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.

Cobbs Creek 5-001

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:


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.

Cobbs Creek 1-001

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.

Cobbs Creek 3-001

Reader’s Trip Report: Merion (as a Spectator) and a New Game

Moe Dweck (left).

Moe Dweck (left).

Moe Dweck, a reader in Maryland, who (like me) writes a golf blog and (also like me) probably has a real job of some kind, wrote recently to describe his experience at the U.S. Open, which he attended with friends:

A bunch of guys traveled up to Merion on the Friday of the Open for some spectating and a cheese-steak. (By the way, the cheese-steak at Mama’s Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd is off the charts. Went classic: white cheese, green peppers, and grilled onions. It is the Philly bread that makes these unbelievable.) The course looked the same to me as it did twenty years ago, but with much narrower landing areas. I think the U.S.G.A. overdid that aspect of the set-up more than slightly. But, overall, the presentation of the course was just awesome to witness in person.

(Parenthetically, let me add that I agree with Dweck about the severity of the set-up, and that I don’t share the U.S.G.A.’s crippling anxiety about birdies. Bubba Watson’s recovery from the pine trees on the first playoff hole in the 2012 Masters would be at or near the top of almost any golfer’s list of the coolest meaningful shots in majors in recent years, but nothing like it would be possible in an Open, because if Watson had missed an Open fairway by the same margin he would have been up to his knees in fescue.) Back to Dweck:

The truth is that the course stood up to the challenge, like it did in 1971 and 1981, because of the greens. One of the writers in Golf World pointed out that it is not the undulations of the greens at Merion that make it tough but the tilts. Could not agree more. On the short eighth, it was nearly impossible to get a ball to stay close, even with a sand-iron in the hands of a pro. Nothing more needs to be said about tilt than the lean on No. 5. I hope the U.S.G.A. continues to present the men’s and women’s Opens on classic old courses like these. Taking the driver out of the hands of a pro is not a federal crime, so I am not sure what all the whining is about. 

Back in April, Dweck wrote to describe a game that he and his regular golf buddies had played on their home course during Masters weekend—a game they called Virtual Pro-Schmo. What they did was take the best Masters rounds from the previous day and treat the guys who shot them as virtual partners in their own game. They transposed each Master’s competitor’s hole scores, in relation to par, onto a scorecard from their own course, then put all the cards into a hat and picked. If a schmo’s virtual pro partner had birdied Augusta’s first hole the day before, for example, then the only way the schmo could improve their best ball on the first hole would be to make an eagle; if the virtual pro had made a bogey, then the schmo had work to do. My friends and I meant to try Dweck’s game during the U.S. Open, but we forgot. We’re going to try to remember during the British.

Actually, we might use another format Dweck told me about, which he and his friends used during the Open. “We called it Beat the Pro,” Dweck said. “Thirty-two guys participated. Each one picked a pro-opponent scorecard from a hat. (We used eight guys’ scores, in relation to par, from the Thursday round at Merion.)  We gave our guys 110 percent of their handicap, and they played a quasi-skins format, in which they got three points for every hole on which they beat their pro and one point for every hole they pushed. Winners were the guys who had the most points against the field. I got to knock around Luke Donald. The guys who drew Sergio had to deal with an eagle on No. 2 (which is a par-3 on our course, so they needed a hole-in-one to push) and a quad on No. 15 (a par-5 for us, so a net nine or better scored points there.) Lots of fun.”

My friends and I are going to try this, too, sometime, if we remember. Here’s a picture of Dweck and some of his friends:

Alan Levine, Josh Tremblay, some guy, Rusty Minkoff, and Moe Dweck at some point in the past, during a buddies trip to Laurel Valley Golf Club, Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Alan Levine, Josh Tremblay, some guy, Rusty Minkoff, and Moe Dweck, during a buddies trip to Laurel Valley Golf Club, Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

The Muny Life: Orlando, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Elsewhere


I’m just back from Kansas City, where I grew up. Among other things, it’s the home of Winstead’s, which makes the best hamburgers in the world. When I was a kid, you could order from your car by shouting into a thing that looked like a speaker at a drive-in movie theater, and then a waitress would bring your stuff on a tray, which she would hook over a partly rolled-down window. There’s no more curb service at Winstead’s, but there’s a drive-through window, open 24/7. You can also eat inside. When you go, here’s what to order (no substitutions, please):

Double cheeseburger with extra P.M.K. (pickles, mustard, ketchup) and grilled onions.
Single cheeseburger, ditto (for topping yourself off—just take my word for it).
Fifty-fifty (half onion rings and half fries; ask for the fries to be “well done”).
Large cherry limeade (or, if you insist, large diet cherry limeade).
Frosty (technically speaking, this could be considered a dessert, but the proper way to eat it is as a side dish).

When I was in high school, my friends and I occasionally ate four meals a day at Winstead’s. You’d be crazy not to go, even if you weren’t planning to travel to Kansas City. Between trips there last week, I visited my mother and played three rounds on two terrific municipal golf courses, which I’ll write about in the September issue of Golf Digest, in my regular monthly column. Here, in the meantime, is a photo of the putting grip of one of the guys I played with, who I’m pretty sure is one of the three or four best putters in the world (his friends call him Drano):


My Muny Life column in the May issue of Golf Digest was about Dubsdread Golf Course, in Orlando, Florida. The photo below is of two of the guys I played with there: Fletch, a semi-retired accountant, and Brian, his son-in-law, who is in the building-supply business. Brian lives near the course and gives Fletch hybrid clubs and gentle swing advice, plus the occasional grandchild.

Fletch and Brian.

Fletch and Brian, Dubsdread Golf Course, Orlando.

During another round, I watched a guy on the driving range talk on his phone, which he was holding in his right hand, while hitting one-handed wedges with his left hand and smoking a cigarette. As Dr. Johnson said, in a different context, “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”


In the June issue, I wrote about Cobbs Creek Golf Club, which is just down the road (and creek) from Merion Golf Club, where the Open was held last week. Here’s the maintenance building at Cobbs Creek, which, like the clubhouse and the course, dates to the early nineteen-hundreds:

Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

After one of my rounds, I met Hank Church, a regular, who didn’t play but dropped by the clubhouse to see his friends. “I had ten inches of my large intestine removed sixteen days ago,” he said, and he lifted his shirt to show the scar, which was barely visible. He wasn’t ready to swing a club yet, he said—but almost. And, like many of his friends, he served as a marshal at the U.S. Open, in his case on the eleventh hole, which is the one where Bobby Jones closed out Eugene Homans in the 1930 Amateur, thereby completing his Grand Slam.

hank Church, Cobbs Creek Golf Club.

Hank Church, Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

For the July issue, I wrote about Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn, where my friends and I often go to play during the winter, when our home course is covered with snow. A few months ago, eight of us set out a little before five in the morning so that we could get to Brooklyn in time to play as guests in the regular Sunday-morning game of Shore View Golf Club, a men’s group that plays at Dyker. John Perez, the club’s president, supervised the picking of the teams, using a handicap-based method that he referred to as Captain and His Men. It was kind of dark in the grill room when he did that, so one of the guys used his cell phone as a flashlight when it was his turn to choose:

That's John Perez at the far right. Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

That’s John Perez at the far right. Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

That day, my friend Hacker (real name) and I played with Ronnie Clyne, who works for a headhunter. “I grew up on the Brooklyn waterfront,” Clyne told us. “If you played golf, we beat you up and took your lunch money.” Like most Shore View guys, he’s self-taught and deeply addicted. “I had a hole-in-one once, at a course in the Catskills,” he said. “As I picked the ball out of the hole, a tear rolled down my cheek. It was the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience.” Here’s Ronnie cleaning goose crap off his golf shoes on one of the tees:

Ronnie Clyne, Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

Ronnie Clyne, Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

And here’s Hacker (looking very serious) with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background:


On the morning we played with the Shore View guys, I picked up Other Gene. and Gary, our superintendent, at Gene’s house. They were waiting in front when I arrived, at 4:45 a.m., and when I opened the trunk of my car Gene’s dogs, which are huge, started barking inside his house. Gene was worried that the dogs would wake up his wife, so he kept saying “Shhhhhh, shhhhhhh, shhhhhh”—very quietly, so as not to make matters worse. I was standing next to him and could barely hear him, so I assume the dogs heard nothing, their famous ears notwithstanding. At any rate, they kept barking and, if anything, got louder. Miraculously, though (we learned later), Gene’s wife slept through the whole thing.

Let’s Have a Look at Those Famous Merion Showers

Men's locker room, Merion Golf Club.

Men’s locker room, Merion Golf Club.

Like any sensible golf fan, I’m at home playing with my friends and, between rounds, watching the Open on TV. I visited Merion back in March, though, and while I was there I took a close look at the club’s famous showers, which have heads the size of manhole covers. Using one is like bathing in a car wash—in a good way.


The showers require not just oversize supply pipes but also oversize drains. In the nineteen-forties, as the club struggled to overcome the economic impact of both the Great Depression and the Second World War, the house committee replaced them with conventional fixtures, in the hope of reducing the club’s water bill. J. Howard Pew, who was the president of the Sun Oil Company, demanded that the old fixtures be put back, and instructed the committee to add the club’s water expense to his own house account—as it did for years. (Merion didn’t retire its mortgage until 1971.)

The view from below. Don't try this while the water is flowing.

The view from below. Don’t try this while the water is flowing.

Merion-style shower heads have become standard fixtures at go-to-hell golf clubs all over. Pine Valley (which was founded by pretty much the same group of guys who founded Merion) has them. So, surprisingly, do a few clubs in the British Isles, which may be the source of this grooming arrangement:

If this were England, there would also be a nail brush and a nail file hanging from a chain.

If this were England, there would be a nail brush in there, too, plus a nail file hanging from a chain.

When Merion remodeled its women’s locker room, the women decided they wanted Merion-style showers, too. But then one of them realized that if they had them they would no longer be able to avoid getting their hair wet, so they stuck with wall-mounted fixtures. Their loss.

Merion’s men’s locker room has two levels, whose residents compete every year in an upstairs/downstairs tournament. (Winged Foot members do the same.) The current titleholder is indicated by a clock-like dial on the upper level, although I was told, confidentially, that members of the vanquished side will sometimes move the pointer.

IMG_0575On the wall outside the downstairs shower room are several framed scorecards. One of them commemorates a round in 1964 during which a member named Andrew J. Davis, Jr., played the first seven holes in two over par (after hitting a ball out of bounds on the second) and then made ten consecutive 3s. He finished with what must, by that point, have seemed like a disappointing 4, on the club’s 450-yard closing hole, for a score of 65.

On a winter evening a decade ago, a member named Edward Slevin, Jr., organized a dinner for a small group of his golf buddies in the bar on the second floor of the Merion clubhouse. They were marking time till spring and, not incidentally, trying to spend down their food minimums. In the years since then, their informal gathering has evolved into a monthly off-season party, and it’s now so popular that the only club space large enough to accommodate it is the men’s locker room. I attended the March dinner, two weeks before the East Course was scheduled to reopen for 2013. Slevin sat at the head of a very long table, which was almost a full lob wedge from end to end, and when dessert and various announcements were over much of the group reconvened downstairs, in the bar. Here’s what the table looked like before we all sat down:


Hey, how about a shower before dessert?