Aronimink shows why it belongs on PGA Tour

PGA pro Ryuji Imada, hitting a drive on 18 during yesterday's pro-am, has his first encounter with Aronimink.
PGA pro Ryuji Imada, hitting a drive on 18 during yesterday's pro-am, has his first encounter with Aronimink.
Posted: June 29, 2010

GIVEN ALL THE great courses in the Delaware Valley, it is hard to understand how there is not a regular PGA Tour stop here. It is also hard to imagine that Tiger Woods has never played Pine Valley, Merion or Aronimink.

Well, the PGA Tour is here this week and next year. And Tiger will play Aronimink in Newtown Square, first in practice and then, starting on Thursday, in the AT&T National, the tournament that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The tournament is here because Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md., is being readied for the 2011 U.S. Open. Unless something changes, this year and next will be it.

"We like the events that have a little bit of name to them," said David Boucher, Aronimink's president. "We've done the PGA. We've done the Amateur. Now, we've done this. We'd certainly look to do something down the road."

But will they? Or will some other area course get a regular PGA event?

"Give our members a couple of years to get this one under their belt," Boucher said. "Hopefully, not in the too-distant future."

The PGA Championship was played at Aronimink in 1962. The U.S. Open will be at Merion in 2013.

"Our members gave us a unanimous vote to approve this tournament," Boucher said. "I would expect they would again in the future. I don't really know how other courses would embrace that. Obviously, Merion's got the Open coming.

"Members are willing. We've got the infrastructure. We've got the golf course. There are a lot of pluses to having it here."

So, is this a trial run?

"It's amazing that Philadelphia doesn't have an ongoing PGA Tour event," said Mike Higgins, the tournament chairman and former president of Aronimink. "It's really no trial run. We've had [the PGA, U.S. Amateur, the Junior Amateur and the Senior PGA]. It's one more tournament on our resume. Looking in the future, yeah, we'd love to host another. We'd really like to host a PGA Championship in the future, maybe a Ryder Cup would be fine. We've had conversations with the PGA of America. We've got a very good ongoing relationship with them. We'll see what the future brings."

And maybe we will see Woods more than this year, next and 2013.

"It's amazing [Woods hasn't played in the area]," Higgins said. "There just hasn't been a lot of professional golf tournaments here in the marketplace. Obviously, we'll be seeing all the best players in '13 when the Open is over at Merion. We expect to see 120 of the best in the world here in '10 and '11."

Clearly, the interest is there.

"The support has been fantastic," Higgins said. "We filled up 1,700 volunteer positions in 3 weeks. The PGA Tour folks down in Florida were calling, saying, 'What are you guys doing up there?' That just speaks to the support that the Philadelphia community is showing and wanting to be part of it. We've sold more hospitality here than was sold last year in the Washington market."

And the star of the show appears to be getting closer to finding his form. Woods has not won in 2010, but he hardly has played. Apparently, he has had some issues in his private life since last Thanksgiving.

"There's a lot of things going on in my life, period, right now," Woods said at the May 17 media day. "And just trying to get everything in a harmonious spot, and that's not easy to do."

This week and this tournament could be the time and place.

"This golf course is hard," Woods said. "So I think it will be playing right about 7,200 yards, par 70, and it will be quite a test being at an old Donald Ross golf course. And I think all of the players will thoroughly enjoy it."

The course will get major play on national television this week. And, if Woods is in contention or, better, wins, that can only help the profile for the future.

"The tournament is going to showcase Aronimink, bringing professional golf back to the Philadelphia marketplace, which is so exciting for us and for everybody who lives and plays golf in this region," Boucher said. "We are hoping that a combination of fast greens, wind, high rough is going to provide some entertainment for our players and also entertainment for our spectators."

Woods has walked the course. When he knew Congressional was not going to be available, this seemed like the right place.

"It's also the rich history that Aronimink has," Woods said. "We were at Congressional, another golf course that has a rich history, and I have always been a proponent of why don't we go to golf courses that are like this. We don't get a chance to play too many golf courses like this; so it's a treat for us as players . . .

"We don't get a chance to play old-style venues like this very often, and when you do, you take advantage of it. And Aronimink was as nice as can be to allow us to come here for 2 years. It's going to be a great test for the players. I mean, this is an old Donald Ross golf course, and any time you get to play on a venue that has had so much rich history and a designer - look at Pinehurst. All of the guys can't wait to go play Pinehurst, and some of the greens look like that. It's going be to be a great test."

A test for the golfers, a test for the marketplace to see how it will support a PGA Tour event. And not just any event, an event with Tiger Woods.

"I expect them to be loud and rowdy; there's no doubt," Woods said of the fans. "You know, I think that they will be supportive. I think this is a great sporting town, period. And to have golf come back to this city, I think is something that they are going to be very excited about."

Aronimink opened on Memorial Day 1928. The course has hosted some serious events. Now, it gets Tiger Woods and 119 other golfers with serious pedigree over the July Fourth weekend, a real chance to demonstrate that this can be more than a two-time deal. *

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