Located just outside of Philadelphia, Aronimink Golf Club was incorporated 1896. In the early years the expanding club outgrew a couple of sites in Philadelphia before eventually settling in their current location, Newtown Square, in 1926. With 300 acres of freshly acquired land, the club hired well known golf course architect Donald Ross to lay out their new golf course. Legend has it that Ross was upset from having one of his course designs rejected by another Philadelphia area club and vowed to create a masterpiece at Aronimink that could not be duplicated. Talk about being at the right place at the right time!
The Philadelphia metropolitan area is loaded with great golf courses . . . literally loaded with them. However, if you asked 100 golfers to name the top golf locations in America I predict you would be hard pressed to get 10 responses that included Philadelphia. I suspect there are two reasons behind this. The first is that most of the great courses in the area are private, so it is not exactly easy for most golfers to play them. Second the PGA Tour does not have a strong presence in Philadelphia. In the last 20 years there have been just a handful of PGA events there so awareness of the great courses in the area suffers from this as well.
Fortunately the winds of change are blowing and Philly is about to get back on the professional golf map. In 2013 the USGA is bringing the U.S. Open back to the area for the first time since 1981 and Tiger Woods will be bringing his event to town in 2010 and 2011. As those who follow the PGA Tour know, Tiger Woods has been hosting an event called the AT&T National over the 4th of July weekend for the last three years. Thus far the event has been held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland and has become a favorite Tour stop owing largely to one of the best fields outside of the majors. While Congressional Country Club goes into preparation mode for the 2011 U.S. Open being held there, Tiger Woods will be bringing the PGA Tour back to Philadelphia when he hosts his tournament at Aronimink in 2010 and 2011. Welcome back to Philadelphia PGA Tour!
Aronimink was on the Top 100 list for many years and then just recently dropped off for a few years. When I started this quest in 2007 it was not on the list at the time but returned two years later when the 2009-2010 list was published. Once I saw that it was on the new list I made a few phone calls to folks in Philadelphia and then didn’t think too much more about it. Over the summer my friend Fred, who lives in Philly, was at my club in Virginia and mentioned that he could probably arrange a game. As the season wound down he was determined for us to get it in this year and we set a date in the latter half of October.
Philadelphia is a just a 4 hour drive for me, so I drove up the night before our game. I spent the night with my parents in Wilmington, DE and made the last 45 minutes of the drive the next morning after Philadelphia rush hour traffic was over. Once I got into the Philadelphia area I easily found the club and met Fred in the parking lot. We made our way to the locker room and then out to the practice tee to warm up. After rolling a few putts on the practice green we met up with Mike, a co-worker of Fred’s who arranged the game, and his friend Jesse who is the member. The day was shaping up to be perfect. The sun was out, the air was warm and there was no wind. You couldn’t ask for better Fall golf weather.
We decided to play the member tees which are 6522 yards and play to a par of 70. The 1st hole is a par 4 and a good indicator of the elevation changes all over this course. We played the hole from 414 yards and as you can see in the photo below it is straight up hill. The tee box is elevated so although the hole is clearly uphill it doesn’t affect the distance of the drive too negatively.
The approach shot on the first hole is pictured below and is definitely affected by the uphill. I played an extra 10 yards from the distance on the ground.
The 2nd hole is a great par 4 slightly uphill dogleg left that we played from 372 yards. There is a bunker at the dogleg and a drive that flies over the right edge will leave a pretty short shot to the green. Below is the only photo I took of this hole. Its the bunker at the corner of the dogleg.
The 3rd hole is another par 4 dogleg left that plays a bit longer than the previous at 416 yards. As can be seen in the photo below taken from the tee the hole plays virtually flat.
A decent drive down the left side here must cut some of the distance off because I only had 120 yards to the green for my second shot. The photo below was taken where the hole starts to bend left.
After the 3rd hole Jesse and I got into a discussion about what had caused Aronimink to fall off the Top 100 list. While there are a number of reasons courses will fall off, Jesse was able to sum his opinion up with one simple statement. “Our greenskeeper couldn’t grow grass.” He said the guy literally could not grow grass. This is a problem when you are the superintendent of a golf course. Apparently there were bare spots with no grass at all, greens in jeopardy of being lost and general maintenance problems all over the course for a number of years. They finally let the greenskeeper go and brought someone in who has been doing a dynamite job. The new superintendent has not only restored the course to its Top 100 splendor but surely also played a large role in bringing Tiger’s event to the course.
The 4th hole is the number 1 handicap hole and a par 4 that we played from 418 yards. It plays every bit of those 418 yards and then some. As shown in the photo below the drive is blind and goes up a small rise.
Once the ball is hit over the hill on the tee shot the second shot is much more flat and maybe even a tough downhill. I thought I hit a pretty good drive, but either it wasn’t as good as I thought or the uphill portion of the drive took some yardage off because I still hit a 200 yard club into the green. The green looks a long way away in the photo below.
The 5th hole is a tricky little par 3 that we played from 149 yards. The tee shot is slightly down hill and the green is undulating as they come. Even from the distance the photo below was taken from its pretty clear that being on the right part of the green after the tee shot is important to making a good score.
Here’s a little closer up photo of the 5th green.
The 6th hole is a par 4 that we played from 381 yards. It bends a little to the right and, as the photo below shows, it plays all uphill.
I sliced my drive a bit to the right and ended up in the rough with a challenging recovery shot from the spot in the photo below. My caddie TJ gave me some sound advice and I was able to knock it on the green from here which was nice after there terrible drive. I must say that TJ was one of the best caddies I’ve had. It certainly didn’t hurt that he had been a member his entire life and had played the course hundreds of times. Even aside from his excellent guidance around the course he quick, on the ball and in general just a great caddie.
The 7th hole is a par 4 that we played from 376 yards. This might have been my favorite hole on the course. The drive shown in the photo below is blind and the best shot shape is a slight cut.
Once you come over the hill in the fairway you get your first glimpse of the green. It’s a frightening little affair that is pushed up to nearly an island and surround by bunkers. The backside is mowed closely so shots that are long will end up running down the hill to a collection area for a difficult chip back to the green. Fortunately if you hit a good drive the approach shot should be just a short iron.
The 8th hole pictured below is a par 3 that we played from 204 yards. Although the tee box is elevated TJ advised me that it would not affect the length of the shot and to hit my full 205 yard club. Unfortunately I mishit the tee shot and landed right smack in the middle of the grouping of three trees to the right of the right bunker. I got it onto the green from there, but missed the putt and had to take a bogey.
The 9th hole is a par 5 that we played from 517 yards that again, plays all uphill. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The second shot is more uphill to be navigated.
If a good second shot is executed there should be just a short chip to the green and an opportunity for a good birdie putt. Note the spectacular clubhouse in the backdrop of this photo.
The 10th hole is a great par 4 to start off the second nine holes. We played it from 411 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box and you can just see the fairway drop off. A good drive should reach the crest of the hill and leave a manageable shot to the green.
The photo below shows the approach shot to the green from the top of the hill. If you click on the photo below you can enlarge the photo and see the pond fronting the green a bit better.
The close up of the green complex below shows the pond and the bank in front of it. The greenskeeper has recently began shaving this bank in preparation for the AT&T National. This bank is really steep and I understand that they use mowers on strings to keep it mowed tightly all the way down to the waters edge. Thats creative.
The 11th hole is a par 4 we played from 388 yards. As you can in the photo below this played a bit longer because of the uphill.
Below is a photo of the approach shot. I played an extra 20 yards on this approach shot.
The 12th hole is a long par 4 that we played from 420 yards. As you can see it is basically flat so there is no help from the terrain in making this any shorter. The fairway bunkers are in play off the tee.
Below is a photo taken from the fairway on the 12th hole.
The 13th hole is a great shortish par 4 that we played from 351 yards. There are a number of bunkers up there to wreak havoc.
The 14th hole is a par 3 that we played from 188 yards. Plenty of bunkers for tee shots that don’t find the putting surface.
The 15th hole is a par 4 that we played from 426 yards. The hole plays slightly uphill and slanted right to left as shown in the photo below. It is a beast and the number 2 handicap hole.
The 16th hole is a nice par 5 that we played from 512 yards. It plays slightly downhill so a good drive here sets up an opportunity to reach the green in two.
I did hit a good drive and I did go for it in two, but I flared my 3 wood short and out to the right into the trees. I still managed a par but this is a great birdie opportunity hole.
The 17th hole is another mid length par 3 that we played from 180 yards. As illustrated in the photo below there is water to be carried on the tee shot. The pond is far enough from the green that it really shouldn’t come into play unless the tee shot is mishit.
The 18th hole is a 400 yard par 4 dogleg right that plays uphill back to the clubhouse. The bunker on the right is definitely in play.
I sliced my tee shot off to the right and had a tough shot to the green from here with trees that needed to be negotiated.
Below is the scene as you are walking up to the 18th green with the clubhouse in the background.
We wrapped up the day and had a couple of drinks on the patio overlooking the course as the sun went down. This patio is apparently quite the scene during the summer. There are a lot of tables for outdoor eating and drinking and the practice green is illuminated so that putting contests can on well into the dark of night. Sounds like a great time to me.
I’ve played a number of Donald Ross courses and this one is as good as any I have seen to date. It doesn’t have the turtleback greens that are often associated with Ross, but the land is so great that it doesn’t need to have that type of feature. The land used for this course was clearly just waiting for someone to come along and make it into a golf course. The photo below sits just off the first tee and contains a quote about the course from a trip Ross made here late in his life.
I think the quote speaks fairly well for itself. “I intended to make this my masterpiece, but not until today did I realize that I built better than I knew.” I suspect we will see Aronimink rise in the magazine course rankings as it gets more exposure from the AT&T National and more people realize what kind of quality golf there is in Philadelphia.