The following is presented for all interested parties. The author is Ron Prichard, Golf Course Architect of Record for the Aronimink Golf Club's most recent complete restoration - essentially undoing Robert Trent Jones, Sr.'s work performed prior to the 1962 PGA Championship and re-creating as closely as possible the original design/design intent. Presented with copyrighted permission for redanman.com. The content contained herein is solely Mr. Prichard's as regards re-presenting this material in any other for than reference to this location.
In my opinion, it should be very informative to a great many people.
Some supplemental Comments pertaining to the recent Article “Get to know the New Aronimink coming in April 2018’ by Joe Juliano, staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer – updated August 19, 2016.
First of all, I want to mention, I am not particularly eager to spend time clarifying portions of this long Article, (as stated, “Get to know the New Aronimink coming in April 2018), however since I was not contacted and interviewed by Mr. Juliano, I thought it might be helpful to address certain comments, and shed further light on certain conclusions which as a result of the Inquirer Article are now a matter of record and from my point of view are not accurate. It is my purpose as the most recent golf architect to work on the Aronimink Golf Club Golf Course to now and for all time correct the historical record.
In his opening paragraph, Mr. Juliano describes the inscription that is “embossed” on a metal disk that is attached to a large stone located behind the first tee. On it, the words attributed to Donald Ross (Note: this comment was uttered when he came to Aronimink Golf Club on his first visit, following construction of the golf course). It states, “I intended to make this my masterpiece, but not until today did I realize I built better than I knew”. And when I first read that quote in 1994, the year I began to conduct serious research for a Plan of Restoration for the golf course, I initially questioned, why did you say that, at that time, so many years after the golf course was built? Where were you while construction was proceeding? Was it also true, (even though there is a film clip which showed Ross on the ground during early construction), that here also his constant travel prevented him from returning to Aronimink Golf Club as the course was under construction?
As the Article continues, Mr. Juliano goes on to say, “The recent discovery of photographs, an aerial shot and several from ground level, from 1929 has unveiled some never-before-seen features of a Ross design that have disappeared over time”. I must say, I find that a very strange comment, for the 1929 aerials that Juliano refers to as, “a recent discovery”, have hung on the walls of the men’s locker room for over 20 years. These are photographs I first located over 25 years ago, which are all located, as mentioned, in the Dallin Collection housed in the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware. And every male member of the club has walked past these photographs for decades.
These very same photographs were hanging on the walls at the club in 1994 when I visited to make a Presentation to the Aronimink Golf Club Restoration Committee of my proposed Plan of “Restoration.” This was a special meeting convened so that Jay Sigel, a well respected member, who was often away from the club traveling, could attend and hear the discussion of my intentions for the golf course.
It was at this meeting where I explained to the Committee that it was my suggestion; (if they approved), to reconstruct the golf course, (which was no longer a Ross Course), according to the appearance illustrated on Donald Ross’ original Field Sketches. The original sketches which had been provided for construction.
At that same time, I only briefly touched upon my strong personal belief that the bunkering of the golf course which was clearly indicated on the Dallin Photographs, (which as mentioned above were hanging in the club at that time), illustrated the architectural efforts of a then member of Aronimink named Mr. J.B. McGovern. The same J.B. McGovern, a resident of Wynnwood, Pennsylvania who was a long time employee – and associate – of Donald Ross. (I did not know at the time, but in a recent discussion with a very serious authority of early American golf architecture, I subsequently learned that Mr. McGovern was not “just a member – he was in fact, Green Chairman”).
When I was asked by the Aronimink Golf Club Restoration Committee why I favored reconstructing the golf course according to Ross’ original Field Sketches, I stated, “In my opinion the drawings provided by Ross, are a set of quite probably the finest drawings I have studied” and that “I feel it would be a better result if the superintendent had only 75 or so bunkers to maintain rather than a number approaching 200 bunkers”.
Following the meeting during which it was decided to proceed as I had suggested, Jay Sigel walked over, and said to me, “Ron in the last hour and a half listening to you, I have learned more about golf architecture than in a career of playing. (It was a wonderful compliment, - one I will always cherish).
As Joe Juliano proceeds with his article, he goes on to say, “those photos showed that Ross liked to improvise with bunker design and location, rather than follow the original plan on paper”. He does not mention who suggested such a thought, but in response I say, “In all the many years I have concentrated on the restoration of Donald Ross golf courses, I have found the actual bunker construction deviated from Ross’ original field sketches on only three other golf courses. Each of these was a golf course where J.B McGovern was the on-site construction associate. And interestingly, what these three golf courses had in common was clear evidence of McGovern’s proclivity to alter Donald Ross’ bunkering sketches and instructions. One of these golf courses was “finished by Mr. McGovern” a year after the death of Donald Ross. The result in each case was a golf course with double, or triple clusters of small bunkers precisely where Ross’ field sketches had specified a single large bunker.
In a subsequent paragraph, Mr. Steve Zodtner, Club President at Aronimink is quoted saying, “Comparing the Master Plan to the aerial, they, realized that the bunker complexes were much different than they were as they were drawn”. (This might refer to the original Ross Plan of the golf course, or the Restoration Plan I created in 1994). And indeed this is true. Juliano then further quotes Mr. Zodtner saying, “We think, and Gil believes, that Ross, when he went out in the field, made sort of game-time decisions about where to place bunkers. He was trying to do things more innovatively. So we’re going to restore it back to it’s 1929 look”. And although I respect that Gil Hanse has restored seven Donald Ross golf courses, I have restored perhaps seven times seven. (I do not keep count). And in my experience, and all the research I have pursued over 40 years; that was never the way Ross worked – not ever. Because of the difficulty of travel during the late 1920’s, (the choice was either auto, or rail), Ross only rarely visited one of his courses while it was under construction. And these were courses which were extremely close to one of his homes. It is my belief that at Aronimink, where Ross had an associate who was not only a member, but the Green Chairman, he felt little need to monitor the work.
At this point, you may still question what I discovered and therefore I have included a few of the original Donald Ross field sketches for the Brook Lea Country Club Golf Course, (Rochester, New York), where construction commenced in 1926 – a few years prior to the golf course for the new Aronimink Golf Club. The field sketches with field notes in the hand of Donald Ross, are for holes # 10, 11, 12, 17, and 18.
If you chose to make the trip to Rochester, you will find the original field sketches for each of these holes which were drafted by Donald Ross, and they clearly show “in pencil”, where J. B. McGovern modified the sketches to illustrate the separation of many of the individual large bunkers into a pair of smaller hazards. And if you carefully study the bunkers created at Aronimink, you will see that they were separations of the single originally sketched bunker, precisely within the original footprint of the Ross Bunker.
You can see this on the following pages:
Hole #10 – where three fore bunkers, (on the left – each labeled #1), were left unaltered, however the two approach bunkers, (#s 3 and 4), were divided, (in pencil), by McGovern.bunkers, (#s 3 and 4), were divided, (in pencil), by McGovern
Hole #11 – Three left side fairway bunkers were left untouched, and the three beyond the 350 yard mark, (#s 4, 5, and 6), were altered by McGovern. Please note: for the most part, The Ross fairway bunkers are 4’ 6” in depth.
Hole #12 – Each of the leftside fairway bunkers were divided
by McGovern as indicated by the narrow turf bridges – with a
Hole #17 – The first two bunkers were not altered from
Ross’ design. The next four, (#s 3, 4, 5, and 6), were each
divided by McGovern. (Again, notice all bunkers, except one
was specified to be 4’ 6” in depth).
Hole #18 – Of the six bunkers illustrated by Ross, four, (#s
1, 2, 5, and 7), were split in half by McGovern, #4 is an
“irregular mound not less than 5’ high”.
When later in the article, Gil Hanse is quoted as saying that, “we’re really focused on the original design character, the style of bunkering, and the configuration.” “He generally kind of put
together in groups of three or four clusters as opposed to a singular bunker”. “He” should be understood to be McGovern – not Ross. Gil goes on to say, “that is different to Ross and I think a really interesting presentation’. I agree. What McGovern produced is different “from” Ross. And the bunkering shown on the Dallin photographs is the original design, character, and configuration created by McGovern.I know for certain, on a few courses, Ross might flash the sand further up the face of a bunker – always carefully stipulated in the field notes accompanying each of his field sketches, and in one incident, he specified that a hazard rather than being a concave pit of sand, should be a sand covered mound. But he did not call for groups of multiple hazards on his field sketches, nor did he embrace them on his golf courses. If that was his preference, he would have illustrated that on his “construction plans”.
As the Juliano article continues, John Gosselin the golf course superintendent at Aronimink Golf Club explains to readers, and perhaps members, that; “over the years most of the bunker clusters designed by Ross – (They were not designed by Ross), have been gradually merged into one bunker”. The real story of what actually happened, is: over the many years the course has been in existence, first – George Fazio, then, (I believe), David Gordon, and in 1987 Robert Trent Jones Sr. all worked on and altered the architectural character of the golf course. In fact I visited the Club in 1987 during the reconstruction of the golf course by crews under the supervision of associates of Jones. And due to those efforts, the golf course was significantly altered. Tees were added. And the course was completely rebunkered which in several cases required cutting away sizable portions of the green’s fill pads to gather fill materials for construction of bunker surrounds. I still have many photographs of the golf course under construction at this time.
It was for me a sad experience. And the golf course in play today
was reconstructed, (by erasing most all vestiges of the Trent
Jones redesign with the exception of the pond fronting the 17th
green), and utilizing the original field sketches, to reestablish
the course Donald Ross illustrated on his General, (routing),
Plan. When John Gosselin mentions, and Gil Hanse concurs that
several “Ghost Bunkers” were removed and three will be
restored behind the 11th Green’s fill pad, I feel it is important to
note: There were no back bunkers on that green on Ross’
original field sketches nor on the large routing plan. Any “game
time” decisions were decisions made by McGovern. And
forcing bunkers into that location “hanging up on the back
slope” is far from anything Ross would suggest.
The fundamental point I have focused so much attention on:
is in greater detail what I explained, (as stated above), in 1994;
in several subsequent discussions over twenty years, and
expressed in a long email I sent to Dr. Ned Ryan, the then Green
Chairman, two years ago. - long before Mr. Juliano”s
Philadelphia Inquirer article was printed.
I am sure Gil Hanse will produce a very fine result, and if as
voted, the members of Aronimink Golf Club prefer the golf
course created by J. B. McGovern in behalf of Donald Ross, I
suggest they simply accept, and acknowledge this. Give your
former member, Mr. McGovern due credit rather than
proceeding under a series of convenient suppositions.
Now, one other comment I want to address is the statement
by Gil Hanse where he comments that as a result of his bunker
reconstruction, “some of the high shoulders in front of the
bunkers will be lowered significantly”. (I presume he means the
back shoulders – between the sand base and the green). Gil goes
on to say, “there will still be some depth,” to the bunkers “but it,
(they) will be defined by the slope of the ground as opposed to
(artificially) created slopes”.
What you, Gil, should understand is: Donald Ross never
mentioned he was seeking some particularly “natural
appearance”. That’s your preference. And what you should
further understand is: When Donald Ross specifically called for
rather large singular bunkers on his golf course he was
anticipating that the fill materials gathered by shaping the base
of the hazard would be used to properly create meaningful
“back” shoulders. He did not haul soil away from his bunker
excavations, nor did he import additional soil. And whenever I
have shaped a Ross bunker I have never imported a “tea spoon”
of additional soil to build the hazard. When Donald Ross
repeatedly specified a depth of 4” 6”, he was seeking that the
player be required to elevate a shot from the hazard
approximately 11” or so below “your” eye level. (To clarify:
4’6” as you know, is 54”. And therefore: as I stand in a typical
Ross Bunker – the type he sketched and called for at Aronimink
Golf Club – my eye level is at 64”. That is only ten inches
“above” the green side shoulder. That is the challenge “Ross”
specified. He did not suggest lower, more easily negotiated back
shoulders. And when an architect chooses to follow
McGovern’s cute little clusters of bunkers; that also will be your
If you reestablish the original Aronimink Golf Club golf
course to the architectural appearance adopted by J.B.
McGovern, you will create less soil at each bunker site because
a fair amount of the potential soil will be utilized to create the
separating shoulders. This without question will result in lower
shoulders, which may perfectly suit your search for “a natural
look,” but it will alter Ross’ intentions.
In closing, I want to wish the Club, and you, Gil all the best.
I have always enjoyed my visits to the club, and deeply
appreciate the respectful way I was treated. The members of the
Restoration Committee, which was headed by Mr. John Trickett
were a treat to work with even when we had to remove the
maple tree which had been planted on the original #1 putting
surface, and reconstruct large portions of the third, sixth, and
14th green’s fill pads. My hope is that this response to Mr.
Juliano, which also contains certain “conversations” with Gil
Hanse, fully clarifies once and for all the proper history of the
bunker construction on the original golf course.
PS: Mr. Juliano; where you mention in your article, that Ron
Prichard “specialize(d) in restoring Ross courses -----“ I am
presently restoring the Donald Ross golf course at: Riverside
Golf and Country Club in Rothsay, New Brunswick, Canada,
and the Ross Courses at Portland Country Club in Portland,
Maine, and Northland Country Club in Duluth, Minnesota. Last
fall we finished “restoration” of the only Donald Ross golf
course in Iowa, at Cedar Rapids Country Club.
- Presented unedited for content or opinion.