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The 177-yard, par-3 ninth at Canterbury Golf Club. (Photo: Canterbury Golf Club)

Rater's Notebook: Ground game dictates play at Canterbury

By Bradley S. Klein, Special to PGA.com

Ten miles east of downtown Cleveland, you would have little idea the land is at all interesting. To be sure, the neighborhoods have a certain leafy charm to them, but the spread of commercial development and roadways has effaced much of the underlying landforms.

Turn off South Woodland Road and through the gate to Canterbury Golf Club, however, and one notices how powerful the natural terrain is. Outside of pure sandy links, the best ground for golf is the land along the southern edge of the Great Lakes that was carved by glaciers -- the more rolling, tilted and uneven the better.

The scene of the 70th Senior PGA Championship is one of the country's most elegant parkland courses. It helps that the original hole corridors -- the alignment of tees, fairways and greens -- are all intact, as are the slopes and extent of the putting surfaces. Credit longtime superintendent Terry Bonar, who has been there since 1961 -- the last 25 years as head greenkeeper -- for maintaining the course firm and fast.

The ground game dictates play at Canterbury. Consider the difficulty of adhering to the fairways on the reverse-camber par 4s (championship holes 1, 3, 5, 7), where in each case the fairway bends left to right, against the back of a slope that cants from high right to low left. Anything other than a perfectly controlled fade winds up through the fairway and leaves an awkward approach shot in. With all of Canterbury's classically sloped greens running from back to front, there's the occasional danger of hitting an approach with so much spin that it pulls right off the green. That's especially the case on holes with pronounced false fronts, such as 1, 5, 6, 8 and 14, all par 4s.

The championship layout starts off demanding finesse, then decidedly favors power. No one will reach the 616-yard, par-5 16th hole in two, thanks to a roller-coaster fairway and an approach zone flanked on the right by a copse of maple trees.

During the 1996 U.S. Senior Open, the par-3 17th played as the fifth-hardest hole of the year -- and it played 30 yards shorter than its current posted yardage of 229. The problem is the green, which is big but rolls off on both sides to steep bunkers and steeper hollows that require deft up-and-over recovery.

From the 17th tee, Canterbury is uphill all the way -- 100 feet in elevation to the 18th green. The 439-yard par-4 final hole plays into a prevailing cross breeze from the west. There's out of bounds on the near right and a difficult, two-tired green waiting atop the hill. A par here beats the field by nearly half a shot. Three pars to finish on Sunday afternoon would be very impressive, indeed.

1. Ease and intimacy of routing: These are easily walkable, returning nines. Fairways roll beautifully with the terrain and need to be "read' just as carefully as the greens. Routing is amazingly efficient, and even with only 138 acres for the club, there's lots of room between.

2. Integrity of original design: Hole corridors are all intact, as are green surfaces. Additional back tees have helped recapture the originally intended landing areas. The widths of playing surfaces have been somewhat reduced due to dramatic tree growth.

3. Natural setting and overall land plan: Feels like a vast country estate, thanks to a brick Tudor revival clubhouse at the center of the site.

4. Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: Elegant and, at times, bold, and extremely well positioned atop natural moraines or flats.

5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: Holes get progressively longer and more demanding, starting with a short/middle iron at the second to a full-bore fairway metal at the 17th.

6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: There are two kinds of par 4s at Canterbury. Holes 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 14 are delicate, often calling for lay-ups from the tee, to severe greens and with a creek often in play. Holes 4, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 18 are long and severally punish a wayward drive.

7. Variety and memorability of par 5s: They come on consecutive holes with the 549-yard 15th reachable in two and the 616-yard 16th very tough on the second shot.

8. Basic conditioning: Bent/Poa annua greens are amazingly smooth and consistent. Fairways are exceptionally firm. The rough is thick and very punitive.

9. Landscape and tree management:
Hardwoods line all of the holes and narrow the playing corridors. For all the tree management that has occurred at courses around the country of late, there still are numerous ornamentals and conifers.

10. "Walk in the park" test: Great caddie program, elegant grounds, easy access, and even the 100-foot ascent from 17th tee home is majestic rather than a chore.

Overall: Canterbury arguably is underrated as the No. 88 course on the Best Classic list (courses built before 1960) by Golfweek.

This story appears courtesy of the 70th Senior PGA Championship Journal.

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