No résumé needed here

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November 8, 2021

John Canavan

Union League Liberty Hill superintendent John Canavan doesn’t possess what many of his colleagues consider the backbone of their work history.

“I don’t have a résumé,” he says. “Never did.”

Canavan is the first superintendent I have met who has never put his résumé in writing. I asked him while touring Liberty Hill earlier this year if he knows anybody else in the industry without one. He shook his head. “Different circumstances and situations,” he says. “There are people looking to move on and up.”

Canavan’s relationship with the rolling land started long before The Union League of Philadelphia (See Building something big) purchased the 311-acre property from Chubb Insurance earlier this year and renamed it Liberty Hill. World War II veteran Chuck Cadiz introduced Canavan to the golf industry in 1982 by offering him a job on his Eagle Lodge Conference Center and Country Club crew. Canavan picked rocks from tees on his first day. It snowed two days later.

By the end of that season, Cadiz approached Canavan about attending school for turfgrass management. Canavan enrolled in Penn State and remained close to Cadiz. The pair attended conferences and trade shows together. Canavan enjoyed the work and the people. “It was just the fit for me,” he says.

Cadiz retired in 1994 and Canavan replaced him as superintendent. Ownership changed and Canavan received an opportunity to be heavily involved in the construction of a new Gary Player-designed course on the site in the early 2000s. Eagle Lodge transformed into the ACE Club, a 7,500-yard aesthetically pleasing puncher with five acres of A-1 bentgrass greens, cavernous, white-sand bunkers and dramatic vistas. Regardless of the course’s name, Canavan, who has never worked anywhere else, knows more about the land than any living human.

“I can also tell you a small, little detail,” he says as we ride down the first fairway. “On our summer crew in 1982, we had a guy named Warren Henderson. He was on the crew because he was going to Arizona for golf course architecture and wanted to see as many golf courses as he could. In 2001, we hired Gary Player and who does he bring in as senior designer? Warren Henderson.”

Construction on the ACE Club started in early September 2001. The course opened in 2003. While maintaining and improving the rolling and scenic land, Canavan helped raise two sons, both of whom graduated from law school. He lives just 2½ miles from the course in a scenic suburb less than 15 miles from Center City Philadelphia. He considers himself a “process guy” and he still relishes arriving to work before sunrise and the collaboration required to produce a daily product. Assistant superintendent Alan Surrena has worked alongside Canavan since 2006. Personal connections, like the one Canavan had with Cadiz, are one of the best parts of the job.

“My boss told me, ‘You don’t work a day in life if you enjoy what you’re doing,” Canavan says. “It becomes your hobby and that’s how it has been for me. I’m totally blessed to be a part of it every day. The people I work with, the piece of land … it’s a humble version of God’s work. That’s how I always look at it.”

Some words don’t need to be on a résumé. They mean more through the calming voice of somebody who has lived them.

Guy Cipriano Editor-in-Chief gcipriano@gie.net