Tiger Woods hires former West Philadelphia principal to run his TGR Lab at Cobbs Creek Golf Course

Meredith Foote, a veteran educator who taught school in Philadelphia and Newark, was named executive director of TGR Learning Lab in July.

File photo: Many trees were felled as part of the restoration and renovation of the Cobbs Creek golf course and community engagement center, as seen on Feb. 27, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

File photo: Many trees were felled as part of the restoration and renovation of the Cobbs Creek golf course and community engagement center, as seen on Feb. 27, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The new head of Tiger Woods’ Learning Lab plans to use her experience as a West Philadelphia elementary school principal to guide the education program at the historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course.

Meredith Foote, a veteran educator who taught school in Philadelphia and Newark, was named executive director of TGR Learning Lab in July. Previously, Foote was principal of Overbrook Educational Center for nine years.

“I have really strong existing relationships with the students and parents at my former school along with strong relationships with the school district and other principals,” said Foote, who started her career at Teach for America.

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Meredith Foote smiles in a portrait photo
Meredith Foote, executive director of Tiger Woods’ TGR Learning Lab at the historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course in West Philadelphia.

According to Foote, the TGR Learning Lab at the golf course will be modeled after its flagship lab in Anaheim, Calif., an educational enrichment program founded by Woods in 1996 that teaches high tech skills such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics and video game design, along with golf course design and management. It also provides tutoring and guidance on applying for college and financial aid.

“We are going to replicate all of the wonderful things that are going on there and provide additional programming that is unique to the needs of the Philadelphia community,” Foote said. “Right now, we are serving students in grades second, third and fourth grades at two local elementary schools by providing after school math tutoring.”

According to the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford University, students who regularly receive tutoring see a benefit equivalent to between three to fifteen months of additional schooling.

The goal of the lab is to serve students in grades first through twelfth, with a focus on fifth  through twelfth, Foote said.

A rendering of a building with people outside
A rendering of the TGR Learning Lab at Cobbs Creek Golf Course, which is scheduled to open next year. (TGR Foundation)

The lab prioritizes students who live closest to the golf course, she said, with the goal to serve about 4,500 young people a year.

“TGR Foundation has three pillars that we’re focused on. The first is Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) educational enrichment; the second is health and well-being; and the third is college and career readiness,” Foote said. “Our ultimate goal is to empower youth to pursue their passions through education and for every student that goes through the program to have a post-secondary actionable plan.”

Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridors Collaborative, a non-profit small business advocate, said Foote did good things while principal at Overbrook Educational Center.

“I have a lot of respect for her,” Jones said. “I think it was a great move to hire somebody that has local experience, somebody who has already done some really good things in the community. A lot of organizations, especially national groups, make the mistake of hiring somebody from outside the community, who doesn’t really know how this community functions, and it can cause a huge learning curve when trying to build partnerships.”

The TGR Learning Lab is scheduled to open in a 30,000-square-foot facility in 2025, and the Cobbs Creek Golf Course’s multi-million redevelopment by the non-profit Cobbs Creek Foundation is expected to be completed the next year. In 2023, Woods’ TGR Foundation said that it would partner with the foundation and bring its TGR Learning Lab to Philadelphia.

At the time, the legendary golfer said he and his team were “excited” to “make an impact on the Philadelphia community.”

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Woods also said he would duplicate the success that TGR Learning Lab demonstrated in Southern California over the past 25 years, making golf and education accessible to underserved communities.

According to the TGR Foundation, 98% of its college scholars graduated from high school and headed to college. About 91% were first-generation college students. More than 190,000 students have participated in TGR Learning Lab programs since 2006.

Today, in addition to Philadelphia, TGR Learning Lab has satellite programs in Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

In the 1950s, the 340-acre, city-owned golf course in West Philadelphia was frequented by well-known African American golfers who faced segregation and were prohibited from playing at many courses across the country until 1961.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, many prominent African American golfers played at Cobbs Creek Golf Course, including the late Charlie Sifford, who was known as the “Jackie Robinson” of golf, after the Black baseball player known for breaking the color barrier in the major leagues.

In fact, Woods said Sifford was an inspiration to him because his late father Earl Woods said he decided to play golf because of Sifford, and later taught his son the game.

Others who frequented Cobbs Creek were Lee Elder, the first Black man to win the Masters Tournament, and Joe Louis, the former heavyweight boxing champion.

Over the years, the Cobbs Creek Golf Course was neglected by the city and suffered frequent flooding from the nearby creek for which it is named. A fire destroyed the club house in 2016 and the course closed in 2020.

A view of a creek and a piece of land stretching into the distance.
Cobbs Creek golf course. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

But two years later, Cobbs Creek Foundation signed a long-term lease with the city of Philadelphia for a nominal fee. Under the terms of that lease, the foundation must redevelop the course and must make golf affordable for neighborhood and local residents.

The foundation also promised to create an education program for young people in the neighborhood.

Since then, the Cobbs Creek Foundation has put together a board that includes senior corporate executives from the Philadelphia area. They’ve also launched an ambitious fundraising strategy.

So far, it has raised about $80 million of a $150 million goal, said Michael O’Neill, executive vice president of Cobbs Creek Foundation.

“TGR is Cobbs Creek Foundation’s education partner and they will be running and managing all of our education curriculum and programming,” O’Neill said. “It’s part and parcel of the vision that we have and that is why we are purposely calling it Cobbs Creek Campus. It’s not just a golf course.”

Woods’ investment, along with his celebrity, O’Neill said, has helped with fundraising and added to the foundation’s credibility.

Considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, Tiger Woods is a native Californian, who ranks first in PGA Tournament wins and second in major tournament victories, and holds many other records in the game.

“Education is the premier part of what we are looking to do because of its impact on the community,” O’Neill said. “But we are also looking at the economic impact of the golf course, and all the pieces of the golf course will have on the community.”

For example, there are plans to build a restaurant on the course, which would provide jobs for residents.

O’Neill said the goal is to reclaim past history and to once more host major tournaments. Cobbs Creek Golf Course was considered one of the nation’s top municipal courses. In fact, TGR Design, Wood’s golf course design firm, is building a nine-hole short course at Cobbs Creek.

“We want to use this as an introduction to golf for our community members,” O’Neill said. “It will provide the ultimate experience for those who are new to the game.”

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