I have to say that I did not have the highest of expectations for Aronimink. To be sure, it was going to be a stellar golf course in impeccable condition, but I feared that it was going to be more of a championship course that is a great test for professionals, but not as easy for normal golfers to appreciate. Well, I was entirely wrong. Aronimink quickly vaulted into being one of my favorite courses. Choosing between Aronimink and Somerset would be a tough choice and between Aronimink and Plainfield is a clear choice--give me Aronimink every day. Of the four of us in the group, one had played the course before Gil Hanse restored the course (the course reopened earlier this year). The restoration focused on improving the bunkering and expanding some of the greens. What made Aronimink so special to me were the bunkers. Not only did they make every hole interesting, but they really framed the holes so that, even if a particular bunkers was not in play for you, it certainly caught your eye and defined the beauty of the course. Perhaps if I had played Aronimink prior to the restoration, it would have been more in line with my expectations. But, with the changes, I think everyone who has played this course previously should give it another look.
It was interesting comparing this course to Plainfield given they are both Donald Ross courses and only 90 miles apart. Despite the Ross commonality, I felt like they were two very different courses. Plainfield was all about the greens with less focus on visual appeal off the tee (in fact, there were so many blind shots that you often could not see your target). Aronimink, by contrast, was all about visuals and bunker intimidation. To be sure, the greens were interesting, but they were understated as compared to the severely canted greens of Plainfield.
I also appreciated that Aronimink's memorable holes were a combination of par threes, fours, and fives--the par four eleventh, the par three fifth, and the par five ninth with the clubhouse as a backdrop were all stellar holes. I also tend to enjoy courses with more elevation change, which Aronimink has. Obviously, this requires some uphill shots, but I so greatly enjoy downhill shots that I am willing to put up with making the trek back up that hill. Great examples of the downhills shots come at the par three eight and the par four tenth.
As I have said in other posts, I appreicate courses where the difficulty comes from angles. You would be hard pressed to loose a golf ball at Aronimink. If you make a 8 it is because of some bunker disaster, not because of tree trouble. So, spray your drive if you like, but you will either be hacking it out of fairly deep rough, or, if you have a good lie, be contending with a less than ideal angle into the green. This type of design gives every golfer a chance. Good shots are rewarded by giving you better positioning, but bad shots cost you one, maybe two strokes, rather than ruining a round. To me, that always makes for a more enjoyable afternoon.
I cannot sing my praises of this course highly enough, but now onto the individual holes.
1st--414 yard par four
Big fan of the opening hole. Ease yourself into the round with a wide fairway and a green that allows you to run the ball up. Oddly, it reminded me of the first tee at Dormie in North Carolina--another opener that I very much like.
2nd--372 yard par four.
Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of this tee shot. It is a dogleg left and you can cut the corner and try to fly the bunkers on the left. This is your first chance to see some great bunkering on the course.
Bunkers guarding the left side of this dogleg left par four second.
Approach to second. As you can see, the further left you are, the more open the green becomes.
3rd--416 yard par four.
Standing on the tee I did not appreciate the true brilliance of the hole. On the right side of the fairway is a bunker to avoid. On the left and a bit past the right bunker is another set of bunkers. I did not realize those were reachable. So, you can't bail out left with a driver. Instead, you either have to thread the needle perfectly, or use a club that will not challenge the left bunkers.
Approach to third.
4th--418 yard par four.
I thought the fourth was one of the few boring holes on the course. A blind tee shot that either has to be straight or long enough to fly fairway bunkers. The green is mildly protected by greenside bunkers. Not a ton going on with this one.
Approach to four.
5th--149 yard par three.
Ah, the short par three that just screams--hit me or you may walk away shaking your head wondering how you made a five on this hole. The green is completely surrounded by bunkers and the green surface is full of undulations. Even if you hit this green, it is quite possible you walk away with bogey.
6th--381 yard par four.
This is another solid risk reward hole. Do you cut the dogleg right by flying the bunkers or take it safe up the left leaving a longer shot from a less than ideal angle?
Approach to six from behind the bunkers.
7th--376 yard par four.
One of my favorite holes--a dogleg right with a cute little house on the left side of the fairway. The green is quite unforgiving if you come up short, but if you go a little right, you can get some help from the hill.
Approach to seven.
8th--204 yard par three.
My brother and I had different thoughts about the eighth hole. It is 204 yards downhill with the front left and front right protected by bunkers, but the middle alley is open. On the day we played, the pin was tucked behind the right bunker. With this pin, most golfers cannot attack the flag because getting a 190 yard shot to fly a bunker and hold the green would be a tough shot. So, my brother's view is that this is a fairly boring hole because, no matter where the pin is, you are going to aim for the middle and leave a 50 foot putt (unless the pin is in the middle location). This is true, but a 190 yard shot between bunkers is no easy task. And, just because I can't stop a 190 yard shot on a dime, I bet a better golfer can. In any event, we both agreed that it is a beautiful hole.
Double green of eight and ten.
9th--517 yard par five.
The first par five on the course is uphill and brings you back to the stately clubhouse.
Second on ninth.
10th--411 yard par four.
The tenth is a secretly hard hole. Your drive is going to leave a downhill lie to a green that requires a high shot to hold. This is one of the greens at Aronimink where it is clear Ross designed the place because it is a perched green with steep runoffs surrounding the green. So, the inability to hit a high shot from the downhill lie makes it more likely you will be left with an awkward chip for the third. Now, throw into the mix the lake that protects the green on the front left and it is even more likely that you will be faced with a tough pitch for a third when you bail out to avoid the water. Don't go too far right on your bailout though because new bunkers have been added over to the right to catch the chickens trying to avoid the water.
Approach to ten.
Tenth green from behind the right bunkers.
11th--388 yard par four.
The eleventh is my favorite hole because it has the most visually appealing bunkering on the course. The drive has to avoid fairway bunkers on the left and right, but the true test of the hole comes with choosing the right club on the uphill approach. Come up short and your ball is going to be rolling 30 yards back down a steep false front and possibly into those beautiful bunkers.
The steep embankment in front of the eleventh green.
12th--420 yard par four.
I do not know what to make of this hole. It looked nice to my eye, but does not have a lot going on. Definitely a strong hole that I enjoyed with some good looking bunkering, but fairly straightforward.
13th--351 yard par four.
This is going to be a fun hole when the pros play here in 2018. The short par four is certainly reachable at 351 yards for some players, but make it even a little shorter and it becomes that much more enticing.
Approach to thirteen.
14th-188 yard par three.
This is rated as the easiest hole on the course, but, with the pin tucked back right on the day we played, I found it to be among the hardest. At that pin location, the hole must play close to 195 yards with a narrow landing area protected by a deep bunker. Not too easy in my book.
15th--426 yard par four.
This sucker is a hard, long par four made even longer by being slightly uphill. It is one of the few greens, though, where you can run your approach up.
Approach to fifteen.
16th--512 yard par five.
This hole is a mine field of bunkers--avoid them off the tee, avoid them on your layup, and then avoid them on your approach to the green. You really have to think through every shot here and consider the carry distances, but also ensure you do not go too long in order to avoid the next set of bunkers.
House next to seven green from the sixteenth fairway.
I found the fairway bunker.
Approach to sixteen.
17th--179 yard par three.
I was not in love with this hole. It seemed a little out of place on the course--I was told the lake was not natural and it was odd to have water be the hole's primary defense and visual attraction as compared to the rest of the course. But, it was a fairly easy hole and I like having a scoring opportunity on the final few holes.
18th--400 yard par four.
Tough closing hole at 400 yards and uphill. Adding to the difficulty is the enormous tree on the right side of the fairway, which really cuts the fairway in half. You can be in the fairway on the right side, but have tree trouble. So, unless you are on the left side of the fairway, you may very well have a tough time hitting the green.
Troublesome tree on right side of eighteen.
Get out there and try the new Aronimink. Can't wait to watch the pros play this in the 2018 BMW Championship!