Cobbs Creek and the ‘Good,
Slow City of Philadelphia’
ONE OF ROBERT LESLEY’S PET PROJECTS stands as the most important collective
initiative in Philadelphia golf history – namely the development of public golf in the city. The concept of
a public golf venue in Philadelphia was proposed as far back as 1897. Around 1910, a special committee
formed to locate suitable ground and to promote the concept, which gained immediate positive reactions
everywhere except within city council chambers, where, according to A.W. Tillinghast, the proposal
“never came out alive.” Undeterred, Lesley didn’t let the issue drop. In April 1912, he again pressed “the
good, slow city of Philadelphia” for a public golf course in Fairmount Park, which his peers in the Association unanimously supported. Local golfers understood that public golf benefitted the greater community,
providing the same opportunities as in other major cities “of the size and character of Philadelphia.”
This time, Lesley entered the process armed with the determination and manpower to gain approvals
through the webs of red tape in City Hall. A Park Golf Committee worked with Fairmount Park Commissioners to find a suitable piece of ground, and a team of “experts” provided “untiring efforts” to develop
the course, including Ab Smith, George Klauder, Winthrop Sargent, George Crump and especially
Lesley’s Cricket Club mate, Hugh Wilson.
Another committee, consisting of Smith, Chairman J. Franklin Meehan, George Klauder, George Crump
and Simon Carr, tackled accessibility to the course. Lesley called upon others for advice too, including
Joseph Slattery of Whitemarsh Valley, John Pepper of Huntingdon Valley, Edward Morrell of Philadelphia Country Club, Edward Buckley of Philadelphia Cricket Club, Alan Evans of Merion Cricket, C.H.
Geist of Whitemarsh Valley, and Ellis Gimbel of Philmont, all of whom helped grease the skids in
city government. William Flynn and Meehan were deeply involved in the construction of the course,
personally forming greens and shaping bunkers. Even George Thomas and the great Walter Travis had
their chance to chime in on the layout. In all, more than 50 men representing more than 30 Philadelphia
region golf clubs took part in the process.
The orchestration of this communal work of art was due to the organizational genius of Robert Lesley.
The construction of the Cobbs Creek dragged into 1916 but was well worth the wait. The course eventually produced 1922 USGA Amateur Public Links (APL) champion, Joe Coble. Six years later, it hosted
the APL. Cobbs Creek became a beacon for minority golf, developing pioneer PGA TOUR professional,
Charlie Sifford, and hosting the National “Negro Open” in both 1936 and 1947. In 1955 and 1956, the
club hosted the PGA TOUR’s Daily News Open, which tested the greatest players in the world.
The momentum gained from the initial Cobbs Creek project led to additional ventures that resulted in
a second layout, Karakung Golf Club, in 1927. Two other public venues were also developed, including
Juniata Golf Course, along Tacony Creek, in 1923, and Franklin Roosevelt Golf Club, in 1940. In particular, Ab Smith, Meehan and Hugh Wilson remained steadfast contributors, assisting park engineer,
Alan Corson. Today, the Friends of Cobbs Creek Golf Club Foundation continues to work in the same
collaborative spirit to restore and modernize the gem for the betterment of the overall golfing community.
A recent breakthrough came when the City passed, and Mayor Kenney signed, a bill to lease Cobb’s
Creek to the Foundation for a restoration and more. Further information on this important project can
be reached at www.friendsofcobbscreekgc.com.
in 1906. His ascension marked a new era of
revitalization. In the previous decade, Lesley
and his fellow golfing compatriots had seen
the game lag behind other major cities, such
as New York, Chicago, and Boston, all of which
developed championship venues and a lineup of players with proportionate talent. Rival
cities churned out national championships
and champions that made Philadelphians
green with envy but determined to alter their
standing. Golf in Philadelphia sagged not for
lack of interest or money or desire, but more
for its disorganization. Until Lesley’s arrival, the
Association lacked a concrete plan of action
and a captain to oversee the work.
He is still the longest tenured President in Association history, serving
18 years (1906-24).
It should be said that Lesley was
not the finest of golfers – he was listed
as an 18 handicap in the 1911 local
directory. Nonetheless, his relative
lack of skill was more than supplanted
by his enjoyment and enthusiasm
for the game, which he shared with
all of the greats of early Philadelphia
golf. Lesley played regularly with
Howard Perrin, George Crump, the
Smith brothers, Ab and William,
A. W. Tillinghast, Simon Carr, Samuel
Golf in Philadelphia sagged
not for lack of interest or
money or desire, but more
for its disorganization.
Until Lesley’s arrival, the
Association lacked a concrete
plan of action and a captain
to oversee the work. He is still
the longest tenured President
in Association history, serving
18 years (1906-24).
This undated photo shows golfers at
Cobbs Creek, believed to be from the
late 1920s or early 1930s.