Despite heated debate over the fate of the historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course, City Council on Thursday passed a zoning exemption sought by the nonprofit that is spearheading its $60 million redevelopment. In the 1950s, Cobbs Creek Golf Course in West Philadelphia,was home to several prominent African American golfers such as Charlie L. Sifford Jr., a Black man known as the “Jackie Robinson of golf,” Lee Elder and legendary boxer and heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Elder was the first African American to win the Masters Tournament. PGA events remained segregated until 1961. The debate even took on a musical tone when one speaker sang about his opposition to the plan to the tune of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The ukulele player substituted the words “put up a parking lot” with “put up a golfing course” in the chorus of his song.
Other community members praised the works of the Cobbs Creek Foundation with its education programs for young people, at several area schools. But other groups, such as Philly Thrive, who opposed the golf course, called the $1-a-year lease grossly unfair and wanted some of the land for community use, such as a place for ATV riders and other programs. Environmental group activists opposed giving the zoning exemption to Cobbs Creek Foundation because they said the foundation tore down more than 1,500 trees, which could lead to flooding of nearby neighborhoods. In fact, after listening to the groups, City Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr., D-4th District, offered several amendments to the bill to ease concerns. Some concerned community members were supportive of the foundation’s efforts.
Rachel Kemp, parent liaison at the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, (WPACES) who addressed Council on behalf of Stacey Phillips, founder/CEO of the school, said, “We are very excited about the Cobbs Creek Foundation and what they are doing in the community. Our student and families will have a place that is safe.” For the first time in decades this historic landmark is being revitalized and deserves recognition, said Kemp, a longtime neighborhood resident. “Even though the actual educational center will not open until 2024, their educational team and volunteers have been running excellent programs at WPACES,” Kemp said. “These programs have been supporting our children and their families. Our children have been doing math tutoring which they love.”