Fire Destroys Golf Clubhouse Down the Road From Merion

Cobbs Creek clubhouse, March 15, 2013.

Cobbs Creek clubhouse, March 15, 2013.

This year is the centennial of Cobbs Creek Golf Club, a muny in western Philadelphia. It was named after its most diabolical hazard, which also runs along the eastern edge of Merion Golf Club, a few miles away. Merion and the Crick—as intimates often call the older of Cobbs Creek’s two courses—share an architect as well: Hugh Wilson, who designed Merion’s East Course in 1912 and created the Crick four years later. The photo above is of the Crick’s clubhouse as it looked when I visited, two years ago. (You can read about that visit here and here and here.) On Monday night, the clubhouse burned down:

Cobbs Creek clubhouse, January 5, 2015.

Cobbs Creek clubhouse, January 5, 2015.

I learned about the fire from Hank Church and Paul Cornely, who are members of Cobbs Creek’s principal men’s group, the Cobbs Creek Publinks Golf Club. “What I’ve heard is that it started around 11:00 last night and took more than two hours to control,” Cornely told me. “The cause isn’t known, but it looks like the fire started near the lunchroom/beer tap area.” That’s the area in the back right of the photo below, which shows the Publinks group in happier times:

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“It’s a sad day for many,” Church said. “That was my home-away-from-home for 50 years.” When I met Church, in 2013, he’d just had ten inches of his large intestine removed, and although he wasn’t playing again yet he had shown up anyway, to hang around in the clubhouse and show his scar to his friends:

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“On Sunday, we had our typical group, fifteen players,” Cornely said, “and then we had a few laughs and beverages.” The players on Sunday included Lou Camilli, who is just four years younger than the golf course. He was in the Marine Corps during World War II, and fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Three years ago, his optometrist’s receptionist gave him back a form he’d filled out and told him he’d made a mistake, because the birthdate he’d written down would make him ninety-three. “That’s what I am,” he told her. “And I’ve still got heat in my oven.” He plays more than two hundred rounds a year:

Here’s a video of the fire, shot by Frank Wesnoski:

“The Temp was 11 degrees with a windchill of -5,” Wesnoski writes. “A steady wind was blowing the fire from the front to back. . . . The building was destroyed. Salt crews were requested from both the City and Upper Darby for icing conditions.” And here are some photos of the aftermath, which Bob Zecca and Mike Harms, both Publinks members, took this morning:

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Great group, great course, great clubhouse. Too bad.

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The Muny Life: The Wrath of Cobbs Creek

Cobbs Creek 7I wrote about Cobbs Creek Golf Club, in western Philadelphia, in the June issue of Golf Digest. The main course—which regulars call the Crick—was named after its most diabolical hazard, which also runs along the eastern edge of Merion Golf Club, a few miles away. The Crick’s creek has always been both an asset and a liability. Hugh Wilson, who also designed Merion, brilliantly incorporated it into his routing, and Charles Barkley once got so angry at it—on the third hole, a short par 4—that he threw his clubs into the water, then stormed back to the golf shop and bought another set. But when the creek floods, as it did on Labor Day, it can carry away entire greens. Most of the photos in this post were sent to me by Paul Cornely, the head of the regular men’s group, which is called the Cobbs Creek Publinks Golf Club. Cornely and I played back in March, when the water was better behaved.

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Cornely writes:

The rain started at 10:45, and in an hour the course and nearby area got four-plus inches. We had twenty-five guys, and the last group was on the eighteenth green when the rain started. It was coming down so hard that we had to stay in the clubhouse. These pictures were taken between about 11:45 and 12:15.

In normal weather, this is a golf hole with a creek running down the center of the fairway.

In normal weather, this is a golf hole with a creek running down the center of the fairway, as you can see in the photo below.

Here’s what the hole in the photo above looked like back in March:

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The next photo, below, was taken near the clubhouse during the rainstorm. The river you see at the bottom of the hill had been the first fairway until an hour or two before. As bad as things look in these pictures, though, they were worse in 2006, when an August flood swept away the third and fourth greens.

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In recent years, a group of Crick aficionados led by Chris Lange,a local businessman, has developed a plan to deal with the flooding problem, which also affects a neighboring facility owned by the city’s transit authority. The group also wants to repair many years’ worth of erosion damage and restore Wilson’s routing, which was modified in 1950, when most of the original thirteenth fairway was appropriated for a missile base. (Today, it’s a driving range.)

Here's the driving range next door. During the early years of the Cold War, it was a missile base.

Here’s the driving range next door, four months before the flood. During the early years of the Cold War, it was a missile base.

The 1950 reconfiguration, by George Fazio, was cleverly done, since it preserved all eighteen of the Crick’s original greens. But no one believes the current course is as good as the one that Wilson designed, and the architects Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, whose office is nearby, have created a restoration plan. The Golf Association of Philadelphia has endorsed the project, most of which will be financed privately, and has agreed to move its headquarters to the course if the city approves it. Maybe the Labor Day Flood will move things along.

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