It is no surprise to most of you, I am a massive Alister MacKenzie fan, so when I was offered the opportunity to play another of his thought provoking designs, I jumped at the chance.
Buxton is a spa town in the High Peak borough of Derbyshire, England. It is the highest market town on the edge of the Peak District National park. Even the drive through beautiful Buxton got us excited as we started to climb up to the golf course. Buxton is just 45 minutes from Manchester airport, and about 50 mins from Manchester or Sheffield centres making it accessible by car or plane for those wishing to explore this beautiful area.
In 1923 The Duke of Devonshire allocated some land and requested, the now legendary, Alister MacKenzie to design an 18 hole golf course. Golf history in the making, the Cavendish course took the name of the Duke of Devonshire and still to this day the family retains some links to the golf club. Maybe better known in golf history is Cavendish being the inspiration for Augusta National, with amazing similarities. Cavendish Golf Club was opened in 1925, some eight years before Augusta National.
A coolish start to what turned out to be a sunny day, we tee’d it up with Lady Captain, Rachel. A relative newcomer to the sport, Rachel was as keen as mustard and I was not without a little jealousy at her being able to take up such a great sport on such an iconic course in such a beautiful setting. Although she did try to tell me it wasn’t always sunny there!
Hole one was the pathway to the course, the gradual leading you into the clutches of the MacKenzie lair. It wasn’t until hole 2 with its tiered green that it curled its lip and bared the teeth as the course to conquer, or just enjoy, as we did.
Not overly long in length (5721/5162 yards) and true to MacKenzie ethos, Cavendish is more about being able to play the course rather than the length of the ball one can hit – sure enough having a decent drive doesn’t hurt, especially if you can get yourself in to position A. None more obvious than on hole 11. Keeping the tee shot centre left is perfect to take on the ravine with the babbling brook beneath a drop off, and to give yourself a shot to the green. Slightly shorter off the tee and you have the conundrum of deciding whether to lay up or go for the green across the drop off and water course. A relatively short par 5 (403/366 yards), SI9 can lead to a birdie opportunity.
I was looking forward to the MacKenzie greens with their, in places, excessive undulations. The 17th is a large green left to right but a tee shot short and a huge uphill awaits you. Personally I like the excessive slopes on greens, it means I have to read them. To me its like playing snooker. When you’re looking to put the blue in the middle left pocket, what angle do I need to take and do I need to bounce off the side to do so… You might think a bit of a mathematical brain could be needed but I can assure you – that’s not me!!
One thing that struck me at Cavendish was the desire to return the course back to its original state. MacKenzie is not known to put bunkers in places just to make the game too hard, his bunker positioning is carefully thought through with the regular club golfer in mind. Cavendish have lost some of their bunkers over the years so I’m delighted to see they are gradually reinstating them. Not only this but come the millennium year for the club in 2025, all the bunkers will have replacement sand. Playing the course today, one can still enjoy the course, but it’d be great to play it when all the green have been done and back to the original design.
Snatches of Augusta’s iconic holes catch ones eye as you play the course. The Scotch pines being prominent in making this comparison. With just 4 full time greenskeepers and 2 part time ones, their passion is evident in the way they embrace the ethos of the course designer. Bumping into a couple of them whilst playing was not only an opportunity for some good banter but also an opportunity to acknowledge the pride they took in their work.
Interestingly, the course doesn’t go out in nine and back in nine. It seems the course layout has been changed either just before or just after it opened so all the hard hole were not all on the back nine. This ‘new’ change is reverted back to the MacKenzie way for 4 days of the year when the course is taken back to its original design – just for fun. I really love that idea and might just knock on the door of the Cavendish during that four day period. That said, the ‘new’ layout does not detract from the beauty of the course and its surroundings, more I like to think that Mackenzie gave options.
Although parkland at first appearance and yes it is true there are plenty of trees in places (needed as there are no toilets on the course!), weirdly the open landscape of Cavendish Golf course site does lend itself to be played like a links in places- the chip and run shot is a good one to have in your bag – especially if the wind is blowing! But make sure you bring more than that shot to the course otherwise the water courses and the odd tree might get the better of you!
The white club house sits proud and offers a warm welcome on arrival and a comforting big hug if the course beats you up. Not an overly large, ridiculous small or ostentatious building, just comfortably sat within its space commanding its position with pride- ready and waiting to greet you.
So, if you cant get to play Augusta, give Cavendish a go, I loved it and would definitely return.
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