Long, stout and stately Aronimink presents a 'proper test' at KPMG Women's PGA Championship
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Penn. – Inbee Park, a seven-time major champion on the LPGA, had done enough homework on Aronimink Golf Club to know there were only two par-5 holes on the golf course this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Once she stepped out there, though, there seemed to be more than that.
“I asked Brad (Beecher, her caddie), is this a par 5? Because it looks like maybe we’re not going to get there in two,” Park said, referring to the long opening par 4s on both nines. “I've gotten probably a little bit shorter over the years, but it is definitely one of the longest golf courses that I've ever played.”
Length certainly will be a factor at venerable Aronimink, a rolling Donald Ross gem just outside Philadelphia set up at 6,577 yards. The golf course underwent a significant restoration by architect Gil Hanse four years ago, with about 100 bunkers added and greens expanded. With the KPMG rescheduled from its original date in late June, October at Aronimink presents cooler morning temps and the golf ball not flying as far. It all adds up to a very formidable test for the 132 players in the starting field.
Players have given high praise to Aronimink, which becomes the first course to play host the PGA of America’s Big Three: the PGA Championship (won by Gary Player in 1962, and returning in 2026); the Senior PGA Championship (won by John Jacobs in 2003); and now the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the former LPGA Championship, now in its sixth year with KPMG. Players are vying for a total purse of $4.3 million, a 12 percent increase over last year. The winner's share is $645,000. But it’s the course, not the money, that has the players’ attention.
“It’s one of those courses, you know … Aronimink. Wow,” said Angela Stanford, who is in her 20th season on the LPGA. “Being on site, walking through the clubhouse, the locker room … it feels that KPMG just keeps bringing us to these places, and it feels good to think that you should be here. That they feel like we should be here. What it’s done for women’s golf is unbelievable. Just to be on property here, it’s just so cool, to think that our tour belongs on these historic golf courses. I think KPMG has done wonders in putting us at these venues.”
Adds Georgia Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open champion from England, “This is a proper golf course for sure. It’s what a major should be.”
Aronimink is fairly expansive off the tee, offering generously wide fairways, and the greens were expanded greatly in the Hanse restoration, which recaptured hole locations that had been lost through the years. Lag putting – or “pace putting” as Hall terms it in her gracious British accent – will be very important, as the Ross greens feature movement that at times is quite dramatic and at other times subtle. What is it that might separate a champion from the rest?
“I think it’s going to be somebody’s creativity around the greens, the ability to get up and down,” said Hanse, who oversaw the restoration aimed at returning Aronimink to where it was in its golden days roughly 90 years ago.
Length is expected to be a big factor, and a terrific asset for a player to possess. The fairways were softened some by rain earlier in the week, and players have been approaching several of the par-4 holes with fairway metals and hybrids. Scoring is expected to be difficult. Birdies won’t be easy to find, and piling up pars is paramount. Danielle Kang, ranked third in the world, headed back out to Aronimink’s back nine Wednesday afternoon because she said she really didn’t have a clear picture of how to play it.
“The back nine is unbelievable,” said Kang, whose first win on tour was the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields. “The length of it, the protection around the greens, around the fairways. … Just because you hit a good shot does not mean you have a good putt left, and there's a lot of three-putt opportunities on the back nine. It's just there's never a moment of kind of … what is that word you're looking for ... certainty? And that gives me a little bit of yeah, the uncertainty. I get there and I go, ‘I don't know what to do here right now.’ ”
Aronimink boasts seven par-4 holes of 407 yards or more (three in the last seven holes) and the par-3 eighth tips out at 204 yards. Players will miss greens, and getting up and down on Aronimink’s green complexes can be a true challenge. Players missing the fairway at the 412-yard closing hole will have a challenging time getting to the green in two. However, the best players in women’s golf will find a way. For all her concern over how long the course will play, Park, with seven majors among her 20 LPGA victories, will devise a way to play it. It should be a terrific major championship, contested on a stately, old-style, classic venue. Fans may be missing onsite because of Covid-19 precautions, but the excitement should be plentiful.
“I’m not one of the short hitters, I’m one of the longer ones, and I think I hit four fairway woods into par 4s today,” said Mel Reid, who on Sunday captured her first U.S. title, winning at ShopRite in neighboring New Jersey. “It’s one of the best courses I’ve ever seen. It’s a beast.”
Kerry Haigh, the man who has set up championship courses for the PGA of America for three decades, is of the opinion that something very special can unfold over the days ahead.
“We have a great golf course. We have an outstanding Aronimink Golf Club,” Haigh said. “We have the best players in the world and partners with KPMG, the LPGA and the PGA of America. I cannot tell you how excited I am to make this our best major championship for women that we have ever, ever conducted.”