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(Potentially) Great Places In The Game: Cobbs Creek

Superb as Merion turned out to be as a modern major venue, when the Grey Goose 19th Hole discussion turned to other classics needing to host a major, I couldn't help but nominate Cobbs Creek in Philadelphia.

Sure, the muni has seen better days despite the best efforts of Billy Casper Golf to hold this potential gem together with little budget, but after the (mostly) successful Bethpage and Torrey Pines experiments I think we've seen how important it is to revitalize run-down public gems.

So first off, here's the discussion, which I thought was pretty compelling:

Why did I mention Cobbs Creek? Because nothing has brought better vibes to golf than the resurgence of run-down munis. And if there is an old public course of architectural significance crying out for attention, it's this one. Cobbs Creek is currently a mess architecturally. But the bones are there: grand-scale property, great golf city, strong architectural lineage and a beautiful setting.

All that is needed? $15 million and a governing body willing to deal with some red-tape. The payoff, however, could be Bethpage-esque.

Joe Bausch, a Villanova professor and lover of the classics, toured me around this gem the Monday after Merion and it was impossible not to see the potential for an East Lake/Bethpage/Torrey Pines type revitalization.

If you want to learn more about Cobbs Creek, the Friends of Cobb blog is here.

Golf Digest's David Owen visited and wrote this piece.

Joe Logan filed a MyPhillyGolf update article in May.

Golf Channel's Matt Ginella visited and filed this report.

And Brendan Prunty filed this look at efforts to get a restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner going.

Just a few midday photos by yours truly:

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Reader Comments (46)

Cobbs really does have the bones and Joe Bausch, Mike Cirba and the rest of the Friends of Cobbs Creek deserve a ton of credit for their vision and efforts to move this dream toward reality.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRose
The payoff could also be $125 daily greens fees for the regular locals who play there, who in turn would be forced to find somewhere else to play. It's a dump. Or let me rephrase that - it was a dump several years ago when I had the misfortune of playing there. A handful of good holes and tricky greens complexes wasn't enough for me to look beyond what it was long enough to consider what it could be. Granted, I'm not looking at it from the lens of a course architect, but rather the lens of someone who understands the importance of inexpensive golf courses and the roles they play at the grassroots level.

Despite its rundown state, it serves a valuable purpose for the underprivileged youth who enjoy playing golf, and I'd hate to see that change. And the publicity of this type of arrangement would indeed change that.

I say all of this with the caveat that it only cost me $25 to play there back in the mid-2000's. I have no idea what the daily rate is now during the peak summer months.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
I'd throw Mount Pleasant Golf Course, located in Baltimore, which has a really nice history, in the same bucket. If you fix it up nice you lose the current clientele.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Muni golf should be priced below $40, and 15 million dollars is a lot of money, unlees you are PV or DT.

thwew ia no reason a restoration need cost millions, unless we are putting filter wqueen suckers in the greens, and other such tricks which serve onece on a blue moon, but cost the daily fee player every day.

It's nice looking, but along with slow play, the money needed to play is a big hole in the interest issue.

One wonders is the fools who pay the jacked up prices for NFL, etc, are ever going to realizee That they are dupes, buying the stadium, leasing it for pennies, and then paying thru the nose twicw, for the ticke they bought to go to the game, and for thr product they bought that is overpriced to pay for the corporate suite which made their $20 ticket cost 140 bucks.

AND SO COLLEGES ARE NOW IN ON IT AS WELL. oops . Go to a lttle league game, or a pee wee game; more fun, almost free, and no parking lams.

Sorry Geoff. I know your heart is in the right place on the muni restor, vut unless green fees remain normal, they can keep their mitts off the inexpensive courses that most of the growth in American Golf was driven by.

Am I wrong?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
$15 million!? Just leave it alone. It's an inexpensive muni. Let's keep it inexpensive.
Just because a few 'beard pullers' think it'd be a good idea to restore it doesn't mean it is.

I'd say fixing up that course for millions would be last on the list of things the City needs to do.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered Commenterredneck
You're not wrong in my book, digs.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
An (overgrown) diamond in the rough right there. Shame about all those neglected trees mucking up the place. Time to break out the Husquvarna's.

As per Digger's post: +1 Agree 100%. Courses like this need to be affordable and "cheap". Because without cheap golf, alot of the golfers we idolize would've never made it to the big leagues.

Tillinghast courses (and any other place he had a tiny bit of influence) should be restored and preserved much like historical buildings and related sites. I can't think of a single bad experience I had on his designs...aside from my own ineptitude but that was self administered.

Same goes with original Ross designs.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
As someone involved in initiating this project, I would like to clear up some misconceptions, answer any questions, and I certainly appreciate your concerns. All of us who formed "Friends of Cobb's Creek Golf Course" are public course golfers ourselves, and I can tell you that everyone involved in the project wants to ensure that the golf course remains affordable and available to the regulars who have supported the course over the years. Certainly, there have been discussions about structuring fees in a way where city (and immediate surrounds) residents are given discounted rates. From our perspective, a restored Cobb's Creek that shuts out the course from the regulars would be a failure.

But why the need to do anything at all? I think the reasons for restoring the old layout are simple. At the time it was built it was known as the best public golf course in the country, and its reputation continued through the 20s, hosting the US Publinks tournament in 1928. In the 1950s it was decided to locate an Air Missile defense base on the property, where the City Line Driving Range is today. That loss of 15% of the total property acreage forced a re-routing into today's configuration. Five of the very best holes were lost and their current versions are quite cramped in spots (and inferior to the originals) due to the loss of width and overall acreage. Whether we can convince everyone of that will have to be seen and judged by the ultimate results, but we have had world class architects on site who agree that the course has absolutely amazing potential, that the original routing was ingenious, and is very special. The fact that some of the greatest architects in the history of the game, including Hugh Wilson of Merion and George Crump of Pine Valley collaborated on the original course (and very little else) makes it a historic treasure worth restoring, in my opinion.

More importantly, the status quo is not maintainable. Due to the passage in June 1912 of the city's Stormwater Management Plan (an EPA requirement), SOMETHING is going to happen to the golf course along Cobb's Creek itself. That something can be very bad for the golf course unless proactive steps working with the city's water department are taken, and the potential is there to lose ALL of the creek holes.

Given the history of flooding along the golf course, one of our biggest goals has been seeing a long-term fix to this situation. Fortunately, the groups involved have been proactive in trying to work within the Philadelphia Water Department goals and guidelines in attempting to come up with a plan to achieve the goals of cleaner water, mitigated flooding, and creation of new wetland areas while preserving the golf features.

The financial end of this was never our motivation, but with the present situation nobody is making money on nearly 400 acres of city property. You have a decaying infrastructure (an irrigation system from the 50s), buildings in need of renovation, alienation from the neighborhood, practice facilities divorced from the main property, and a host of other issues. This place could and should be a landmark for the city, and a destination spot.

And finally, no one is asking the city to fund this as they have much more important priorities for their limited funds. The intent is to creat a foundation of private, civic-minded donors to do both the restoration and provide funding that will sustain a solid maintenance plan ongoing. The only monies the city would need to provide are those already targeted under their Stormwater Management plan for the area along the course, and detailed plans have been drawn up that integrate that plan with the course restoration plan.

Hope this helps...I'd be glad to answer anything else I can as time permits. Thanks for your interest.

Very Best Regards,
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cirba
Thanks for the contribution, Mike Cirba.

Anything that allows the golf course to be more scenic, more enjoyable to play, and improves the quality and conditioning of the layout, (without an enormous increase in daily greens fees) I think is a noble endeavor.

I do have some basic questions.

- how many rounds were played over the past two seasons at Cobb's Creek?
- what were the average daily fees during this period?
- what do you project the average daily fee to be once the restoration efforts have been completed?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
Good God, let's start with buying ten chainsaws.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKS
Thanks for the info Mike Cirba. I saw a pic in one of the links and it featured/mentioned Tillinghast, I jumped the gun there. I'm a big fan of courses that have creative, interesting, yet functional routings and anything that restores a lost original is worth fighting for.

400 acres!!?? That's alot of potential right there. Especially in a big city. Oh where is Bob Parsons when you need him?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz

How about taking some of that Ferry Point cash and restoring Split Rock into a gem that could host any championship as well as the public golfers of NYC? Have you seen better green complexes on a muni?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffreyC
Is there a Philly Tom Cousins out there?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve pearson
Great recap Mike. I was peripherally aware of the project/idea but didn't know much about the background of the course...a lot of that sounds similar to Lido.

So, by my calculations if the hedge fund honchos who are whipping around the Great USGA Slush Fund are even close to approximating overall market returns in 2013 the Blue Blazer Brigade is gonna have something close to $400,000,000 at their disposal starting the new year... suggestion would be that immediately after they stroke the check for rehabilitating the Crooked Creek Golf Course in Flat Rock, NC, they should stroke you a check for $15,000,000 so you boys can get down to work!!

I'm sure they can make do with the remaining $384,000,000...don'cha think?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
johnny....S&T is looking to get in touch with you.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Del, are you a socialist? Always wanting to spend other peoples' money ;-)

Mount Pleasant in Baltimore is great! The only course I went back to, many times, during my sojourn in Charm City and where our Tuesday Night Golf League for Nerds played through the spring and summer. First place The King won on TOUR, in this country. Great list of champions of the Eastern Open. But Brian is right. If rehabilitation comes at the cost of reasonable fees, the current clientele will just leave.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
The saying goes time is of the essence and time is also money. I understand thanks to maybe some help from Chris Lange and his rolodex that the money is there and waiting. Red tape aside what is happening to make this happen and other than storm water mgmt issues what is holding this up?


12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
Ky, I resemble that remark!

Ok, now I'm off to an expensive mid-town steakhouse for our annual golf awards dinner ;)

Happy Holidays everyone!!!
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Gosh, I love Cobbs Creek, and shamefully, I've only been back once or twice in the past 15+ years. It's always been so demoralising, in a way.

First got to play it in round one of an annual junior event (rounds two and three were at North Hills and Eagle Lodge), which I played every year in high school, called the Greater Philadelphia Scholastic Golf Classic (no idea if it is still extant, but it was great rota of courses); played there also, every spring, vs a local Catholic League school (was it Ryan??) when I was in high school at LaSalle; when was an undergrad at UPenn, I used to take the 69th street line to the depot, once a week or so, and walk over -- we even had a few 'selection rounds' there, for the Varsity team. Lots of the 'country club' kids in high school and college were snooty about the place, but it was so much fun, and so many different shots required, from some very odd lies! (and, occasionally, a roped-off crime scene;)

So many stunning golf holes, or the bones of them (even then it felt archaeological to play), and when the greens were quick (I remember them as very quick, from the GPSGC), a putt from above the hole on 18 or the par-five 7th were nearly unstoppable.

The shot into the 15th is thrilling, and what a big, bold par four -- mid-iron (for me) off a side-slope, to a green well above, with doom to the right, and no picnic to the left; I remember getting a case of the shanks hitting into sixteen in a tournament once (my first bout of many), and playing a Philly Open where there was not a blade of grass on 17, and trying to hit a crisp sand-wedge from the path to the right of the green. I think I was then trying the same shot from the opposite side of the green, seconds later.

And that glorious walk from three to four, and the seclusion of the fifth, and maddening absurdity of it, too -- bouncing it off concrete rubble, or abandoned shopping carts in the Creek. (I was shot in the hand there one afternoon, by kids in the trees up by the Norristown commuter line, using a BB gun and aiming at golfers. Thankfully, I putt with my glove on! And no, I didn't miss it any worse than usual.)

I had some friends -- Pat and Tom, who lived nearby -- and we'd play it most days first summer out of high school; you used to be able to get an annual pass to all the Philly city courses for 400 bucks or so, unlimited play, and we'd have 36-hole days. Three or four days a week; no grass *ever* on the Crick hole tees, especially three (which sometimes played as one, confusingly). The greatest tree ever on that hole, too, which is now lost; the ideal landing spot was near the cart path on the high side, and then that lovely kick to the left. And hopefully a lie with some grass so you could hit to the green, which was often half 'under repair'.

One day, it rained and rained and we walked off the course, and came back the next day. And the course was as a green as Ireland, and lush too; if only it could be like that all the time. We said that time and time again. It was amazing.

And the folks you'd meet there were so cool, and random. Played through Dr J. and one other guy from that 76ers team (they were with their kids), when I was a single, on the par three sixth (sometimes the fourth); got their autographs -- the nicest guys, and having a blast, 'just folks', as they say. And sometimes playing in the morning, with it misty, and tee shot off 13, over the valley, after the heroically scaled 11th and 12th, was my favourite in golf, and what a shot into twelve. The 14th wasn't bad, either, always aiming down the seventh.

And around the 18th, on those stone slabs-cum-benches, all the audience you could ever need. Bliss.

12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ-Mack
@ J-Mack - thanks for the post ! Lots of great memories there for you, made me smile to read it.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
By the way Cobbs was in the best shape I have ever seen it this past May and early June. Moved to PHL in 04.

For those that want to play Cobbs in its best shape the best time to play is either right before or right after the Philly Open Am which is run by the Philly Publinks. 2014 will be the 47th edition of the event.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
My response might sound very ignorant and uninformed but I have lived in Philly for over 20 years and had the misfortune to play golf at Cobbs a couple of times during my high school career. It is a dog track. The community doesn't appreciate what it is, the city has many more problems to worry about than a golf course. Its a dirty place, infested with rats, garbage, drugs, homeless, etc. Philly is just a couple notches above Detroit as far as dysfunctionality goes, so this place will eventually end up abandoned.
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGolfGenius

You must have a hard time appreciating the finer things in life? Also, how's business at GolfGenius these days?

Cobbs is all those things you mention and much much more!

PS - you should check out Juniata some day
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner

Billy Casper's best efforts? That some funny stuff right there. They only care about making money and not losing a course to a re-construction. If you want to applaud someone for best efforts you should point out the part time grounds crew employees that actually try their hardest to not just maintain but also improve the place. Casper to my eye has not yet done one friggin thing to invest in or improve Cobbs. Just my two cents.

Del you enjoying your steak?
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
AC, steak was fantastic! If you don't have the hookup at Luger's or are looking for the same meal with a lot more convenience do yourself a favor and check out Wolfgang's -- truly the only Luger's knockoff that ever got it right.

Ignore all the advice and simply order:

-- 1.2 slices of bacon per person
-- 1 shrimp cocktail per 2 people
-- steak for XX medium rare
-- 1 creamed spinach per 2 people
-- 1 home fries per 2.5 people
-- 1 piece chocolate mousse pie per 1.5 people

Don't ever say I didn't tell you so...

(wine and Newcastle as your group desires)
12.19.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Darn it I'm hankering for a steak and all the fixins...and it's not even 11am where I'm @.

No jacket potatoes?
12.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
@GolfGenius: I'm sorry they didn't have a sommelier w/ a chefs-table service while you were Heck...I really want to tee it up there simply from reading j-Mack's post (+2 really got the vapors for that place!)

Anyways. Real golfers know course conditions are variable...since the game is played outdoors. They know how to look past the condition of the course and appreciate a well designed track for what it is. I've played on countless "Perfect" courses that have nary a bunker rake or blade of grass out of place with scented bathrooms every 3 holes and all that... but I didn't enjoy myself because the course design was a joke.

I'm not saying conditions don't matter...they do, but they're not as high up on the list. Stuff like strategic variablilty in the design (mix of strategic, heroic, penal situations, balanced mix of D-L left and rights, diff yardages on all the one-shotters, mix of direction on the longer ones), how the club is laid out, where the range/putting/practice areas are located, Proshop location, versatility when running shotgun tournaments, space for concession and much needed toilets when hosting a BIG tournament, cart barn, F&B facilities, parking, etc. Those are the important and expensive things that matter...getting the turf conditions better isn't nearly as hard as what they're attempting now and 400acres is alot of room for potential.

@J-Mack: Again...+2. I have about 2 or 3 courses where i spent some extended time where I can still remember almost every detail of those once in a while "just right" moments. Usually early or late in the day...and with a fun group of like minded hackers. Banff Springs #3 to #5 come to well as the entire "old home stretch" along the Bow River (now 8thru15). Great routing.

@DTF: email has been sent to 1st ever to someone w/ a Yahoo account via an open DB...he's not enessay is he?
12.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
Mike Cirba - keep on plugging buddy. This will, one day, be a great story.

J-Mack - played in a few of those "Scholastics" as well...great experience and a lot of fun. Not certain but I don't think it's still running. Didn't play the course outside of that event so don't have a fraction of the recall that you do. Have you checked out the "friends of CC site"?

12.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJS

Thanks for the hisory, and Austin has a Perry Maxwell gem that was the second home of Austin Country Club, the location that Harvey taught Ben abd Tom: it too hs had some holes rerouted, and it is a damn shamed. I wish you all the best, and now that I have rad more, I see that your interst in keeping Mumi fees ''munified'' is an improtant part of the package. It would be ashamed to have those awful concrete creeks, ala Colonial, and he Desert course whose name escapes me, but is featured every year on the PGA....just awful looking.

I have seen at least 2 course that started somewhat ''plain'' nad due to the foresight of the owners, keep on a full grounds crew through the slower months and add many features, while not raising the GF even a dollar. Hopefully this could be a start, and an inspiration for the USFGA to shake loose some of that ill gotten booty.
12.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
johnny, I'm sure you can get a baked potato...and in fact their mashed potatos are excellent as well...but Luger's tradition is for their "German fried potatos" that's what we go with :0)
12.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF

I will try to answer some of the questions that have been asked this coming weekend. What I will say right now is that things still look very promising coming into the new year. And yes, Philadelphia, there is a Santa Claus and he's coming to town, even for the skeptics and non-believers.

12.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cirba
Thanks Mike. Look forward to your updates and info.

All, I think its time for the East Coast Shack Open! Am sure Geoff would agree it should be held at Gil Hanse's first design at Inniscrone which under new ownership was showcasing the best public greens I have ever seen or played minus Bethpage!
12.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
We hope so, Mike! Cheers.
12.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
I'm all for an 'East Coast Shack Open' at Inniscrone, AC. I'm willing to help organize it. Contact me. My contact info is not hard to find.
12.22.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Bausch
Putting the golf course back to its original design is a fantastic idea. I can't imagine playing that course with the equipment available at that time. Holes 5,6,7 must have been brutal. No wonder everyone said it was hard.

Regardless of this plan, and Im in favor of the restoration, its a real shame that the Fairmount Park Commissiors allowed the current operator as well as all prior operators of this course to destroy this facilitiy. My concern is that Billy Casper will continue to operate after the design. They have shown no desire to improve the current golf course as well as destroying its sister course Karakung.
Cobbs and Karakung in there current setup should mirror Turtle Creek or Jeffersonville condition wise. No reason other than the individuals responsible are not competent. Would you hire them to operate your golf course after a visit to Cobbs/Karakung?

The individuals behind the renovation have great intentions and I wish them all the best. If it can be pulled off, it will be a great win for everyone as long as it doesn't destroy the original intention of this golf course(Affordible Public Golf).
12.23.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOZ
OZ it is not a real surprise that Billy Casper has run this facility in this fashion and they will continue to run it this way since there is no proof yet that they care about much other than making money. I am sure they are on board so long as they get to keep their sweetheart deal to manage this golf complex er I mean cash cow since they don't actually invest in te place. Just maintaining the status quo is good enough for them. Not sure I disagree with their philosophy as it must make sound business sense but it certainly doesn't motivate me to play Cobbs more than I do which is maybe 3x per year and 2 of those rounds are compulsory for matches.

Maybe when the GAP moves in they can run the place as well as the foundation being proposed to support Cobbs forever!
12.23.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner

Sorry for the delay in responding and I'll try to answer everyone's questions by telling you a bit more about the project, hoping that it may clear up some of the concerns and loose ends.

First, let me speak to the conditions and economics on the ground today. In recent years the courses (remember there are presently two courses there) have done around 40,000 rounds annually, and when one considers that used to be 80,000 - 120,000 during the courses heyday in the late 20s, early 30s, there is room for growth, particularly in off-peak times.

And while I have no direct or indirect affiliation with Billy Casper Golf, I have played the course over the years since 1981 and will state uneqivocally that the original course in recent years has been in the best condition, particularly the greens, that I've ever seen. Joe and I have taken quite a few folks out there in recent years, including some who used to play and work on the course when they were younger, and without exception they have been pleasantly surprised at conditions. I will also say that guys like Darren and Kevin, as well as back-office guys like Rob W. have been staunch supporters of our efforts and the company has gone into its own pockets during this planning phase to keep things moving forward with no guarantee that this will ever be approved. Simply put, this project would never be where it is today if BCG had not been in charge of the course during the past few years. Period.

More shortly.
12.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cirba
One last piece about maintenance today...anyone attempting to maintain the course would find their efforts hampered by a failing single-line irrigation system from the 1950's. Further, BCG has made a conscious decision to divert maintenance efforts and funds from the Karakung course to the Old course over the past few years. The plans to have Gil and Jim reconfigure that piece of the property for an original nine hole course, practice areas, and junior course has factored into that calculated decision.

Going forward, the plan, and yes, detailed plans have already been developed, is to work with city, state, and federal entities to restore and flood proof the creek along the length of the course, create environmental benefits through creation of tens of acres of wetlands, remove invasive species of trees and plants, restore the original routing of the Old course, reconfigure Karakung as described above which would be configurable into a hybrid Composite course worthy of top national competititions (yes, including a tour or USGA event), create top notch educational, practice,and learning facilities, and become the permanent home of the Golf Association of Philadelphia.

To accomplish this, private funds have been raised to create a non-profit organization who will both fund this renovation/restoration through a sizable grant to the city, as well as maintain the course in perpetuity. It is proposed that the foundation, aka the Cobb's Creek Golf Foundation, will lease the property from the city of Philadelphia for a term of 99 years.

The mission statement of the Foundation is as follows;

By restoring a Philadelphia landmark, the CCGF will utilize a world-class golf course to provide three core elements to the Greater Philadelphia metropolitan community:

1. Create environmental and economic sustainability for Cobb's Creek Golf Course.
2. Provide premier value driven educational center.
3.Stimulate charitable activity and economic growth in the Philadelphia region.

CCGF's sole purpose is to stimulate charitable activity, economic growth and education e Philadelphia's youth in the values inherent in the game of golf while returning a Philadelphia landmark back to its historic significance.

So, yes...on this Christmas Day I can say without question that there is a Santa Claus because I've seen him/them.

Happy Holidays everyone!
12.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cirba
Would you like to share the members of the Cobbs Creek Golf Foundation.
12.27.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOZ

I've met a number of those looking to help and to a person they are accomplished, committed, and civic minded individuals looking to give back to the community. I suspect some will make themselves known if this gets approval while others may prefer to remain anonymous. They are also people with a history of getting things done.

I would add that although funding has been secured, we are looking for additional donors to help defray everyone's share.

Hope this helps.
12.29.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cirba

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