Adapted with kind permission from 'Matlock Golf Club 1906-2006, a 100 years of golf in Cuckoostone Dale', by Barry Kay, published 2006.
At the start of the last century the town of Matlock saw itself as leader in the field of hydropathic treatments. Visitors came from all over the world to 'take the waters' in its range of hydro hotels. Wanting additional diversions for their guests, it was the hydro managers who were the driving force behind the idea of a golf course.
First references to the project appear in 1902, but it was 1906 before the club was constituted. The Right Hon. Victor Cavendish MP, later the ninth Duke of Devonshire, accepted an invitation to become President of the club. In March of that year a lease was secured on land adjoining Chesterfield Road on Matlock Moor. Professional advice was that the site was ideal and that the estimated total cost of preparing the course was £1,000. Three months later local press revealed that work was proceeding under the guidance of Tom Williamson, the well-known Nottingham professional.
On Saturday 17 May 1907 the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal reported beautiful weather favouring the official opening of the new links at Matlock. Col. H Brooke-Taylor – Victor Cavendish's agent – struck the inaugural drive and in true R&A tradition rewarded the boy who retrieved it with a gold sovereign. Apparently the lad did not have to run too far as the Colonel was "…by no means an expert golfer." The photograph top right illustrates the event.
Later that day, a telegram was received from Victor Cavendish stating his intention to donate a Presidential Challenge Cup. It is still played for today and sits proudly in the clubhouse trophy cabinet.
Four famous players had been engaged to play exhibition matches in both forenoon and afternoon: Harry Vardon, renowned for his six Open Championship titles; Sandy Herd, winner in 1902; George Duncan, destined to be the first post-World War 1 Open Champion; and the course designer, Tom Williamson.
In the morning singles, Vardon and Herd triumphed. Herd's winning 71 was remarkable considering the course's immaturity, his unfamiliarity with it and the equipment of the time. The course then was only 400 yards shorter than its current length. The afternoon match took the form of an international Four-ball. Vardon and Williamson representing England won a rather easy 5 & 3 victory over the Scottish pair of Herd and Duncan.
The clubhouse – erected for a cost of £750 – was the familiar wooden sports pavilion. Its basic structure remained largely unaltered for the next 80 years, beyond extensions and periodic upgrades.
Ladies were involved in Matlock Golf Club from its inception. Less than a year after the opening the club hosted its first tournament for the Derbyshire Ladies Golf Union. The Ladies Section formally established itself in 1912 with the encouragement and unanimous support of the General Committee.
As for many other rural clubs, the 1930s and 40s were difficult times. Membership declined and the club only survived to the end of the Second World War on the strength of personal guarantees pledged by its Directors. However in 1946 members were advised that a newly formed Matlock Golf Club Co. Ltd. had raised sufficient capital to take over the assets and liabilities of the old. Subscriptions were set at six guineas with an entrance fee of two.
As the club grew, over the years it progressively acquired the land on which it sat. Often enterprising club officials initiated these negotiations without a mandate from the Directors and lacking a clear funding strategy. Whatever internal battles ensued, there is no doubt that current members are indebted to these risk-taking visionaries who by the 60s had ensured that the club wholly owned the course and much of its surrounding ground.
Much of Williamson's original layout remains, but successive Management Committees have striven to improve the course, both in terms of quality and playing difficulty. Holes have been replaced or reconfigured, particularly in the middle section of the course. One characteristic of the course was the profusion of stone field walls over which play took place. A picture from the Derbyshire Ladies' Championship in 1937 clearly shows two walls straddling the first fairway. Many tons of stone have since been removed and recycled into tee foundations, but some remain – reduced in height and covered now in grass. The third, thirteenth and sixteenth feature these hazards. They seem to possess magnetic properties, irrespective of the club selected to avoid them.
The Cuckoostone is a feature of the eleventh. With the attendant hawthorn, it provides the club with its logo. It may have appeared in the Doomsday Book and have links with other monoliths in the region. Legends apart, it is a fact that the cuckoo returns every year, its unmistakable call heralding a new golf season.
Over the years, the club has continued to invest - sprinklers for dry weather, drainage for the wet and the leading technology of the day. Our early greens staff would not recognise the range of mechanised equipment now housed in the sheds behind the fourth green. Today's staff recognise the magnificent raw material that Mother Nature provides for them and make the most of it. Equally, the club has regularly commissioned and acted upon external agronomic expertise in its quest to develop and maintain the playing quality that modern golf demands.
Whilst retaining its core wooden structure for many a year, the clubhouse too saw developments. Various extensions over the years added a pro shop, steward accommodation, locker rooms and other facilities. The extension of 1973 stretched the original building's capabilities to its limits and quickly demonstrated that it was nearing its life's end. Phase 2 was completed in 1986, providing us with the facilities we take for granted today.
His Grace, The Duke of Devonshire performed the official opening ceremony on 9 May 1987, echoing the connection established by his grandfather, Victor Cavendish.
Centenary and beyond
In mid-2006 a large marquee arose on the overflow car park, with associated temporary catering and toilet facilities. On Saturday 17 June it accommodated a Grand Summer Ball, the culmination of a full week of competitions and events to celebrate the club's centenary. In fine weather, members and their partners – nearly 300 persons all told – assembled in their finery. The main guest speaker of the evening was the comedian and broadcaster, Tim Brooke-Taylor.
It was another symbolic echo of the past that the former 'Goodie' should get the birthday festivities underway. It was his grandfather who was described earlier, playing the first ever shot at the course at its official opening in 1907.
The club's 100-year history was chronicled in the book on which this extract is based. Barry Kay, a tireless servant of Matlock Golf Club and County and Regional golf in general, wrote it after meticulous research. Every centenary member received a complimentary copy.
In the second decade of the new millennium, what would our founding members think of their club now?
The fundamental character of the course is unchanged, but with the advances in green keeping skills and technology, they would probably consider it manicured by comparison. They would be astonished at the prodigious distances the modern golf ball and equipment can make possible, but they would recognise that their course still has a sting in the tail for those who think they can simply overpower it.
We hope too that they would see a club still close to its founding principles:
Reflecting and adding to its local community
Keen on promoting the game of golf to all with sections for gentlemen, ladies and juniors
Welcoming of visitors from other clubs and indeed other lands
The aspect that would perhaps satisfy them most would be the club's continued willingness to invest with an eye to future generations as much as the current. September 2013 brought the grand opening of a new covered and floodlit driving range, complete with custom club fitting facilities. Completed over the course of a few months it boasts 10 practice bays with an automated ball dispensing unit and shows yet again that Matlock Golf Club refuses to stand still in striving to provide golfing excellence.