Canterbury Golf Club
Tenth hole, 360 yards; Strong originally had a par three as the tenth hole and it was located in such a manner that golfers needed to walk through the clubhouse to get to it. In addition, it was the first of three one shotters on the back. Head Golf Professional Way changed it to a downhill par four with a tee only fifty yards left from the ninth green. Hepner has helped make this hole look and play like it belongs on a Strong design. He writes, ‘The quick fix for the tenth hole was very simple. Correct the mowing lines of the green and fairway. Then the most important fix was the trees. There were pines on the right down by the stream that blocked a view of the green even when you were in the right side of the fairway. There also was a group of spruces located on the outside of the dog leg. The spruces gave the golfer a sense of containment that would turn the hole, so golfers would comfortably blast their drivers right into them and be in their pocket. We removed all the pines and freed up the design so that golfers could think about their tee shot. If executed, they would be rewarded with an open look at the green. Because of the open look through the turn of the hole, many golfers now just cut a nice 3 wood down to the bottom of the hill. They now have a chance to think. The hole isn’t spectacular, it is just good golf.’
Re-designed in the early 1930s, the tenth now plays as the shortest par four on the course.
The wedge approach shot needs to avoid the only green-side water hazard on the course. The open
look of the approach has helped make the hole look like it belongs on a Strong design.
Twelfth hole, 370 yards; Another example whereby the drive must carry the crest of a hill. From there, the fairway and green follow the natural slope of the land, which is to stay that the green too slopes from front to back. Hepner admires how fairways such as this one continually make the good golfer make slight adjustments to his stance as the golf ball is invariably one or two inches above or below his feet. Similarly, while riding the course the year before the 1996 U.S. Senior Open, Judy Bell, then president of the USGA, commented to Bonar that she was impressed with the natural undulating fairways and almost lack of a level lie.
Looking back up twelfth hole, the golfer appreciates that getting close to a forward hole location such as
this one takes some doing as the green does nothing but feed an approach to the back.
Thirteenth hole, 490 yards; The golfer now enters the most rambunctious part of the property and indeed from here in is a roll-a-coaster ride. A good drive leaves the golfer at or just past the crest of the hill with a most engaging long downhill approach shot. The slope of the terrain fifty yards and in feeds approach shots nicely onto the putting surface. As such, the golfer never tires of trying to judge his approach to land just so and release toward the hole. Though Golden Age courses frequently featured such appealing ground game options, it is worth noting that the next four holes all require aerial approach shots, a sign that Strong was intent on fulfilling the request for a rigorous championship test by the Cleveland businessmen that hired him.
The view down to the thirteenth green, which is ringed by seven bunkers. At, 4,000 square feet, this
green is one of the smallest targets on the course and the long narrow nature of several of
the back bunkers can leave the golfer with awkward recovery shots.
Fourteenth hole, 385 yards; Golfers in the modern era of power golf rarely are forced to shape their tee balls. Not unlike the first, this fairway richly rewards the golfer who can move his tee ball from left to right. Only in that manner will a tee ball stay in the fairway, which is important as the elevated green makes for a difficult target from the rough. According to Bonar, ‘The fourteenth is my favorite hole because no one has ever suggested any changes to it, which is saying something after all the events that we?ve hosted, visits by tour agronomists and the USGA Turf Advisory Service and Master Plans by two architects.’
There wasn’t the need for many fairway bunkers at Canterbury, such was the excellent quality of
the rolling topography. Here at the fourteenth, fairway bunkers would have been superfluous
on this blind drive over the crest of the hill.
Golfers who don’t shape the ball to the right frequently approach the fourteenth green from the left rough,
which is guaranteed to provide a poor lie and an awkward angle to the plateau green.
Fifteenth hole, 365 yards; This is both Canterbury’s most dramatic and photographed hole. The tee ball feeds downhill to a wide, bunkerless fairway that runs out 260 yards from the tee where a stream crosses. However, it is the forty foot embankment that the golfer must scale with his approach shot that gives the hole its fearsome visual appearance. Especially in the days of hickory golf, this hole was a bear for the typical member. These days, the hole’s primary challenge comes at the green. At thirty five yards, it is the course’s deepest green. A distinct ridge that runs through its middle makes for several mean hole locations and judging one’s approach from so far down below in the fairway is always difficult.
The view from the fifteenth tee perhaps leaves the golfer feeling that he is in New England where such
abrupt landforms are more commonplace. Not surprisingly, Strong was sure to incorporate the
embankment, which is the property’s single most dramatic feature, into his routing.
An interesting aspect to the fifteenth involves just how far to drive one’s ball. A 220 yard drive leaves
this approach from approximately 140 yards and the flag (though not the green) is clearly visible.
A drive another thirty yards forward leaves a blind (though shorter) approach.
Sixteenth hole, 610 yards; Famous for over eighty-five years, this original par six (!) is made by Strong’s brilliant routing over the rolling topography. Indeed, no bunkers were required tee to green, so good is the land. In general, a classic par five – par three – par four finish provides the ultimate in variety and the one here at Canterbury is one of the finest such sequences of closing holes anywhere. If played well, the last three holes yield respectively a short iron, a long iron/wood, and a mid iron into three wildly different green complexes. In short, ideal.
The thrilling view from the elevated sixteenth tee encourages the golfer to make a bold positive
swing. The bunkers in the far background ring the back of the green.
Finding the fairway off the tee is important as otherwise the golfer is unlikely to be able to advance
the ball 200 plus yards to the crest of the hill seen above, which is 130 yards from the green.
Two good shots leave this manageable pitch to the sixteenth green. Of course, if something
goes wrong on either the first or second shot, the approach shot becomes blind and
much more difficult to gauge.
Seventeenth hole, 230 yards; Modern golf course architects frequently try too hard coming down the stretch. Pete Dye for instance has created more than one par three seventeenth with water that didn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the course. To be fair, television and the demands for an ‘exciting’ finish put pressure on Dye to do so. Fortunately, Strong preceded the need for such artificial contrivances and one of the reasons that Canterbury’s finishing holes are so well regarded is that they never resort to trickery that was out of keeping with the rest of the holes/course. Having said that, the seventeenth is a brute with its long narrow green being a difficult target to find, especially as the penultimate green when the pressure is on.
Though full of good golfing qualities, the seventeenth hole sits peacefully upon the land with features
that don’t look contrived or out of place. What better compliment is there for
any architect’s work to receive than that?
Eighteenth hole, 440 yards; Starting at the thirteenth, the golfer goes on quite a walk with all the non-one shotters (i.e. every hole but the seventeenth) going up or down at least thirty feet in elevation. As such, the golfer needs to make sure he doesn’t make a swing with tired legs here at the last as it plays uphill all the way. Canterbury was largely treeless when the course first opened and the approach into this green, which is an extension of the fairway and is open in front, would have enjoyed a links feel to it. The tiny size of some of the bunkers that ring the green’s sides and back are unique to Strong and act as a distinctive reminder that one has just finished a course from one of the masters of the Golden Age in golf course architecture.
Bigger fairway bunkers down the right by Cornish give way to eight smaller Strong bunkers
that ring the sides and back of the Home green.
Reflecting on one’s round, the golfer can’t help but appreciate several facts. Though he might not see where nearly half of his drives finish due to how the holes fall over the land, Canterbury is a first rate test of shaping one’s tee ball and finding the canted fairways. In addition, the greens taken as a set provide one attractive target after another one. In general, on one’s approach, the golfer is afforded a clear sense of what to try and accomplish. In that manner, he feels like he is in a continual chess match with Strong. Finally, though the greens don’t have the wild interior contours of an Oakland Hills for instance, they remain full of character thanks to their tilt with a premium always on staying below the day’s location.
Ultimately, Canterbury falls in same category as Merion Golf Club in that the golfer struggles to think how this property could have yielded a better design. Though the property wasn’t great per se (i.e. not on sandy soil by a large body of water), the course is. For the golfer that gets out of position (ask Gary Player about his 84 in the final round of the 1973 PGA Championship), the course can bear its teeth. Yet, it never does so based on artificial water hazards or other silly devices employed by architects since Strong’s day. Indeed, the one thing for sure about Canterbury and its apparent simplicity is that it will make you wonder why modern architects with their visual eye candy and the correlating bloated maintenance budgets have senselessly deviated from the standard set here at Canterbury by Strong.
Eighty-five years after Strong delivered one of his best designs, Canterbury still
reigns near the top of classic American parkland courses.