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Philly's tin-cup course

Bob Wheeler, an ex-cop, taps local volunteers and union workers to helpmake the Juniata Golf Club green again. It's Philadelphia's tin-cupcourse.

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What 'I like about the place is there isn't any of the cliquishness that's the downfall of golf courses. This is a family atmosphere.' – Bob Wheeler

sabina pierce/special to the christian science monitor

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Augusta National this is not. This is Juniata, where a defaced sign warns you to lock your car and take your valuables. Where the backs of benches advertise security services and union locals. Where the "clubhouse" is actually a cart barn. And this is the new and improved Juniata, as it inches itself out of the path of a possible developer's bulldozer.

Conditions at the 78-year-old Juniata Golf Club, always the poor relation of the six city-owned public courses, had deteriorated in recent years, the victim of scarce funding, vandalism, and neglect. When a 2003 fire destroyed the clubhouse – and the bathrooms – there was no money to rebuild, and many golfers stopped coming. Those who did were increasingly irate at having to pay even $20 greens fees, only to encounter trash and weeds, vandalism, graffiti, and worse. Juniata was losing money, and last year the Fairmount Park Commission, which owned the course, cut off funding altogether.

It suggested to Bob Wheeler, the retired Philadelphia policeman who was club manager, that he put together a nonprofit foundation to run the course. Now, with the new club just a few months into its first season, Mr. Wheeler is credited with leading the resurrection of Juniata. "He took the idea and ran with it," says Barry Bessler, chief of staff of the park commission.

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