September 11, 2018 By:The way Gil Hanse sees it, Aronimink Golf Course was a worthy venue for the 2018 BMW Championship despite the myriad of the obstacles thrown its way since last Thursday.
The remnants of a tropical storm? Close to four inches of rain over the the last five days? Weather-related early starts, delays or postponements every single day of scheduled play?
And here’s another ‘Are you kidding?’ statistic: In the entire 70-man field, only six players failed to break par over four rounds. The winner, Keegan Bradley, got into a sudden-death playoff with Justin Rose at 20-under-par 260.
“(Course Superintendent) John Gosselin had it in immaculate condition,” Hanse said by phone Monday on the final, rain-delayed day of play. “It was soft and perfect, which creates amazing scoring opportunities, and the players certainly took advantage.”
Based in Malvern, Hanse and the company he founded, Hanse Golf Course Design, were in charge of the restoration of the classic Donald Ross design that was completed in the spring. And he was on hand for the first three rounds of what ended up a five-day, stop-and-go marathon.
“The restoration was all about putting back Donald Ross,” said Hanse, who flew to Tulsa Sunday to oversee the renovation of another major championship course, Southern Hills Country Club.
“It wasn’t about setting up a tournament golf course or trying to challenge these players for the week they are in town,” he added. “It was to get Ross back and get the course where it was strategically thoughtful for the members and that the scale matches what Ross intended it to be.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Aronimink had taken on nearly four inches of rain since play began Thursday morning. But it was still a credible and resilient site to crown Bradley and qualify the top 30 for the FedExCup playoffs to the Tour Championship in 10 days.
“We are incredibly proud of the course and the work that we’ve done,” Hanse said. “The comments have all been positive from the players, as you would expect. They played well.
“It shows that on any course, not just necessarily on a classic course, to challenge these guys you need to have firm conditions. They work their whole lives to get a level of predictability in their swings. And if anything gets into the equation that takes that predictability out of skew, and they aren’t sure how the ball is going to react when it lands, that’s when it is reflected in the scoring.”
Though the weather wreaked havoc, it also softened up Aronimink to the point where the course record was equaled five times and the average score on the par-70 track was an astounding 67.8. It made for a tense, birdie-infused shootout between Rose, Bradley, Billy Horschel, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy, which is fine with Hanse.
“Rarely do people remember the winning score,” Hanse said. “What is important is that we got a great champion. That, to my mind, is the really the test of the quality of the golf course. The scores are all about conditions and setup.”
As the scores crept lower and lower with each round, there were probably some Aronimink members that were thrilled, seeing their course at the mercy of outsiders. But nobody said anything negative to Hanse.
“There is, obviously, a sense of pride every member takes in their golf course,” Hanse said. “Some members may not have been prepared for how good these guys are. But I know the leadership of the club was delighted.”
And it’s not like the BMW was some sort of audition for Aronimink. It’s already passed every major tournament criterion long ago. That’s why it has already been signed on to host the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, followed seven years later by the men’s PGA Championship.
“It will be an interesting test case as the PGA of America prepares for 2027,” Hanse said. “And God knows where we’ll be in 2027. The equipment could be completely different or they may keep going forward and then we will have to look at it.”
One thing is sure, however. Aronimink has become one of the PGA’s go-to venues for some of its biggest tournaments. In two years, it will be the first course to stage each of the PGA’s three rotating major championships (the Senior PGA was previously held there in 2003). And then in 2027, one of men’s golf’s four majors will make a return visit, following a 65-year hiatus, to a place which Ross “intended to make my masterpiece.”
Seven decades after Ross’s death, it is as revered as ever — with, of course, a big assist from Hanse.