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Canterbury Golf Club No. 16
The 616-yard, par-5 16th at Canterbury begins what many consider to be as good as any three finishing holes in golf. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Beauty and the Beast: Canterbury to challenge senior golf's best

Golf's greatest players have tested their skills at Canterbury, where the finishing stretch might be the most demanding in the game. "It's simply a classic course, one guys should recognize from a strategic standpoint," said Kerry Haigh, managing director of championships and business development for The PGA of America. "I'd rather face a rattlesnake than a downhill 2-footer at Canterbury."

By Dave Shedloski, Special to

Gaining a consensus of opinion among human beings, free thinkers that we are, is rarely easy to come by. But golf administrators, champion competitors, journalists and erudite aficionados of the game know a splendid tract of real estate when they see it. There are golf courses that simply are a perfect fit for the property on which they were created.

One place worthy of such high praise is Canterbury Golf Club, the time-tested, private layout 10 miles southeast of Cleveland. When The PGA of America selected Canterbury for this week's 70th Senior PGA Championship, it bestowed upon the club an honor only one other American golf facility has known.

Canterbury follows on the heels of Oak Hill Country Club, site of last year's Senior PGA Championship, as the second venue to complete the cycle of serving as host facility for America's five most significant men's rotating major tournaments: the PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship, along with the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open.

Named for the Connecticut town where Moses Cleveland, the founder of the northern Ohio city, was born, Canterbury also served as the site of two Western Opens in the 1930s, which, at the time, was considered to be one of the game's most important tournaments. The club also was the initial site for the Senior Players Championship from 1983-86.

"First of all, the market is a great one for golf. The Cleveland area is a hotbed for the game; it's somewhere you want to be if you're staging a major championship," says Jim Remy, now in his first year as president of The PGA of America. "Secondly, you have a great, traditional golf course.

The players know this is a course with great characteristics for tournament golf.

"We're trying to make sure we don't lose touch with those kinds of courses. When we made a decision to move the Senior PGA Championship around on an annual basis, one reason was to make sure we could visit traditional venues that can support a meaningful major tournament."

Though the club will have completed a $3.4 million renovation of its clubhouse -- the better not only to serve its membership, but also to present its own shrine to golf history (more on that later) -- Canterbury's 146 sylvan suburban acres lie largely undisturbed since its inception in 1921.

Rated among America's top 100 courses by virtually every standard, Canterbury's Scottish-style layout was the product of English-born player Herbert Strong, who completed the initial nine holes in 1922. The club's first head professional J.H. (Jack) Way, modified the par-72 layout in 1928, and but for a few new tees or rebuilt bunkers, Canterbury, known for its rolling fairways and push-up, tilted greens, hasn't been carved up or stretched out like many of its sisters created in the same golden era.

Thus, it stands to offer an examination that might seem familiar to the 50-and-over golfers who will compete this week.

"It hasn't been changed much, and we have not sought to change it," says Kerry Haigh, managing director of championships and business development for The PGA of America. "It's simply a classic course, one guys should recognize from a strategic standpoint, especially those greens with a lot of movement. Strategy is still the most important thing, placing the ball in the proper areas."

Haigh said the greens are the heart of the golf course. Sam Snead once said of the club's putting surfaces, "I'd rather face a rattlesnake than a downhill 2-footer at Canterbury."

The championship layout will not be without its tweaks.

Canterbury will play to 6,895 yards, par 70, with an altered routing that uses holes 10-15 as the opening six holes, followed by the regular front nine. Such a configuration creates a somewhat unbalanced yardage -- 3,124 going out and 3,771 in -- with a par 3 to complete the first nine and the first of back-to-back par 5s coming late in the round (Nos. 15 and 16). Still, the final three holes remain the same and they are formidable: a 616-yard par 5, followed by a par 3 playing 229 yards and then a 439-yard home hole.

"I think those three finishing holes are among the best in all of golf," says George Sweda, who covered golf for the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for more than 40 years. "A lot of tournaments are won and lost right there."

Indeed, Ben Hogan, who earlier in the year three-putted the final hole to lose the Masters to Herman Keiser, also three-putted the final hole at Canterbury in the 1946 U.S. Open (the first post-war Open), to miss a playoff eventually won by Lloyd Mangrum over Byron Nelson and Vic Ghezzi. Mangrum won despite bogeying his final two holes. Nelson would have won outright had he not incurred a one-stroke penalty in the final round of regulation after his caddie, Eddie Martin, inadvertently kicked Nelson's ball at the 15th hole.

Perhaps Canterbury's most renowned event was the 1973 PGA Championship, where Ohio native Jack Nicklaus passed his idol, Bobby Jones, by claiming his 14th major championship. But the club is famous for other historic mileposts, among them the final U.S. Open appearance, in 1940, of Walter Hagen, who captured the 1932 Western Open at Canterbury.

Canterbury welcomed just its sixth PGA head professional this year in Michael Kernicki, charged with meeting lofty standards set by his predecessors, most notably former Masters and PGA Champion Henry Picard, who called Canterbury home from 1945-64. Picard's green jacket from Augusta National Golf Club has a special place in the renovated clubhouse, which features an impressive array of photographs and memorabilia from past major tournaments.

Also on display are the five major tournament trophies. The club had a 90 percent replica of the U.S. Open trophy crafted specifically to display this week. The original was lost in September 1946, in a fire at Chicago's Tam O'Shanter Country Club, where Mangrum was the PGA head professional.

"I think anyone who has an appreciation for history, if they walk into our clubhouse, the hair on the back of their neck might stand up," says Canterbury general manager Eric Rhodes. "There are a few places like that, and we are proud to have that as a big part of our identity." Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Mark O'Meara are honorary members of the club. O'Meara outlasted a star-studded match-play field -- it featured five players who would go on and win professional majors -- and beat defending champion John Cook at Canterbury for the 1979 U.S. Amateur title. The legendary Palmer twice won the Senior Players Championship here, in 1984 and '85. Palmer undoubtedly enjoyed an advantage at Canterbury and frequented the club regularly, often playing with Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham.

"Canterbury was a great place to play and to be around people who really loved the game," said Palmer. "I was still young at that time, and a place like Canterbury really tested me. I think it was one of those places that helps you develop a game."

It's been an enervating and exacting examination for the game's best players for decades. One of the many photos on the clubhouse wall is that of Johnny Miller, a member of the field in the 1973 PGA Championship. Miller wrote on the photograph: "What a great tract." At the time, he was the reigning U.S. Open champion.

But more than anything, Miller's written praise of Canterbury simply confirmed a belief held by respected golf officials, administrators and players for almost 90 years.

Dave Shedloski is an author and longtime golf writer from Alexandria, Ohio. This story appears courtesy of the 70th Senior PGA Championship Journal.

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