Buxton & High Peak – Fighting the sun

Back in 1887 someone looked at this land, set some 1’100 feet above sea level, and decided this would make a great golf course, so they instructed J.Morris to crack on with designing it. The result was a golf course that some have likened to an ‘inland links course’ (holes 4,5,6th) and others describe as a ‘challenging and enjoyable test of golf’, welcome to Buxton & High Peak Golf Club.

On a blazing hot day yours truly (Lefty) and Newby were dispatched from the office to review this course high in the Derbyshire hills. The funny thing is, despite the course being set high in the Peak, this course is not subject to arduous hill climbs so you can leave your mountain gear at home.

The course itself is 5786-yard par 69 off the yellows, and 5204 yards par 71 for the ladies. The clubhouse serves food, and there is a well stocked pro shop for balls, water etc. We were met by Steve Norton who oversees the promotion of the club and also bumped into the club captain who was busy watering the flower beds, he’s very good at multitasking I’ve been told. They also told us that they are a very friendly club which permeates down to its members and visitors.

After stocking up on yet more balls (I lost quite a lot into the water on the 17th at Radcliffe-on-Trent) we headed out onto the 1st, which to be honest is quite a tough one to get you started, it’s a stroke index 3 uphill 427 yard par 4, and on the day we played we had a prevailing wind. I managed to get a bogie and I was quite happy with that, I won’t tell you what Newby got as I lost count at 7! Once you are up it’s followed by the easiest hole on the course, stroke index 18 269-yard par 4! Two very contrasting holes back to back.

Now to the 6th, it’s 412 yard par 4 which you might think is not too far, so what makes it a stroke index 2? This little corner of the golf course has a character all its own, giving you the feel that you have just walked onto a links course, the fairway undulates up and down before your eyes. The 6th requires a big drive otherwise an old quarry will come into play, I didn’t realise it was there but I soon found it with my second shot and the only way out was a sand wedge basically dropping a shot, if I played it again I would have played it very differently. This then leads onto another links shot, the 299 Yard par 4, it’s a bit of a ‘hit and hope for the best’ hole especially if you have not played it before. The green here is hidden from view, fortunately I hit a straight drive over a large hump hoping that was the line, it was thankfully. When you find the green you realise why you cannot see it because it’s in a basin hidden by humps and bumps, I got a par but I could imagine it could easily be a card wrecker. This is followed by a peach of a par 3, an elevated tee looking down onto a picture perfect green, they have made really good use of the land in this corner and it was a joy to play.

I was really enjoying my golf at this point, the sun was shining, the course was throwing up some interesting holes. Let me bring you to the 7th, this hole really gives you a chance of a birdie especial on a hot day, where a good drive will see your ball roll and roll making you feel that you are Dustin Johnson, this left me an easy shot to the green, I got on in two, missed the birdie but got an easy par.

This will lead you on to, depending on the wind, one of the hardest par 3’s you will ever played, fortunately for us the wind was a gentle breeze, but I have played this hole when even a driver would not get anywhere near the green! The 11th is the stroke index 1, and if played wrong is a beast, trust me because I got it so wrong.  The way to play this dog legged hole is to aim for the path in the distance, use your driver as the more you get it towards the path the easier this hole becomes. I used an iron thinking I would drive too far, if you get a par on this then you have done well.

Coming back down the other way on the 12th a par 5 482 yards, they make good use of the quarry, drive as close as you dare to the edge of the quarry face, if you do this without the ball falling off you have a real chance of a birdie, or a least a cracking 2nd shot down the fairway, this hole was a real joy to play.

At this point Newby and myself had really got in to our stride, playing some really nice golf, and the course was responding to our shots from the 14th to the 18th it’s par 4 all the way. Coming onto the 18th on this sunny dry day, Newby hit his best drive of the day, and because the fairway slopes down to the green, he ended just right of it and finished with a solid birdie, you see I’m not biased I do mention his good shots every now and again.

To sum up, the Buxton and High Peak Golf Course is set in a beautiful part of the world, they make good use of the topography, bringing in quarry’s to get you thinking and greens hidden amongst lumps and bumps that you would find on a links course.  So the question is, is the course worth travelling too? Well put it this way I will be back.

Cavendish Golf Club – Buxton

If I met Dr Alister MacKenzie…

…which is unlikely, since he sadly died in 1934, I would buy him a pint of beer and tell him that I played golf like him! MacKenzie was self-described as a “good putter, but a mediocre ball striker”, the latter bit I know my golfing partners will argue with because on a bad day I can be rubbish. On the greens however I’m happy just like MacKenzie.

Now, following in the footsteps of MacKenzie at the only original MacKenzie course left untouched in the world, Cavendish Golf Club Buxton, I would go as far as to say I would add a wee dram or two to the aforementioned beer.

As we set out for Buxton the sun shone brilliantly on a March day. The temperature dropped slowly as we approached Buxton and then rose steadily to be the most glorious day with blue sky, moving white clouds and a brisk wind gusting at times. A perfect golfing day for us.

We were greeted, and given our scorecards, by Rachel a very chirpy person indeed who bemoaned the fact she hadn’t had her hair done for us coming. Fortunately as it was a windy day ours didn’t look great! So she beat us hands down.

I have to say that the all round welcome we received was an improvement from my last visit more than ten years ago. That may sound a bit critical but attitudes have had to change in the world of golf due to economic pressure and the rise in people who play on a more ad hoc basis. Clubs have to be more open to visitors and view them as a lifeline to financial stability. Membership at Buxton though still provides great value for money for the weekly golfer.

Secretary Mike Watson  and club Professional Simon Townend were the perfect hosts and we sat together enjoying breakfast, discussing the course which they are rightly proud of.

Cavendish Golf Club have got together with nine other  imaginatively designed MacKenzie courses all within easy reach of Buxton to form an ‘alliance’, so that you are encouraged to play them all.  The first to play is naturally Buxton as it is the most authentic MacKenzie course to survive and MacKenzie’s inspiration for Augusta, which, among other courses, has altered beyond recognition to accommodate the modern game and TV thereby losing it’s complete authenticity, I would be so bold to say. When Ford stopped producing the Cortina and introduced the Sierra to keep up with modern demands the Cortina was dead and buried. If you change a golf course to accommodate current trends the ‘Old Course’ has sadly gone. I can now put the soap box back in the cupboard!

We smiled as Mike showed us a book that he had been reading about a MacKenzie golf course in Ireland, which I will not name here, whose members thought the MacKenzie course wasn’t hard enough so changed it all round. So much for history Eh?

I read with interest the Cavendish Golf Club’s web page before we arrived. It states “Cavendish is thought by some to be Dr MacKenzie’s most accomplished work in the UK and quite possibly the best layout in the world under 6000 yards. It illustrates how skilfully and creatively he blended the layout of the golf course into the surrounding landscape. Nothing jars the eye, nor distracts from the beauty of the natural setting. Those outstanding course design skills, which brought Alister MacKenzie international acclaim when he created the magnificent Augusta National course, in association with Bobby Jones, were developed and honed during his formative years in Great Britain. Cavendish exemplifies MacKenzie’s belief that “length has nothing to do with the quality of a hole”. I couldn’t beat that description so I won’t try because I agreed with it all even on a March day.

With all this rattling in my brain Simon, Lefty and myself headed out onto the course. We were a man down as Newby hurt his back chopping a tree down on Sunday and then attempted  to play the Brabazon two days later and did more damage, so I decided to play along with Simon and Lefty, whilst I took photographs and wrote about my experience. Not the ideal way  to concentrate on your next shot  but nothing could take away the classy style of this course. I think MacKenzie was a typical Yorkshire man (we could be invaded soon!)  “give nowt away” and this course doesn’t. Bunkers are placed to deceive the eye. You think they protect the green only to find the green another fifty yards or so further on. I considered withdrawing my offer of the wee dram at times… but it still stands.

The Clubhouse is light and airy but Mike said that a revamp is long overdue, so it is due for a complete overhaul. The plans are on display as you walk into the Mackintosh style entrance.  Budgets have been set and work was due to commence two days after our departure. From what we saw it will be a great improvement.

I read one report recently on Cavendish which said it was a bit wet underfoot! It’s Buxton we are talking about here, you get what you get. I lived in Buxton fifty years ago and you accept that it has it’ own climate. Even a Derbyshire Cricket Club match was abandoned here in 1975 due to a heavy snow storm. Some say it was only hail but I was putting a tent up in a friend’s garden in Fairfield that day and I say it was snow as the pictures taken can prove!

Time for golf

At 5721 yards off the yellows this isn’t the longest course you will play but then MacKenzie didn’t worry about that as his idea was to give the golfer a challenge and Cavendish certainly does. He used the natural contours of the land, no earth-movers, just hard hand labour to make a course that blends in and weaves through the  countryside. Nothing is forced it’s just natural, but really tricky to play.

We all got away nicely on the first hole including me! Simon, who has been the Professional here for 18 years went a bit to the left which surprised me! Not really, he was a great sport showing me and Lefty the way and having lots of banter all the way round. The first is a nice par four that slopes a little right to left. Avoiding the trees to the right is important.

It was great to go round with the professional pointing out the features of the course and advising on shots. He got us chipping onto the green at the 15th to see if any of us, including himself, could get near the hole from the back of the green. Even on a green that was a bit wet we couldn’t stop the ball rolling away. He was pointing out the importance of getting the tee shot right on this hole to give you a chance of a decent score. MacKenzie was sadistic!

Take the 122 yard par 3 4th for instance. The pin looks miles away, somewhere  down there over the small stream. Simon, annoyingly,  hit the green, Lefty went right into a bush and I completely over-hit and went across the road into a ditch. On the plus side I missed the stream, lake, bunkers and bush! 122 yards, that’s putting distance nearly.

The sloping third green is great, especially if you end up topside of the hole.  I went into the bunker – great! If you put the ball to the right of the green –  that’s so wrong. Stay left and the putt will be easy on the very quick level green. I think this was my best hole, I went a bit downhill from there!

I loved the 8th. We rounded the corner from the 7th and the sun shone down beautifully as the wind just hit us in the face. Simon’s tee shot held up in the air and dropped nicely on the fairway. A big hit but the wind affected distance. My tee shot went off left down the slope leaving a very tricky ‘back up the hill’ shot. The rewards of approaching the green are the most amazing views of the Derbyshire countryside and you become master of all you survey. I do have to admit that one of the attractions of golf for me is the chance to be in the countryside. Perhaps that is why I don’t play too well as I am easily distracted by a beautiful view.  I just can’t help admiring what I see. While some rush to the next shot I want to take in where I am. On the 10th it is vital to get the first shot right, making the second over the plateau below and small stream, and up to the green a massive chance of getting a par. This should be the signature hole I feel.

During the winter some of the self planted trees have been cleared, opening up views to the clubhouse and allowing the wind and sun to dry out the course naturally. The 14th is the only par 5 shot on the course and being stroke index 7 is quite a challenge, in contrast the 5th is stroke index one. But then again that’s an uphill haul and presents a real challenge not just in hitting the ball but getting your breath!

Playing the 18th through the tunnel of trees provided the final challenge of getting across the ravine onto the plateau beyond after which it’s a good run to the green. Lefty and I both failed and so Simon said “try that again”. I told you he was fun at the start of this article didn’t I? We did as we were told and hit our shots high and long landing on the fairway, perfectly positioned for  our second shot. (If you believe that twaddle you’ve had far too many pints of Thwaites bitter). My balls are still down there. I’ll be pleased if you find them because it means you’re down there too. Two can play this sadistic game.

Simon has been the `professional at Buxton for eighteen years and despite other job offers from this country and Europe, has stayed put, and I can see why. Lets face it, he’s quite unique being  one in seventy two worldwide as there are only seventy two MacKenzie clubs left and Buxton is an original. As he went off happily to give a lesson to someone he said “anytime you fancy teeing off early this summer lads, give me a call and I’d love to play another round with you”. That’s an offer we will definitely take up as long as he plays off yellows this time!