Matlock Golf Club was founded in 1906 but the official opening of the course took place the following year, on 17 May 1907, according to the Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal, when Colonel H. Brooke-Taylor drove the inaugural tee shot, rewarding a local lad who retrieved his ball with a customary gold sovereign.
The same day, exhibition matches were played in the morning and afternoon between George Duncan, Sandy Herd, Harry Vardon and Notts Golf Club professional Tom Williamson who designed the layout. Tom remained in post at his club for more than fifty years and during that time he was involved in laying out dozens of courses around the Midlands.
The Bentley Brook wanders throughout the layout and there are still the remnants of several stone dykes – reduced in height and now covered in grass – to be found at holes such as the 3rd, 13th and 16th. The monolith Cuckoostone standing next to a hawthorn tree on the 11th fairway is incorporated into the design of a rather unusual club logo.
Feature holes on this windswept moorland beauty include the 179-yard 10th, with professional Christian Goodman saying “many visitors cite this as Matlock's signature hole. An elevated tee gives a panoramic view of the task – a shot across a ravine of ferns, heather and gorse to a green cut into the hillside and protected by bunkers front right and side left. ”
Matlock GC, situated between Chesterfield and Matlock is laid out over former moorland and farmland. Most of the holes are played on one side of the valley or the other, with only the 10th green and 11th fairway sitting in the valley floor.
I was left severely underwhelmed - the majority of fairways sloping right to left or vice versa, with humps and hollows and ravines a plenty, and rough, which in some cases was hard to avoid given the slopes, at over knee high, little sand in the bunkers and greens that are cut and fill design (given the slopes) meaning that a good shot into the firm greens could be rewarded with a chip from down a short but severe bank which surrounded a lot of the greens. Coupled with shabby tee boxes and some poor holes - the 14th, a par 4 at 255 yards off the back tees particularly jumps to mind; the par 5 13th where a grass bunker with knee high rough is there to try and catch your drive - fairway bunker yes, grass bunker yes, but penal rough halfway into the fairway, no!
The courses main defense is the slopes, the penal rough and the small greens, protected by the cut and fill design, where approaches from below the hole has to be all carry.
The 5 par 3's did offer up the best of the holes - the 2nd a delightful downhill 209 yards, but where the pro's tip is aim at the banking to the right and let it feed in. Similarly on the next par 3, the 4th, downhill 172 yards but the ball feeds in off the left bank. The best of the par 3's is the 10th, played from a high tee across a ravine and downhill to a cut and fill green, with bunkers left front to catch any shots coming up short. The other 2 par 3's were bland, the worse being the 15th, played across a ravine and what looks like a large field before reaching a long thin green, with slope at the front.
The course offers up 3 par 5's - the 1st played with a severe right to left slope, the 2nd played in the valley floor (hole 11) and the 13th played downhill, with choices to be made on the 2nd shot - go for it across the ravine to a green cut high in the hillside or layup.
The holes on the other side of the valley (12, 13, 16 and 17) offer some great views and play slightly fairer across terrain which has all the hallmarks of farming from days gone by - stone walls and funnelled fairways.
The round finishs with a disappointing short par 4. Played again across a ravine, you can either drive the green or play the dog leg into a large open fairway, reminiscent again of a field!.
I understand that Matlock hosts prestigious county matches, but in a county that lacks any standout courses (except Cavendish) this is distinctly average and I would not agree with it's ranking of 6th in Derbyshire. I would place Chevin (ranked 9th) above Matlock - yes both are designed on sloping terrain but Chevin is conditioned immaculately and offers on the whole better variety and choices within it's design.
Great company, a beautiful sunny day made for a good morning out, but if you're wanting to play one good course in Derbyshire, by past Matlock and head to Cavendish, which has just regained Top 100 England course status.