The 1,000-acre Carden Park estate was established by the Lech family in the early 17th century, when the grounds were landscaped and stocked with deer. There was a setback when the timber framed main Hall was destroyed by fire in 1912 but the property recovered when the building was rebuilt.
Carden Park’s fortunes took a turn for the better in the 1990s when businessman Steve Morgan – who was chairman of the Redrow housebuilding firm at the time – got involved in the enterprise, investing heavily in new hotel facilities and creating two contrasting resort-style 18-hole golf courses, the Nicklaus and Cheshire.
After a 14-year management contract with the De Vere Group, the resort became a fully independent hotel in 2014 and this transition was subsequently supported by a refurbishment of all the hotel amenities and a total renovation of the bunkers on the Cheshire layout.
The holes on the Cheshire are laid out on the east side of the estate, routed through wooded fells behind the clubhouse, and the course builds to a scenic finish on the downhill par four 18th, with its tee position on top of sandstone cliffs overlooking the resort and the Welsh hills beyond.
The two courses at Carden Park are very different in character and opinions are divided as to which is the better layout. The Nicklaus is longer and more American in style whilst the prettier Cheshire is routed through and around many of the more interesting and natural features on the property.
The best holes on the Cheshire arrive later in the round but I do enjoy the 6th, an interesting dogleg par five that requires the approach shot to be threaded between a large tree and the boundary hedge. Two tough holes complete the front nine, the well protected par three 8th, which is possibly a little too long for my liking at 229 yards, and the demanding uphill 9th, a brute of a par four at 460 yards.
The par five 11th makes good use of a walled ditch, or ha-ha, which is designed to be cleared with your second shot and the 12th with water coming into play both short and left of the green is particularly tricky. This is a terrific par four which predictably has many players bailing out to the right of the green into a very well placed bunker.
The par five 14th signals the start of an excellent run for home. These five holes occupy the most interesting and undulating section of the course and offer a scenic and dramatic finish to the round. Attacking the raised 14th green in two risks a difficult escape from some rather deep bunkers just short of the green. These bunkers were redesigned a few years back to be more rugged and are larger than the originals. At the same time, the total number reduced from 90 to 65.
The short 15th, a picturesque downhill par three, shouldn't cause too many issues but the same cannot be said about the daunting par four 16th where accuracy is vital. The landing area from the tee is generous enough but as we climb steeply uphill between tall pines the fairway narrows to a magnificent angled plateau green. Another great hole immediately follows, the 17th being my favourite par three on either course. The hole is cleverly routed on top of the sandstone ridge, the green sitting in an idyllic clearing surrounded by bunkers. This same ridge allows us the opportunity to hit our final tee shot from high ground to the well bunkered fairway below.
Brian, I must ask but which of the courses did you prefer? For me the Nicklaus course was poor, given its association with the great man?
Paul, I personally prefer the Cheshire Course. I find it a more interesting layout and the finishing holes are very good. Not everyone agrees though, I know one or two friends that would always choose to play the Nicklaus first.