Dear USGA and PGA Tour,
Philadelphia has had an on-again, off-again relationship with professional golf throughout the years, and has struggled to keep the PGA Tour in the area. The city hosted the IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic from 1963-80 and the SEI Pennsylvania Classic from 2000-02. Sprinkle in a handful of major championships (the last being the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in 1981) and that’s about it.
But 2010 brings renewed hope.
The AT&T National has been adopted by Philly for ’10 and ’11, and Aronimink Golf Club is making a firm pitch to keep the PGA Tour coming back. The 2011 U.S. Open will be held at Congressional Country Club in nearby Bethesda, Md., and the ’13 Open will be at Merion in Ardmore, Pa., adding even more reasons for the “Cradle of Liberty” to celebrate this Fourth of July.
“There’s a lot of history here in Philadelphia,” said Jim Furyk, a West Chester, Pa., native. “A lot of great courses, and it’s nice we’ll be back here.”
Aronimink has been primed this week at the AT&T National, giving players a tough test of golf. The Donald Ross design features difficult greens and sinful hole locations.
“I’m really enjoying the challenge of the golf course,” said Justin Rose, the 36-hole leader at 7-under 133. “It’s a cool golf course… [Aronimink] has a lot of those types of characteristics where you need to play smart.”
Inflated galleries, aided by heavenly weather, have welcomed players to a track many have not seen before. Unlike the sometimes hostile atmosphere of an Eagles or Phillies game, Aronimink has been a benchmark for etiquette. Cheers have replaced jeers, and well-mannered spectators have been out in record numbers – 40,000 a day, by one report – to see the main attraction, Tiger Woods. Though Woods has struggled this week, wrestling with a spotty putter to make the cut on the number at 3-over 143, he seems to be making new fans with each swing he takes. The long trail of devoted followers, many of whom are seeing him for the first time, have been bouncing on their tippy-toes just to catch a glimpse.
The PGA Tour will return to Aronimink next year, but the 2012 tournament takes its tents and moves back south to Congressional. However, with a bevy of qualified venues located in the Philadelphia region, it’s only a matter of time before the city gets a noteworthy event to call its own. On Wednesday, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem expressed his pleasure with Aronimink, but was uncertain whether it would become a permanent Tour stop.
“We’re back here next year, and after that we’ll look for opportunities,” Finchem said. “But certainly this is a market we’d like to play in, longer-term.”
With more than 1.5 million people in Philadelphia County alone, drawing fans out to see the world’s best players isn’t a problem. Aronimink’s two-year lease of the AT&T should help lobbyists make a case for the region, as will the ’13 U.S. Open at storied Merion.
If Ben Hogan – whose famed 1-iron shot at Merion was the lasting image of his 1950 U.S. Open victory – had anything to say about it, I think he’d like Philadelphia to have a couple more four-day weekends.