Dr Alister MacKenzie, the celebrated course designer, was commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire in 1923 to lay out a new 18-hole course, replacing a 9-hole course in nearby Buxton. The course at Cavendish Golf Club was ready for play two years later and it has remained virtually unchanged in character for more than three quarters of a century.
With an overall length a modest 5,721 yards and a par of 68, Cavendish holds true to a couple of MacKenzie’s design principles – that the golf course should look as natural as possible (with artificial features blending in seamlessly with the landscape) and, above all, be interesting to players of all abilities.
Cavendish has plenty to arouse the golfer – whether it be it the elevated tee position of the short par three 4th hole, the blind drive at the 8th hole, the two-tiered green on the 9th or the crescent shaped putting surface on the 13th – there’s many stimulating design features to enjoy during the round where accurate approach play is essential in making a reasonable score around here.
Architect Jonathan Gaunt, who has been a playing member at Cavendish Golf Club since 2010, started a renovation project at the club in 2020, remodelling bunkers to a MacKenzie style and thinning out woodlands to recover lost views across the course. The plan originally focused on holes 10 and 11, considered to be two of the best on the layout. It's intended to have all of the work completed in time for the club's centenary in 2025.
The joys of Cavendish do not just start when you set foot on the course, but on the beautiful, winding journey here. Cavendish is located near Buxton, in the heart of the Peak District, the backbone of England, which offers some of the country’s finest walks. The walk at Cavendish however should never be a good walk spoilt, as this fine course was laid out by none other than golf course architecture’s Master Craftsman, Dr Alistair Mackenzie; Cavendish Golf Club itself being home to the Mackenzie Golf Society. It’s somewhat shameful on us as golfers therefore, that this club nearly became bankrupt during the first Covid-lockdown. Fortunately, I’d assume that Derbyshire’s no. 1 ranked golf course is now on a more stable financial footing, and I hope that it’s a club that subsequently goes on to prosper.
The reason for Cavendish’s financial woe is certainly nothing to do with the course itself, but likely due to its location. Buxton itself is no thriving metropolis, and the larger urban areas in the region are too far away for Cavendish to get high numbers of visitor traffic. This maintains green fees below £40. Surely there can’t be many other golf courses with the architectural heritage of Cavendish that will charge as little?
Capturing my thoughts of some of the holes, aside from a couple of excellent greens (a recurring theme at Cavendish), the first three holes set to the side of the clubhouse serve as good getaway holes but nothing more remarkable. The first eye-catching hole comes at the splendid little drop-shot par three 4th hole with a green that’s set back over a stream and a large bank to one side with a pond to the other.
I’ll describe the course in its current order of holes, but I did in fact play the course in its original Mackenzie routing which I felt is more balanced than today’s sequence of holes, the original routing avoids the majority of Cavendish’s strongest holes predominantly coming into play on the back nine.
The front nine culminates with another par three where the tee is elevated above the green, a green that I understand was rebuilt. Whilst word on the street is that this green is seemingly not to everyone’s tastes, I personally enjoyed its imaginative contouring. I would also repeat similar sentiments at the short 15th, a hole that, in this case, I think is unchanged from its original, and rightly so since this is the best of the short holes with a brilliantly awkward and tilted putting surface that will never have you feeling comfortable when standing over a putt.
Away from the par threes, the 10th hole must be the course’s signature. This is a glorious and long par four played over a couple of wonderfully natural chasms, etched into the earth by the erosion from the burn that passes through the course. It’s a tough hole too, over 420-yards with forced carries, it’s a nerve jangler and demands good ball striking. The par five 14th, the only par five on the card, with the dry stone wall lining the out-of-bounds to the adjacent farmland was another good hole, making the most of this man-made feature. But it was another excellent green with a severe false front that personally left me in tatters; three times it took me to putt my way up to the top of the plateau as the pin was devilishly perched just on top of the change in gradient – a true greenkeeper’s revenge. The turn home is made in front of the rustic-looking farmhouse that overlooks the course in a picture-perfect way that only the English countryside can deliver, whilst the 18th would be my other main hole of note. Like the 10th, this is a fiercely challenging par four over an undulating and unbalanced surface. A par here to complete the round would make a post-round drink in the clubhouse taste that little bit sweeter.
I don’t think Cavendish is devoid of its shortcomings. There’s a modestly sized team of greenstaff here so perfectly kept surfaces are unlikely, and some areas of the ground were a little softer under-foot than optimal, but course improvements are already underway through the careful guidance of course designer, Jonathan Gaunt. Bunkers are currently in the midst of being renovated so there is a mixture of bunkering styles at the moment between the new and the old, but I expect that the club will be quickly upgrading them all to meet the same spec.
The bare bones at Cavendish are plainly clear to see for anyone who plays here, and I do hope that the next couple of year’s work will see the course achieving its rightful potential.
Cavendish’s website uses the marketing tagline “The course that inspired Augusta”. Whether it did or not can be debated, I’m sure many of Mackenzie’s previous works inspired the home of the Masters, but what can’t be debated is that this is a must-visit for all course enthusiasts. It’s a course that combines charm and excellent design qualities proving to be a delightful place to escape to the country for a few hours.
Lovely course. Very well maintained and good greens. Over-hyped a little but nevertheless still an excellent course. Keep an eye out for their Open days - absolute bargain day out.
Really enjoyed this gem of a course, not very long but the greens make up for that definitely one I will return to play again.
Probably the most fun I've ever had on a golf course. Playing just over 5500 yards, MacKenzie makes you wonder why a golf course needs to be any longer. Leaving yourself on the correct side of the fairway or green means the difference of a couple of shots and kept me drooling at the creativity sometimes needed to get out of a tough spot (that I put myself in).
I went to name the holes that were pure joy and I ended up naming 14/18 holes! I'll be returning next month and can't wait to smile all the way round again.
Thank you golf god's for keeping this gem in its original glory.
I've struggled rating Cavendish to be honest because I can't genuinely rate it higher than a 4.5 but in terms of value for money it is almost certainly a 6. £22 for a round here (admittedly later in the afternoon) just seems absurd when compared to the green fees I regularly pay in Surrey.
What an enjoyable course. The first three holes are probably the weakest architecturally on the course but still challenging and the green complexes add to their quality. After that the course really changes complexion and at times gave me an extremely strong recollection of the Blue course at the Berkshire.
Conditioning was good if not verging on great in an area where the weather probably poses it's own challenges and the greens were at a great speed and ran very true.
A word on the green complexes - the courses main defence and they were absolutely out of this world. Extremely challenging but wonderful and allowed for some creative shots. Imagining playing Augusta on similarly contoured greens but at stimp of 13 plus gave me a shiver down the spine.
I struggle to understand how this is not in the England top 100 if not the UK especially if considering value for money.
Hi Phil, enjoyed your review and throws an interesting aspect to the rankings debate. Cavendish generally ranks on most listings in the 100 - 200 ranks but if you put a limit on the green fees as a ranking filter, then it would certainly rank very highly indeed.
Played on a Friday in June. Course was in excellent condition running fast and firm. The routing is outstanding. All the par 3s are brilliant with for me the changes in elevation and green complexes making them highly interesting. The pick of the bunch being the 15th with a severely sloping green. The par 4s offer variety. The 2nd having a narrow green reminiscent of the 12th at the Augusta. The 6th is stunning looking golf. The 10th is a brilliant par 4 with trouble lurking in all directions. The 11th for myself takes the glory as the best 2nd shot on the course. No margin for error. At Cavendish its fun, challenging and friendly. A truly lovely course and club.
A renowned Alister Mackenzie course designed by the Master back in 1925 is still largely unchanged and provides a hugely satisfying test on a sloping site just outside Buxton in the heart of the Peak District.
At under 5600 yards from the yellow tees with a par of just 68, Cavendish may seem a pushover, but the reality is very different. The typical Mackenzie green complexes are probably the course’s biggest defence with huge movement and very few straightforward putts, but the incredible variety of the holes provides a thrilling ride for the golfer.
After three short par 4s to start which introduce the need for an assured short game, the course just gets better and better. All 5 par 3s are excellent holes but it is the giant 10th and classical 11th which are probably best remembered, before a rousing finish at the supremely tough final hole.
Course conditioning is barely adequate but this mustn’t detract from a very special sequence of 18 holes in the Derbyshire countryside. Cavendish provides a majestic setting and enjoyable place in which to play the game.
Played here at the weekend. Blowing a gale which added to the course. Some wonderful holes. All the Par 3s are all excellent. Par 4 10, 11 and all great too. Greens have some huge slopes in them,if you get the wrong side of the pin you can be left with a lightning putt. Overall good fun course just let down a little by its condition, when in top 100 I would expect it to be immaculate. Very good condition but not pristine. Well worth a visit.
I have sought out lots of MacKenzie courses over the last few months, and I make no apology for this! Cavendish is a MacKenzie design that goes under the radar, but is worth a visit for anyone who enjoys the good doctors courses, especially with its setting in the beautiful Peak District.
As you would imagine for a course in this area, the terrain is hilly, and the fairways and greens continue this sloped theme. There are a couple of short par 4s to ease you into the round, and by the time you get to the 2nd green you know have an enjoyable round ahead of you.
It’s a par 68 but plays a lot harder, another gentle reminder that par doesn’t really matter! There’s a great run of holes from the 8-11, played around and over a brook. My favourite green was the par 3 13th that had lots of slope which meant being out of position could bring in a big number.
The par 4 16th was also a memorable hole, reminiscent of 17 at Portrush, played downhill. I've seen Cavendish ranked highly in a publications 'fun' list, and rightly so- for me fun in the most important aspect of any course.
Cavendish is something of an understated architectural masterpiece, a true gem in a beautiful setting. Mackenzie's design has stood the test of time , and I am very much looking forward to returning to see the changes being made in the future.
The golf course itself has greens that cannot be attacked from certain angles, and every bunker comes into play. At 5721 yards, the course can be overpowered but only by someone with good distance control as well.
A short walk takes you to the first, a 354 yard par four with a blind drive over a valley to a sloping fairway. The three bunkers on the right stop people from attacking the pin from the right side. A fine hole.
The second is a 314 yard par four back up the hill with a slanted fairway. It suits a draw off the tee. The green is split in two by a ridge. An impossible putt awaits if you pitch up on the wrong side.
I like the third, a 288 yard par four down the hill. A shot missing the green left could find its way into the second tee, or the first green. Again, the angle of attack is important, suiting a fade.
The fourth is a very special par three, 122 yards off a virtual cliff face down into the valley, shrouded in vegetation and with a beautiful stream on the left side. It is a rather easy par three, but has great scenery.
I do like the uphill 5th, 420 yards with water up the right. Originally our group believed the 16th fairway was the way to go. The raised green is one of the best green complexes on the course and anything on the front sixth will run down the slope.
The 6th isn't as good as the first five. 412 yards from an elevated tee down to a simple fairway. The scenery here is nice, but there is nothing overly impressive on the hole.
I have grown to like the 311 yard 7th. It looks simple, but the narrow green is closely protected by bunkers. It can be driven if you hit it miles. The view of the clubhouse is very special.
The 8th is a fine par four of 389 yards. It starts with a blind drive uphill, but turns downhill with a bunker right in the middle of the fairway just short of the green. The approach is very difficult to judge.
I adore the downhill 9th, 139 yards, with an incredibly complex green complex sloping heavily from back to front. Three putts are common. The hole suits my game (I took hybrid as I am a 13-year-old junior), but a lot of our group struggled here.
The tenth is one of the finest holes anywhere. It is 422 yards uphill with a sweeping fairway and an approach over a stream and a vegetation-clad ravine. The approach is semi blind. Possibly the best hole in the county, and if there was an exception it would be the 4th at Matlock.
I like the downhill eleventh, 415 yards with another approach over a ravine. A very sturdy hole with a generous target off the tee. It isn't as good as the tenth, but a fine hole indeed.
The twelfth is merely ok in comparison, 350 yards on flatter terrain. The green complex is interesting with two bunkers short, but the actual target is a little wide for my liking.
The thirteenth is not my favourite par three. It is 183 yards uphill with a bunker short. The green is raised well above the apron of the green, but not as extreme as the 5th.
The fourteenth is an example of a great par five, 496 yards curving heavily to the left, with an OB wall close to the fairway and a green raised in similar fashion to the 5th. It requires extra club on all three shots. A fantastic hole.
The fifteenth is a masterpiece of only 116 yards with two pot bunkers fronting the green. Anything short of the green will run off at the front. One believes this to be the best of the five par threes.
A short walk takes you to the downhill 16th, 403 yards that allows for massive drives. It isn't as architecturally interesting as the 5th and 10th of similar length, but it is a very fun little hole.
I am fond of the flattish par three 17th, 160 yards over a gentle valley to a green sloping from back to front and pinched by two bunkers. I would rate this 4th out of the five par threes.
The 18th is a magnificent end to the course, 441 yards on a heavily sloping but wide fairway and then playing terrifyingly close to the clubhouse to a heavily raised green with runoffs at the front.
The conditioning is improving, the greens are true and quick and the course architecture is a masterpiece. A gem of a course that should be in the top 100.