Jay Sigel, one of the most decorated U.S. amateur golfers of all time and a member at Aronimink Golf Club, admitted he was a little skeptical when he heard that club officials wanted to restore the highly regarded Donald Ross design back to its original form.
"Yes, absolutely," Sigel said. "How could you make a Donald Ross course better, a course that had been viewed and reviewed a number of times by the so-called experts?"
The finished product was revealed to guests and media members on Monday in advance of September's BMW Championship, the third of four PGA Tour FedExCup playoff events, and the views of the course from the clubhouse area are striking.
The restoration, directed by noted golf course architect Gil Hanse of Malvern and based on aerial photographs of the course from 1929, enlarged the greens to their original dimensions, widened fairways, and rebuilt teeing grounds.
Possibly the most prominent change is Hanse's reintroduction of clusters of smaller bunkers from Ross' design. The number of bunkers increased from 74 to 176, but the total area of the hazards isn't much greater.
"We're very lucky to have had Gil on this," said Sigel, winner of five U.S. Golf Association championships and a member of a record nine U.S. Walker Cup teams.
"Re-dos early on in retrospect weren't as good as they could have been. So what he's done, I'm very pleased. The bunkering, to go from 70-some to 170-some bunkers, seems amusing, but the bunkers now are far more playable. So that makes it more fun for the player. The vistas, the beauty, I would call him an artist. We're really happy with what we've got here."
Hanse, who completed the project earlier this year, said bunker clusters were "atypical" of Ross, who designed or revised more than 400 courses.
"He never built bunkers in this fashion or this pattern," Hanse said. "We looked at the number and thought, how do we tackle that? How do you put those back into the landscape? So we were delighted when the club ultimately decided that this was a worthwhile exercise and we went and put them all back in the ground."
Golf enthusiasts will see the course during the BMW Championship, which will be held Sept. 6 through 9 and featuring the top 70 on the FedExCup points list. The defending champion is Marc Leishman, who won last year at Conway Farms near Chicago.
Leishman, 34, of Australia, played Aronimink in 2010 and 2011, the two years that the AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods moved to the Newtown Square layout from its home course at Congressional in Bethesda, Md., and finished tied for seventh in 2010.
"I remember it was quite tough," he said via Skype. "I remember having to be reasonably conservative because the rough was really long. The greens were quite undulating and it was very important to be coming into those greens out of the fairway. I remember that as far as conditioning, it was perfect."