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The Derbyshire Golf Course That Inspired Augusta National

By: | Wed 10 Apr 2024

It's Masters week. I can feel the pulse quicken as the excitement for this annual season opener grows. Perfectly conditioned golfing environments for players and patrons shown in technicolour TV to billions around the globe.

I can’t get to Georgia this year, so I’m going to Buxton in Derbyshire.


To have the nearest thing to the Augusta experience that can be savoured without the flights and fights for tickets.

No, the greens will not be slick and pristine, but everything else that Cavendish offers is as close to the Augusta golfing experience in a soggy England after a winter of harsh wet weather.

Simply switch rhododendrons for azaleas but wrap up warmly as the climates are very, very different. 

Cavendish Golf Club

Cavendish Golf Club

(Cavendish Golf Club)

A midweek green fee of £55 offers access to what is recognised as one of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s masterpieces of design. A green fee at Augusta is irrelevant as it's invite only, even for some of the world’s best players.

At Cavendish every hole offers a challenge despite the overall length of the course being less than 6,000 yards. Each provides clear evidence of Dr MacKenzie’s use of his design principles that so attracted Bobby Jones when trying to find an architect for the conversion of the peach groves into his own private golf course in Augusta. 

Rewind a few years to 1923 when MacKenzie was commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire, family name Cavendish, to create a new golf course as he wished to build houses on the old one. (That is not just a modern problem then!) 

MacKenzie took into consideration plans for a new railway line to the town and also created a public putting green within the town’s public park for the princely sum of £81. Remnants of this remain. 

I wonder if any local politicians realise the potential value of operating the world’s only remaining Dr Alister MacKenzie public putting green? Humps and swales and the trademark movement within his green structures were all replicated within this public design. What a shame that the local authority has chosen to let it go to waste. 

Cavendish Golf Club opened for play in 1925 and was immediately admired by golfing experts from around the world. 

Tom Doak has holes from Cavendish in his global best 18 MacKenzie holes. 

Eddie Birchenough, the professional at Royal Lytham for 27 years, including four Open championships, describes it thus.

"There are two types of golfers - those that have played Cavendish and those who wished they had." 

The club website has excellent links detailing its rich and varied history for anyone wishing to know more about the fully evidenced connections between it and Augusta National.

Surprising Connections

Tom Barber

(Tom Barber)

Cavendish’s first professional was Tom Barber, supported by two young brothers called John Fallon and Jock Fallon, who had moved from Lanark in Scotland to be apprentice club makers and caddies.

They watched Tom have a lucrative professional career with many tournament victories. He was a runner-up in The Open at Royal Lytham losing to Bobby Jones. He met with MacKenzie at this event and was introduced to Jones during the post-round celebrations. 

He missed out on inclusion in the Ryder Cup by one shot as he was the 13th man in the squad. He later said that he struggled to adapt to the US-size golf ball.

Tom clearly had developed a great relationship with Dr MacKenzie during his time at Cavendish as they met and dined together during the 1927 Open at St Andrews again accompanied by Bobby Jones.

The Legacy of Allestree Park & Connection to Augusta Creators

Bobby Jones Alister MacKenzie

(Bobby Jones & Dr Alister MacKenzie)

Tom was approached during 1929 to move to a new private club being constructed and developed at Allestree in Derby. Only 40 miles away from Cavendish it was being designed on behalf of the Derbyshire Golf Club by Harry Colt to an exceptional standard.

Colt used a process that he developed at St George's Hill and Wentworth by building a luxury golf course around luxury housing each adding value to the other. 

The result was the same Allestree Park municipal golf course that we featured that has been forced to close by its local authority owners and has been abandoned to rewild.

I wonder what this would be worth on the open market? We will never know as the local authority, despite a petition of over 27,250 signatures, has never bothered to find out. 

The layout is exactly as it left Colt's drawing board. Four holes were lost during World War Two, but the rest were so good that they were retained. Don’t you just love politics!  

Tom took his young apprentices with him and they became the first junior members of the new club. Jock unfortunately contracted TB and died aged 18, while John went on to become a Ryder Cup player and captain competing against Arnold Palmer at East Lake in 1963. John was also leading the Open in 1939 on the final day missing the Claret Jug by a couple of strokes. 

How many other municipal golf courses in the world have this kind of legacy to offer?

Incredibly, the council is still claiming that the golf course was created in 1948 when they took it over by way of a compulsory purchase.

£1.1 million grant funding has been obtained to ‘rewild' the site and lumps of wood have been fixed to the ground to act as observation points and for people to rest their mobile phones upon so that the abandonment process can be monitored going forward. 

Unsurprisingly, many of these posts are at positions that were identified by Harry Colt almost 100 years ago as affording the best views and vistas from the existing landscape so he preserved them and incorporated them into his design layout.

The connection between Augusta National and Cavendish is clear, while the presence of Tom Barber links Allestree Park with both Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones.

I believe Cavendish to be the best course under 6,000 yards in the world - while Allestree's unique story should never be forgotten.

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Tags: the masters Masters Augusta National

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