Two sudden-deaths, nuclear threat, and a changing tide: The history of Cobbs Creek and the Daily News Open
The year was 1955 and after a long six year hiatus, the PGA tour finally returned to Philadelphia. Now the Daily News Open instead of the Inquirer, the event was held at Cobbs Creek and was offering its biggest purse yet – $20,000.
The property had been recently condensed by nearly 15% in order to build an anti-aircraft artillery facility for the Army to defend against possible nuclear attack. This resulted in a significant alteration of six of the eighteen holes.
The rerouted course played 6,243 yards to an unusual par of 68, and two of the final three holes were par threes. The unusual layout sparked a lot of conversation because many weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
As the open began, neither humidity nor a light rain could deter the thousands who came to witness golfing greats such as Arnold Palmer, Cary Middlecoff and Doug Ford as well as many others go head to head to claim the title, along with its hefty $4,000 first place prize.
While the PGA Tour’s “Caucasian Clause” wouldn’t lift until 1961, Cobb’s Creek provided integrated open play for all during both the 1955 and 1956 opens. Long overdue, the names of legendary black golfers such as Charlie Sifford, Howard Wheeler, Ted Rhodes, James Clark, Zeke Hartsfield and Bill Bishop found their rightful place on the leaderboard. Although many were sadly already past their prime, it gave eager spectators a sense of the changing tide.
With Doug Ford and WWII vet and three-time Purple Heart Winner Ted Kroll tied for first, the event went into sudden death. After four lost playoffs in three years, Kroll’s luck changed as he ran down a 30-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. He left the course that day with first place and heavier pockets.
In June of 1956, the open returned to Cobbs Creek and it once again ran down to a sudden-death playoff. This time it was between up-and-comer Bud Holscher and Dick Mayer.
Despite a deadlock at the end of the 72 holes with 269 strokes each, Mayer took home the win on the second hole in sudden-death. During the two years the event was held at Cobbs Creek, Holscher and Mayer were the only two who went under par for all 72 holes. The very next year, Mayer went on to win the U.S. Open at Inverness.