August 23, 2017 By: Joe Juliano – When famed architect Donald Ross built Aronimink Golf Club, he plotted out a huge green for the 15th hole with a punch bowl-like design, where sloping sides draw the ball to the center of the surface.
It’s one of the distinctive features on a course filled with distinctive features, a result of the discovery of vintage photographs – an aerial shot and several taken at ground level – from 1929, one year after Aronimink opened at its current location. Club officials approved a restoration project, led by Malvern-based architect Gil Hanse, that included returning bunker complexes to their original look and returning greens to their first dimensions.
The restoration will be completed late this fall and early winter, in plenty of time for Aronimink to host the 2018 BMW Championship, the third of four PGA Tour FedExCup playoff tournaments that will be conducted Sept. 6-9. The event features the top 70 players still alive in the playoff race.
Club president Joe Fabrizio said the members are eager to showcase the restored Aronimink to the national and international golf world. He thinks everyone will like what they see.
“Obviously the changes made on the golf course were to challenge the players,” Fabrizio said Tuesday. “But if you look at what’s been done, it’s outstanding from an aesthetic perspective. It really is impressive being out there and looking out over these holes and seeing the layout and the bunker structures and tees.”
And, you can add, a green shaped like a punch bowl.
“Donald Ross built a large punch bowl-like green and he gave the dimensions,” golf course superintendent John Gosselin said. “So we looked at the photographs, and that’s exactly what was built. So we put it back. It was cool that Donald Ross decided to put a punch bowl on this golf course.”
The sheer size of the green has lengthened the par-4 hole from the back tee of 500 yards to 515 yards when establishing a new center point for the enlarged surface, Gosselin said. As for other greens, he said the club was “98 percent close to having the original greens back – same size, same shape, same contours.”
Then there are the bunkers. Before the project started, Aronimink had 75 bunkers. Now the club has 174 and could add a few more before the job is completed. All the bunkers are new with a new base and drainage.
Gosselin said the par-4 11th hole was an example of bunker clusters originally designed by Ross that had been merged into one bunker, leaving that hole with a total of five. The aerial photograph from 1929 showed 23 bunkers, and workers put back 20 of them, leaving three out because “some probably didn’t make sense for today’s game,” he said.
Gosselin estimated about 85 percent of the project was completed by last spring. When restoration work resumes Nov. 1, he said, 13 sets of tees will be redone, “getting rid of the big runway tees that we have” and taking out elevated tee boxes to make them “whatever the land dictated.”
The course and a playoff-caliber event could put Aronimink in a position to attract a major, perhaps the PGA Championship. Fabrizio called the BMW “a major-level event” and said the club’s focus is on that.
“What the future brings, we don’t know,” he said. “From 2018 forward, if there’s other opportunities we could consider, we will.”
The club last welcomed the PGA Tour in 2010 and 2011, when the AT&T National, a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, was held there while Congressional Country Club, the event’s home venue, was being renovated. The 2003 Senior PGA Championship also was held at Aronimink.
“The AT&T was an opportunity for the club to get back on the national landscape as far as hosting golf tournaments,” Fabrizio said. “It was a great tournament, but we think that the BMW is even going to be greater. It’s been rated the PGA Tour event of the year four times. When you come out and you see what they do, it’s just fantastic.”