May 2018 By: Jim Finnegan – The Newtown Square course will host the BMW Championship this September, as well as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2020 and the 2027’s men’s PGA Championship.
After an ambitious course renovation, Aronimink Golf Club is preparing to host the BMW Championship in September. At this penultimate event of the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, the top 70 players will compete for 30 spots at the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta. It will mark the first time since 1959 that this event, formerly known as the Western Open, will be contested in Pennsylvania.
Regarded as one of the premier golf courses in the country, the storied Newtown Square club has a proven track record of hosting major golf events, most recently the AT&T National in 2010 and 2011. The legendary Donald Ross layout in will also be the site of two other golf tournaments: the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the 2027 men’s PGA Championship.
Aronimink didn’t need a restoration project to attract the world’s best golfers—but it’s surely helped. “The course will be much different from what the players saw in 2010 and 2011—more as it was when it first opened in 1928, as Ross intended it,” says Jeff Kiddie, Aronimink’s head golf professional. “For the spectators, the field will be stronger than what played in the 2010 and 2011 AT&T National. We had good fields and great champions for those events, but this field is one of the strongest of the year.”
The challenge of Aronimink’s renovation fell on the competent shoulders of Malvern-based golf course architect Gil Hanse, who’s become the new Rees Jones, the go-to guy for course restoration in advance of a major event. Hanse’s projects around the world—from the Olympic course in Rio to Los Angeles Country Club to Trump National Doral in Florida—make him one of the hardest-working men on turf.
Fortunately for Hanse and his crew, two things were in their favor for this project: The course had never been dramatically altered, making restoration possible, and some good aerial photos were taken around 1929. “We really studied the aerial photographs that the club had in their records,” Hanse says. “There’s an amazing resource called the Dallin collection, and there are aerial photographs of nearly every golf course in the Philadelphia region from the late 1920s and 1930s.”
Hanse zoomed in on these photos to try and determine scale, depth, location, etc. “With the help of our talented associate, Jaeger Kovich, and superintendent John Gosselin, we were able to get them as close as possible to our understanding of the original as-built design,” he says.
All said and done, Hanse and his team were able to roll back years of modifications and natural decline, with the time machine landing in late 1928. The beauty is that the restoration elements look less like changes and more like design aspects that have always been there, waiting to be reborn. “What players and spectators will notice the most will be in the bunkering,” says Hanse. “But there are many new tees—both back and front—and the tees have also been reshaped to be more in keeping with the original free-form shapes of the tees. The greens have also been enlarged to reclaim lost area and lost hole locations.”
Hanse notes that the changes will be the most noticeable from a play standpoint. “However, the aesthetic changes to the course in the presentation of the bunkers, the scale of the features and the sweep of the landscape are also very tangible benefits of the restoration,” he says.
Behind the first tee at Aronimink, there’s a plaque that quotes Ross, often referred to as the Michelangelo of golf course design. About Aronimink, it reads: “I intended to make this my masterpiece, but not until today did I realize that I built better than I knew.”
“The most rewarding thing is that the golf course is now as close to the original picture painted by Donald Ross as it has been since that opening day,” says Hanse. “To have been part of that restoration is indeed highly gratifying.”
Now the burden is back on the club, as Kiddie, his staff and Aronimink’s members get ready to host the region’s biggest golf tournament since the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in 2013. “Our members have been great partners to work with in running these types of events. This can often be overlooked in the success of an event, and it isn’t the case at every club,” says Kiddie. “We also are fortunate enough to have acreage at the club that allows for big events like this. So many of the classic courses in the Northeast are landlocked and can’t support events of this size. Finally, we are fortunate to be located in a great area of Philadelphia that loves and supports golf in a big way.”
With all the elements in place, local golf fans are counting down the days. “When spectators arrive on the grounds, they’ll see the stars of the PGA Tour contending for one of golf’s most prestigious titles on a fully restored course that’s among the most challenging and celebrated in the country,” says Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of the Western Golf Association.
And we can party like it’s 1928.