlooked is the Sofitel on 17th Street right near the heart of Walnut's shopping and Rittenhouse Sqaure's nightlife. Sofitel's standard rooms are large and the beds are ultra-plush.

Fast fact

Cobb's Creek also has a 5,762-yard course called Karakung that does not have a hole over 499 yards and carries a 115 slope rating from the tips.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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