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Dominic Antenucci, Northern Ohio PGA
"Our section is very honored because three of golf's true pioneers are members," NOPGA Executive Director Dominic Antenucci (above) said of Charlie Sifford, Renee Powell and her father, William. (Photo: The PGA of America).

Northern Ohio PGA: Rich history, 'Who's Who' of champions

The Northern Ohio PGA works diligently to attract new players to the game, and the list of players who've won Section events is top-notch and includes Denny Shute, Byron Nelson, Tom Weiskopf and a young lad named Jack Nicklaus.

By George Sweda, Special to PGA.com

Golfers face a relatively short season in the northern states. That's why the Northern Ohio PGA's tournament schedule is such a busy one, running from early April until late October and occasionally into early November.

"Obviously, everything depends on the weather, but we've been quite lucky the last few years," said NOPGA Executive Director Dominic Antenucci.

Despite the short playing season, that hasn't stopped the section from adding new events and continuing to expand its growing junior program.

The NOPGA is involved in a number of "grow the game" programs, including several that will be featured in conjunction with the 70th Senior PGA Championship to be held at Canterbury Golf Club outside Cleveland.

On the Sunday before the Championship, members of the section will conduct a women's-only clinic at StoneWater Golf Club. On Monday, the section was scheduled to sponsor a diversity clinic and community relations day at The First Tee of Cleveland's facility at Washington Park Learning Center.

Throughout the winter of 2008 and '09, Northern Ohio PGA Section members gave nearly 300 free lessons at the large North Coast Golf Show, a multi-city consumer show that made stops in Columbus, Ohio, and Cleveland. As part of The PGA of America's Play Golf America program, section PGA Professionals also gave lesson to adults and juniors at the indoor Golfdome east of Cleveland over three different evenings.

Section tournament director David Griffith, who has become well known for his knowledge of the Rules of Golf, annually conducts clinics for college teams in the section as well as golf organizations and private clubs. Judd Stephenson, NOPGA president and the PGA head professional at Avon Oaks Country Club west of Cleveland, doubles as executive director of the Ohio Girls' Golf Foundation, which promotes the game for high school-age players and even provides funding for college scholarships. The Northern Ohio PGA Section helps the program with an annual clinic and pro-am tournament.

"Ohio has two PGA Sections, Northern and Southern, and one of our biggest events has become the annual Ohio Cup Matches, which pit the best players from our section against the best from Southern Ohio," explained Antenucci. "It has become a good, friendly rivalry."

An Ohio chapter to The PGA of America was created in 1927, and the state split into two sections in the '40s. Since the late 1940s, the NOPGA also has conducted the annual Ohio Open, an event with a rich history and a Who's Who of former champions.

Denny Shute, the 1936 and '37 PGA Champion, was a four-time winner. Just before World War II broke out, Byron Nelson won three straight titles, former U.S. Open winner Billy Burke won three times and Herman Keiser won twice. All are members of the NOPGA Hall of Fame.

A 16-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus won the title in 1956, a significant achievement since he never won an Ohio Amateur title. Tom Weiskopf's first professional victory was in the Ohio Open in 1965.

"Our tournament schedule this year has 36 events plus nine playability tests," said Griffith. "We've also got 30 junior events in three different tours." Those tours are based on age, and in all there are more than 600 juniors participating.

Sadly, the older tour, for players ages 12 to 19, is called the Kenny Novak Tour.

"Kenny was a promising junior player who worked for me in the bag room when I was the professional at Club Walden in Aurora back in the mid-1980s," Antenucci explained. "The day after he'd won a local junior event, not one of ours at the time, he was helping set up for our ladies member-guest when it started to rain. The event got flooded out. Kenny went over to the nearby Aurora Inn for lunch with friends.

"They were walking home when one of his friends got swept into a storm sewer by water. Kenny jumped in to help get her out. She escaped, but he got swept under and drowned. He was only 15."

Since then, Walden has hosted a memorial event in Kenny's name that serves as the club's major junior event and the culmination of its junior season.

In addition to Nelson, Shute, Keiser and Burke, the list of NOPGA Hall of Fame members includes famed golf instructor Henry Picard, Tommy Armour, who won the PGA Championship and the U.S. and British Opens, and Charlie Sifford. All but Burke and Keiser are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

"Our section is very honored because three of golf's true pioneers are members," said Antenucci. "Charlie, of course, is the first African-American elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Renee Powell, who played on the LPGA Tour, is the first and only African-American woman to become a PGA member, and her father, William, is the first African-America American to design, build and own a golf course -- Clearview, in East Canton, which the family still owns and operates."

The NOPGA made Mr. Powell an honorary member and The PGA of America later made him a full member.

Editor's Note: This story appears courtesy of the 70th Senior PGA Championship Journal.

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