How This Villanova Professor is Showcasing and Preserving Golf History
Joe Bausch turned his personal passion into a public project, which has catalogued over 500 golf courses.
Joe Bausch's archive features a vast number of local and destination golf courses. Photo by Tessa Marie Images.
When you hear “Bausch Collection,” you may think of an assemblage of fine art masterpieces. And you’d be correct—sort of. Only in this case, the canvases are green, and the artistry is provided by some of the greatest golf architects in history. The unlikely curator of said collection is Wayne’s Joe Bausch, a Villanova University chemistry professor who’s created an online catalog of over 500 golf courses, each documented hole by hole with pictures, scorecards, a map and other factoids.
Bausch’s most rewarding and impactful project has brought everything full circle. Once a competitive high school golfer growing up in the Midwest, his interest in the game was reignited by his drives past Cobb’s Creek Golf Club on his way to work after moving to the area. He connected with a cyber community of Cobb’s Creek fans on the Golf Club Atlas website. It would set in motion a series of events that began with mutual admiration over a decade ago and culminated in something pretty remarkable.
If you’ve ever played Cobb’s Creek or are familiar with its story, you know the national treasure it should be—and you also know the crumbling beauty it is now. It shares the same DNA with Merion Golf Club’s course, which debuted in 1912. Hugh Wilson designed both. “When Cobb’s Creek was first opened in 1916, it was amazingly popular, with over 60,000 paid rounds in a year,” says Bausch. “It was wide-open to all, regardless of race, gender, social status—there was nothing quite like it. Arnold Palmer played there in 1955-56, and Charlie Sifford, the first African-American on the PGA Tour, played there regularly.”
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Bausch and fellow Cobb’s Creek aficionado Mike Cirba saw the beauty and class beneath the years of neglect. They became the dynamic duo behind the Friends of Cobb’s Creek Golf Course, which was founded in 2008. Armed with research acumen (Bausch) and writing skills (Cirba), their goal was to attract someone to plan a restoration of the course’s 1928 routing—and the millions of dollars needed to fund such a massive task.
Their comprehensive 344-page history of the course, Cobb’s Creek Golf Course: Uncovering a Treasure, remains in manuscript form, but it set off a chain reaction. The City of Philadelphia took notice, and so did acclaimed golf architect Gil Hanse and his right hand man, Jim Wagner, who came up with plans for the restoration. Chris Lange also got involved. A commercial real estate broker and former Golf Association of Philadelphia player of the year, Lange is handling fundraising. Currently, the group is awaiting a final blessing from Philadelphia City Council to finalize a lease agreement with their nonprofit entity.
Morphing from course documentarian to historian has been a rewarding journey for Bausch. His archival work is so comprehensive you’d be hard pressed to find a public or private course within an hour or so of our region that isn’t documented. Overviews extend beyond the Delaware Valley, with a whole section of national “destination” tracks.
What’s become a 12-year odyssey wasn’t something Bausch set out to do. He and his wife originally created a “welcome to the area” website to bond with his organic chemistry students over something other than the periodic table. “We had links for local restaurants they should check out,” he says. “We divided it into sections based on whether they were paying or their parents were paying. They really seemed to like that.”
To further personalize the site, Bausch would drop in a golf course he’d played. One course became three—and then all public courses within 30 minutes of Villanova. Twenty-five became 50 ... and so on. “Now my students tend to say, ‘Wow, you play a lot of golf,’” he quips.
Bausch’s approach to documenting courses is low-tech by today’s standards. He employs a basic point-and-shoot camera. “I’m also playing the course while I’m taking pictures, so I need easy and light,” he says. “It’s also that I want to shoot the course from the perspective of a player—from the way the architect envisioned it.”
Watching Bausch chronicle a golf course is a bit like watching a hawk surveying the land from his perch—he doesn’t say much, but he’s taking it all in, processing subtle details a typical golfer might not see. Whether it’s a green that has shrunk over the years due to “maintenance creep” or a newer tree that’s out of place and disrupts the architect’s original flow, Bausch appreciates design elements in a deeper way.
These days, Bausch spends more time in the library than on the golf course, pouring through digital and microfiche archives of old Philadelphia newspapers from the early 1900s. The best papers of that era were the Philadelphia Record and the Public Ledger. His research has uncovered some significant gems over the years, which he now shares with the rest of the world through the Bausch Archives, a more historically oriented sister site. “It’s a lot easier when you’re looking for something specific,” he says. “The hardest, most time-consuming searches are when you aren’t looking for something specific and you have to read newspapers from end to end, hoping to stumble onto some amazing golfing piece to the puzzle.”
A curator’s travails never cease.