A special plaque at Canterbury Golf Club honors the winners of past big events staged at the storied club. (The PGA of America)
Local Knowledge: Canterbury Golf Club and the Senior PGA Championship
PGA Head Professional Michael Kernicki provides a quick preview of what the players can look for this week, and explains why he believes the storied club's best days might still lie ahead.
This Canterbury tale is filled with great battles, heroic wins and memorable championship celebrations. Canterbury Golf Club -- just outside of Cleveland, Ohio -- will host this week's 70th Senior PGA Championship. This iconic course is one of the most revered and storied in the country, but according to PGA Head Professional Michael Kernicki, the facility's best days might still be ahead.
PGA.com: Canterbury is now one of only two courses that has hosted all five rotating premier championships in U.S. golf -- the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, the Senior PGA Championship, the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur (Oak Hill Golf Club in Rochester, N.Y., is the other). Can you share your thoughts on Canterbury's legacy in golf?
Kernicki: Canterbury is all about the history it has had; it is very proud of the championships that have been played here. And even more, we are proud of the message that having such a history infers -- that players and the leading golf organizations love coming to Canterbury. There is a real special feeling about these tournaments that take place on these old, traditional, parkland golf clubs. And we also feel like Cleveland is a great host city for these championships, the people are enthusiastic in their support, our members are tremendous in their commitment. So yes, we’re very proud of it -- how could we not be?
PGA.com: For those who may not be all that familiar with your course, what can you tell us about it? What can the players look for?
Kernicki: One of the great things about Canterbury is that since its creation, nothing has been forced or manufactured for the layout. In many of the newer courses, you will see areas that seem out of place; you can tell that the designers did not use the land as it was when they found it. Nothing has been moved here. We did not add any new slopes, such as the big slopes on the 16th fairway -- they were here and they were incorporated into the design. We don't have a tree program where we plant trees to add to the course; these are trees that have been here since the 1920s when the course was created.
One amazing fact is that the greens here have never been replaced since 1921. The putting surfaces are spectacular, they are very well cared for. It is a classic older course in every way but it has the best of today's conditions. And with that being said, the thing that sets Canterbury apart is that it is in tournament condition all the time.
This week, the players can expect lots of rolling fairways, undulating greens that are in perfect shape and, of course, a very strong and challenging layout on one of the top courses in the country.
PGA.com: There are many courses, particularly major championship courses, that like to revel in the test that is their three closing holes. But you guys actually have a strong case that your closing holes might be some of the toughest in golf.
Kernicki: I would say if you go back through the archives of tournaments that have been held here, and you read or hear what the champions have said, you'll almost always find them talking about negotiating those final three holes. Frankly, just like it's been since they first started playing championships here, I'd say that whoever negotiates those three holes the best through four rounds will be in the best shape to be the champion come Sunday.
PGA.com: So with the talk of your famous closing holes, and the storied history of this course, we have to mention that we're actually seeing a brand new Canterbury in a sense this week.
Kernicki: There is a new routing of this course for the Senior PGA Championship. I understand that there will be some purists who might like to see the players play the original routing that everyone else has played, but major championship golf is not only about the players, it's also about the spectators and television. Our original routing just did not offer a great way to show where some of the most exciting action on the course might be taking place. So I think the PGA was correct in making this change in order to get the galleries and the television equipment and crews in places to offer the best and most efficient way to watch the championship.
PGA.com: You became the Head Professional here in January, so that's about five months. What have you learned about Canterbury and its culture in those five months?
Kernicki: Well, it isn't like I was just born five months ago [laughter]. I've been in this business 30-plus years and I've known about this incredible facility for a long, long time. I've played here, I have friends that are members and have been members for a long time. When I was considered for this job, it was flattering and exciting. I'm a Midwestern guy and so to be able to return here and have my family here in an area around people that I greatly admire and respect, it's been tremendous.
Another thing that Canterbury offers is a superb outreach program that has made it one of the youngest clubs in Cleveland. This might surprise some people, but over 60% of our membership is between 35-52 years of age. So we have a vibrant membership that is in position to keep Canterbury strong for a long time to come. So I'm very excited to be here, excited for this week and excited about the future.
PGA.com: What do you want the lasting legacy of this event to be? When the TV towers and galleries and star players leave, what do you hope is their lasting memory?
Kernicki: I hope they are asking, "When can we come back?"
PGA.com: Last question. Cleveland is all of a sudden "Championsville" this week. Who's the bigger star, you or LeBron James?
Kernicki: [laughter] No one knows who I am.