Tiger Tracks

Following the biggest shoes in golf leads to Southeastern Pennsylvania, where his signature tourney will soon be played for two years.

Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square will host the AT&T National for two years.A lot of deals get done on golf courses.

One of the biggest deals for our area led to Tiger Woods’ first visit to the tri-state area, via an Ohio State Alumni Association function. It may not have happened on the course, but it definitely involves one—the venerable Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square.

“One of our members attended that Ohio State function and met an individual connected with the Tiger Woods Foundation,” says Dick Naumann, general manager at Aronimink. “They got to talking, so the foundation representative asked our member whether Aronimink might be interested in hosting that AT&T National in 2010 and 2011.”

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Was it ever.

The AT&T National—known as Tiger’s Tournament because he serves as tournament host—debuted at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2007. The original contract called for Congressional to host the tournament through 2009, when the club would start preparing for the 2011 U.S. Open, then pick it up again in 2012. Tiger needed a new stalking ground for the intervening years.

“We evaluated sites in [Washington,] D.C., Baltimore and Maryland,” says Greg McLaughlin, executive director of the Tiger Woods Foundation, “and Aronimink was our overwhelming first choice.”

McLaughlin says a number of practical considerations, including keeping the tournament close to its Washington-based staff so it could conveniently commute, led them to Aronimink. But there was an aesthetic consideration as well.

Tiger Woods was impressed with the Donald Ross-designed course. “Aronimink is a vintage 1920s Donald Ross design. Most touring pros love older courses designed by architects who utilized more traditional elements in their layouts,” McLaughlin says. “We believe Aronimink will be one of the top courses on the tour for those two years. It is truly a hidden gem.”

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PGA tour officials would agree.

“It was the green complexes that made Aronimink special for me,” says Steve Rintoul, a former player and a current rules official who performs advance work for the PGA tour at new venues. “They remind me of the way Augusta used to be, with their undulations, roll-offs and pushed-up features. The quality of Aronimink’s greens is outstanding.”

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Comparing Aronimink to Augusta is putting the course in rarefied air, to be sure, but Aronimink comes with a national reputation, having most recently hosted the 2003 Senior PGA Championship. The club undertook extensive renovations in the mid-1990s to restore more of the original Donald Ross features.

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“The foundation and tour people that attended the all-day meetings here liked the club’s reputation, as well as it being a Ross design,” Naumann says. “That was especially attractive to Tiger, I was told.”

The officials also were impressed with the course’s immediate playability. “One of them told me, ‘We could come here and play the tournament tomorrow,’” Naumann recalls.

“It’s true that nothing is really needed to get the course in tournament shape,” McLaughlin says, “but the club will make a few changes to make the golf stronger.”

The National’s coveted trophy. Those minor changes will include a new championship tee box on the course’s second and ninth holes, as well as adding 40 yards to the overall course length. “We’ll replace the sand in all the bunkers and reshape some of the greens as well,” Naumann says.

Members gladly gave up their home course for the tournament. “We’ll continue member play through the Friday of the week before the tournament, and then resume play on the Tuesday after the tournament ends,” Naumann says. “Surrounding courses have offered a generous reciprocal play arrangement for our members during the time the club will be closed to member play.”

The AT&T National will be the first PGA tour event to take place in the tri-state area during July. Aronimink is prepared to accommodate more than the 140,000 spectators expected to attend over the four days of the tournament.

“We had attendance in excess of 100,000 during the Senior PGA,” says Naumann, “and with our 300 acres, there will be plenty of access to the course for the galleries.”

The AT&T does expect one difference in corporate hospitality. “The USGA and PGA embody the hospitality village concept,” Naumann says. “The AT&T features more of an on-course chalet accommodation, together with suites and skyboxes”—which the grounds can easily handle.

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Anthony Kim won the 2008 AT&T National Championship.Those chalets, which seat 75 comfortably, will be positioned so guests can watch the play from a covered patio. Chalets will be erected near the 16th, 17th and 18th greens. At $150,000 a pop, the views had better be good.

Aronimink’s current home is its fourth. Originally known as the Belmont Golf Association, Aronimink joined with the Philadelphia Cricket Club, the Philadelphia Country Club and the Merion Cricket Club to form the Golf Association of Philadelphia in 1897. GAP, slightly younger than the USGA, is the oldest sectional association in the country, according to an early Inquirer news story by Fred Byrod.

Byrod also reported that the legendary Ross had been “irritated” when another Philadelphia club rejected one of his designs, so he had vowed to give “Aronimink one that couldn’t be duplicated here.” It is rumored that Ross later said of Aronimink, “I intended this to be my masterpiece, but not until today did I realize that I built better than I knew.”

In addition to the Senior PGA, Aronimink has hosted other major events: the 1926 PGA Championship and 1997 Junior Amateur. Aronimink officials have visited Congressional, where they saw “the nuts and bolts” of the AT&T operation. “We’ll be prepared,” Naumann says.

PGA’s Rintoul can’t wait. “The market here is starved for tour golf,” he says. “That AT&T promises to put Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania back on the map.”

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