3600 St Davids Road,
Pennsylvania (PA) 19073,
- +1 610 356 6055
10 miles N of Wilmington
Members and their guests only
Donald Ross and later revised by Dick Wilson, George Fazio, Robert Trent Jones, Ron Prichard and Gil Hanse
The course in play today at Aronimink Golf Club opened in 1928 and Dornoch’s most famous son, Donald Ross, originally designed it. Since then, the club has remained true to Ross’s original design principles: to ensure even the best players are put to the “supreme test”.
Named after the chief of the Lenape tribe who once occupied the farmhouse that was used as the original clubhouse, the Aronimink Golf Club was established at the end of the 19th century and its members played golf at a couple of locations before upping sticks from Drexel Hill and settling on a 300-acre site at Newtown Square in 1926. The first play on the Ross-designed course took place on Memorial Day two years later.
Aronimink’s opening hole sets the tone with a long par four that plunges down into a valley then rises uphill to a well-protected green. It’s the first of many challenging two-shot holes that golfers will face during their round.
There are a number of demanding doglegs on the outward half, particularly the par four 7th, where the approach must carry a cavernous bunker protecting the front of the green and this hole is followed by perhaps the toughest one-shotter on the card, a par three that plays 237 yards downhill to a narrow putting surface.
The back nine begins with another strong par four measuring 454 yards from the back markers and its narrow fairway leads to a bunkerless green that’s protected by water to the front left of the putting surface. The 18th doglegs slightly right to a magnificent, castle-like clubhouse and this tough uphill closing hole plays to every inch of the 436 yards indicated on the card.
In 2003, Ron Prichard completed a restoration project to recapture many of the classic Ross features that had become diluted over time with greens returned to their original shape and bunkers returned to their intended size.
The course has hosted several national competitions in the modern era including the 1962 PGA Championship which Gary Player won, the 1977 US Amateur when John Fought beat Doug Fischesser 9&8 in the final match, the 1997 US Junior Amateur when Jason Allred defeated Trevor Immelman 1-UP in the final and the 2003 Senior PGA Championship, won by John Jacobs.
Following the recent discovery of old photographs from
1929, the club approved a further restoration project under the stewardship
of Gil Hanse. Bunkers have been returned to their original shapes and greens complexes
have been restored to their former Donald Ross roots. Work completed in spring 2018 ahead of the club’s hosting of the BMW Championship in September, which Keegan Bradley won after defeating Justin Rose in a play-off.
The main storyline on Aronimink relates to a "before" and "after" situation involving architect Gil Hanse. The former course was a good one but needed a bit of long overdue pruning and an upgrading of the putting surfaces which Ross was masterful in creating. Hanse reclaimed nearly 30,000 square feet of green surface area and the additional amount has truly bolstered the layout with pin positions that can be tucked into the tiniest of areas. There's also the addition of 100+ bunkers -- many located in prime areas and reflecting recent gains made in ball and club technology.
The corridors at Aronimink are now free of the clutter -- the expanse of the property is there for the eye to see in its entirety. One of the main strengths at Aronimink is the land the course occupies. It is rolling -- without being excessive -- and provides sufficient movement so that working the ball to the correct side is often called upon.
The scale of the property allows for constant variety in the routing. One could likely fit three Merion East courses on the entire site at Aronimink.
The course commences with a solid opener. The elevated tee shows the par-4 hole of nearly 435 yards in its entirety as you plunge downhill then back uphill to the green. The putting surface is typical of what you find at Aronimink -- plenty of internal movements that mandate quality approaches time after time.
Aronimink opens with a four par-4 holes -- each totally different than the other -- and each going in different directions. They are not brutally hard per se but they don't yield birdies without proper execution. The short 5th is quite good -- the green sliding in different directions. The 6th and 7th are fairly benign -- both dogleg rights -- the former goes uphill and the latter downhill.
When you step on the tee box at the par-3 8th you encounter a hole on par with the qualities of the par-3 17th at Merion East. Generally the 245-yard hole plays into the prevailing wind and although the green is located 60 feet below the tee -- most players will need to hit a long iron of some sort to get to the hole. The green is narrow and runs on a spectacular diagonal from lower left to back right. There are closely mown areas around the green so the approach must be played with utter dexterity. The only way to get close is to hit a first rate shot.
The concluding hole on the front -- the long par-5 9th is well done. The tee shot must avoid a lurking fairway bunker on the left. The second shot for top players requires a clear decision. The hole climbs noticeably for the last 300 or so yards and there is a menacing fairway bunker that is perfectly placed to trap second shots that stray off line just a tad. The green is elevated and a quality birdie try can only happen with a deft pitch shot.
The first three holes on the inward half work so well. The 10th starts from an elevated tee. The fairway is sloped slightly from right-to-left and there is a good amount of drop-off once you get past the 285-yard mark. Strong players can opt to hit driver and take the risk in getting to the base of the hill -- leaving no more than a simple pitch. Those who block their shots to the right will find a formidable tree that blocks the side very well. The green is one of Aronimink's best, there is a saddle area that feeds off to elevated sides, both right and left. The pin when placed in the corners demands a keenly played approach.
The 11th that follows moves in a completely different direction and features a well-protected drive zone that likely will not impact the players in the BMW event. The key is the putting green. Here Hanse excelled in restoring the green. Heaven help any player not sufficiently getting the ball far enough into the target. The false front can easily suck back the ball and leave one gasping for air to make par. The Ross genius comes from using what the land provided and Hanse made sure to re-energize a hole that Ross himself would admire.
The long par-4 12th moves in another direction. From an elevated tee you hit into a valley floor before encountering a slightly uphill approach. The green also has its share of vexing movements and birdies can be had when tee shots find the fairway.
The major weakness of Aronimink comes with the par-4 13th and par-3 14th. The former is a just a lackluster hole. If there is anything missing at Aronimink it's having an upper echelon short par-4. The 14th is a good hole but something a bit more elastic in terms of length would have worked much better.
The closing stretch at Aronimink is quite good. The long par-4 15th is the strongest of the two-shot holes. The fairway bends slightly left and has protection on the right from a bunker that sticks out just enough to catch the feint of heart tee shots. Even those capable in carrying the bunker have to be ever mindful of the way a ball can easily finish left because of the tilt of the land. The approach is generally played with a long to mid iron and the green is one of the more sedate ones found at the course but there is a range of subtle breaks to confound the player.
The 16th is a fairly ordinary par-5. Top players competing at the BMW can reach the green in two blows under most conditions. The green does have movements and is slightly above the fairway. The par-3 17th at nearly 230 yards is simply grand stuff. The green is absolutely devilish -- movement is both subtle and more savage. Water does lurk on the left side but it's really more of a show than a reality for the top players. Long par-3 holes can often be simply dull with little real imagination. Both the 8th and 17th at Aronimink are vintage Ross efforts with Hanse brilliantly doing an updating -- not a forced effort seeking to impose his style.
The closing hole at Aronimink has been changed a good bit via Hanse. The back tee was extended to 460+ yards and slightly lowered. The hole previously was loaded with endless trees -- that situation has been smartly rectified. The hole climbs uphill and the there is a pesky fairway bunker on the right that requires a strong poke of 310+ yards to carry. There’s a stately solitary tree on the same side and it truly adds to the beauty of the hole. Deep rough awaits a pulled shot to the left and the green, like others at Aronimink, is elevated. The design of the green is good but not as challenging as a number of others.
Hats off to the superintendent his team because the turf conditions at the course are superb. Hanse made sure there's sufficient width so using driver on nearly all the holes is something most players will likely opt to use.
Regrettably, Aronimink doesn't get the fanfare of other Ross courses such as Pinehurst #2 and Seminole. Others such as Inverness -- which was wonderfully renovated recently and now work is being carried out by Hanse at that fantastic layout in Michigan -- Oakland Hills / South. Aronimink has made it a point to be among the locations for key events -- starting with Gary Player's win at the 1962 PGA and with the club looking to serve as host to that same event in '27.
In the final analysis, Ross provided a quality routing -- always changing and never routine. And the greens he created are certainly among his very best. The greater Philadelphia area has a number of stellar courses but Aronimink remains only in the shadow of Merion / East in its neighborhood. That certainly says plenty given the range and depth of courses located in this private club haven.
by M. James Ward
I had played over 50 rounds here before they redesigned the course for the PGA. Unfortunately the PGA cut down some great old trees so the course is much more open now, but still a bear to tame with its long straight par 4s, and long par 3s. It was always in great shape and if you think it plays easy by todays standards the greenskeeper will grow the rough to 5 inches and double cut the greens to roll at a 13, then good luck because that is how the course was designed to play...hard and fast. Even Tiger couldn't break par here at his own tournament. Bring your hybrid or your favorite long iron because you will need them if you play the back tees.
Aronimink, which was named after the Indian chief of the Lenape tribe, hosted the 1962 PGA Championship and the 1977 U.S. Amateur. The course plays to par 70 for men and par 74 for women; the distance issue was solved by adding par 5s for women. Larry Berle.
On the approach to Aronimink, driving through the leafy suburb of Newtown Square, you are quickly made aware that this is no normal suburb, it is here and also along the “main line”(which is interestingly enough where Merion is located) that the elite of Philadelphia have made their homes.
The prestige and heritage of this club is evident from every angle. This is a club for the privileged. encompassing an elaborate swimming pool, trap shooting, tennis, fitness centre and within the clubhouse exists one of the best and most comprehensive dining experiences I have ever encountered with exceptional service. The clubhouse sits atop a hill, the course laid out below with the 1st and 10th tee-shots dropping dramatically downhill and the approaches to 9 and 18 rising dramatically uphill. The above is extremely impressive and I would be lying if I said it didn’t; add to the overall experience, however my interest is in the quality of the golf course and my only worry was that it would turn out to be a let down.
Having played Plainfield which is another one of Ross’s east coast courses only a couple of weeks prior to my day at Aronimink I was very keen to compare and contrast. At Plainfield Ross created an exemplary routing with one of the finest blend and balanced collection of holes I have witnessed. The pro’s at the AT&T national had been universal in their praise for Aronimink but again I was sceptical as it was a tournament being hosted by Tiger Woods and few if any would ever speak their mind at the Tiger’s tournament. Once I stepped onto the first tee, my fears in that sense were allayed but quickly shifted to a fear of not finding the fairway, for in front of me stood one of the best starting holes I have played (Portstewart and Pine Valley, rival it). The hole is inviting and yet also littered with trouble. A tree lined strip of green fairway that slides downhill and then rises sharply up to the green creating almost a soft “U-shaped” hole. Reaching the second I was already in heaven and I had only played one hole!
The advice I had been given was to stay below the hole as most of the greens slope viciously from back to front. The course encourages you to open up, the shoulders and let go, it presents the same visual Ross style aspects as at Plainfield (after the tree removal) but offers the player a wider target from the tee. As I write this review I attempt to think of standout holes but in reality they all have their merits, not in the same way as at Pine Valley or even Bethpage Black where a case could be made that many of the holes are the best examples of their kind, but insofar that no hole exists where I could honesty call it “weak”. 7 through 10 is a tremendous stretch, the 8th being one of the most demanding par 3’s I have seen and ten an typical Ross par 4 presenting a stiff challenge from the tee, the fairway and the green.
It is obvious Ross tried to impress his Scottish heritage both at Plainfield and here at Aronimink, with the open nature of the course and the option he gives you with regard to club selection around the greens. At clubs where the whole “country club” experience exists, I am of the opinion that the golf suffers, as it is treated just as another sport whereas in reality it should be the centrepiece of the whole establishment. That being at Aronimink they seem to have upheld the strong golf culture within the club, from the caddies right down to the practice facilities it is evident that golf is still very much the premier endeavour here.
Naturally I was always going to compare Aronimink to Plainfield and in hindsight the two are extremely similar, however I feel Plainfield just shades it on the basis that it tests a wider variety of shots from the tee. At Aronimink the driver is never literally taken out of the player’s hands, he is rarely asked to think twice about his club selection, it could be used in theory from every tee(barring the par 3’s) if the player wished to do so, whereas at Plainfield there is more variety and the setup puts more doubt in the players mind. They are both fine tracks and in light of the coverage it has received from the AT&T I would not be one bit surprised if Aronimink made a steady rise up the rankings. Nick