I have had 3 rounds in my life where I have tensed up so badly that I forgot how to play golf. The first was at Clovernook Country Club in 2007. Perhaps it was intimidation of playing a private club I’d always wanted to play for the first time. Maybe it was unfamiliar partners. Regardless, I duffed my way into mostly walking the course.
A month later, I played Western Hills Country Club to my lowest round ever. Things improved.
Well, same thing happened to me recently at Canterbury Golf Club. I got so tense that I completely forgot how to play. So embarrassing to play the best course I’ve had the privilege of playing and play like that; for TWO rounds.
I didn’t take many pictures during my play. I thought I’d be doing a whole photo tour thing. The truth is, there’s already a pretty good photo tour on GCA about the place. I just wanted to soak it all in and keep it in memory. It’s something that we as a society have forgotten how to do; capturing a moment versus experiencing it. I did get a handful of pics, and I’ll share those.
Did I mention it was really cold? Those white spots you see from the green at 11. That’s sleet.
But enough about me. Did I say how awesome Canterbury is? Forget the amenities and great staff. Let’s focus on the course.
This was the first golf course I’ve played where I honestly can’t think of any weak holes. Not one. The course is a mixture of great holes, combined with a handful of world-beaters.
The opener is fantastic and sets the stage for the round. The drive is blind and doglegs to the right. The approach shot must be below the hole to have a shot at birdie. Most of the greens at Canterbury slope back to front and you will pay for not being on the right side. In my first round, I was just short of the green while my playing partners reached in regulation above the whole. Guess who had the shortest birdie putt?
2 is probably one of the better shots at birdie the whole round. Most players will play an iron or fairway wood to the uphill, dogleg left hole. Taking a driver must have a hard draw, else land in a sea of fairway bunkers. Approach.
The par 3 third is where I started my first round. Great. Nothing like a par 3 over water to start a round. The water really shouldn’t be in play for the better player. The bunkers surrounding the green certainly will, and some of these can cause some really awkward stances, as I found out.
4 is a fantastic par 4 and true risk reward. The player can opt for the middle or right side of the fairway for a safe tee shot, but long approach. The riskier player takes on a set of bunkers hugging the left side.
5 dips into a bit of a valley and plays uphill the whole way. Ideal play is middle to right of the fairway to avoid the fairway bunkers.
There are two par 5s at Canterbury that play as par 4s when they most big events. Luckily for us mortals, 6 and 13 offer chances at birdie that don’t come often here. The tee shot at 6 is fairly straight forward. Those going for the green in two need a very precise shot. The green is well protected in the front and anything too far right will be out of play. Bailing left will go into the valley where 5 is, and an up and down is no guarantee.
The par 3 7th plays at the lowest part of the property and is pretty much all carry. Anything short will be in the long grass.
It was truly at the 8th wear I saw the true nature of Canterbury’s lightning fast greens. I was pin high but wide, chipping to a front left hole location. I hit my chip well short of the hole, thinking it would roll within 5 feet. Instead, the hole was placed precariously by a false front, and I saw my ball go by the hole and roll off the green. Two of my playing partners had reached in regulation, yet saw their birdie putts roll past where my chip ended up. As the caddies said, “Welcome to Canterbury!”
The outward 9 concludes with a stout par 5. The green is very big. As you can see from this shot in my first round, the super got a little cute with this pin placement (note front-right of green). The 2nd day of play I would play a wrong ball to lose a hole in match play. Great memories of this one!
I understand 10 plays as the opener when tournaments are played here. The hole seems innocent enough off the tee. Probably a fairway wood at most for the best player to reach the bottom of the hill. Driver is out of play due to a creek that runs across. The green has a more back to front slope than most do, which is saying something. Our front-right pin position on the 2nd day required an absolutely spot on shot; anything less was finding the water.
11 is a great, short par 3 that requires an accurate shot to hit the green, thereby avoiding the six bunkers that surround it.
Maybe I’m missing something, but 12th might be the weakest hole on the course. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad hole by any means; it’s just that the other 17 are that much better. The next holes are proof of that. The forementioned 13th is a beast as a par 4, but a must birdie par 5 for members. The approach will play many feet downhill to a narrow green. Since the green rises a bit, a run up shot is not guaranteed to find the playing surface.
The drive at 14 will play blind. The fairway runs out under 100 yards to the green, which rises considerably from the approach area. Another big back to front slope on the green will make being above the hole a tricky 2 putt. See a pattern here.
What can I say about 15 at Canterbury? Simply a stunning hole.
Fantastic use of the land by Herbert Strong. I can only imagine what the hole played like back in the hickory days. Thankfully for me, I have steel and titanium. The fairway I believe is the widest on the course. Driver is out of play for most players. The key is how far do you want to take your drive. To reach the green, the player must hit a shot to a target that is about 40 feet higher than their approach.
You can lay off a bit to get a clear view of the green, or get as close as you can and hit a blind shot. The green has to be one of the smallest on the course, and anything but center will find a bunker. I can see for high handicappers this would be a tough, if not impossible hole; but Canterbury wasn’t built for high handicappers. I really do believe it knocks out Black Mesa’s #14 as the best hole I have ever played.
They say that 16-18 is one of the best and most difficult stretches in all of golf. I’ll vouch for the difficult part; and the holes are pretty awesome too.
16 has to be seen to be believed. Tremendous left to right contour in the fairway, that switches up a few hundred yards down the fairway.
It’ll take two long, good shots to give the player a clear, yet aerial approach to the green.
17 is a brutally long par 3. The green is bigger than it looks from the tee, but it’s a tough hole to hit in regulation. Due to the uphill nature, back pin position, and wind into my face, I actually played driver on this hole. My single digit handicap playing partners played fairway woods.
I was told the climb from 17 tee to 18 green is the equivalent of climbing a 7 story building. I haven’t been able to confirm this on Google Earth, but I can confirm 18 is all the closing hole you want. Fairway closes up at the driving zone, also protected by bunkers and O.B. right. The green will accept a running shot, but is surrounded by bunkers. The ones short right can lead to an awkward 40 yard bunker shot. Ben Hogan 3-putted this green to miss out on a spot in the 1946 U.S Open playoff.
The place has history, no doubt. Canterbury proudly showcases the hardware from the tournaments they’ve hosted.
I don’t think most people think of Ohio as a golf hotbed, but when you stop to think about all the great courses around the state and how most of the great architects of all time are represented; you realize it’s pretty special. Yes, all of the great ones are private and require some level of access to play. But within a 5 hour drive, you can play a Raynor (Camargo), Allison (Kirtland), Strong (Canterbury), Dye (The Golf Club), Ross (Inverness, Brookside, etc.), Fazio (Sand Ridge), Nicklaus (Muirfield Village), Flynn (Country Club, Pepper Pike), Wilson (NCR South), Thompson (Sleepy Hollow) and Trent Jones (Firestone South). Not too shabby IMHO.