Meet the manager: Lee Marshall

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 12, 2021 11:45

The general manager and head professional of Cavendish Golf Club in Derbyshire talks about this dual role and how the club survived what was a financial crisis at the start of the pandemic – and why it is going from strength to strength less than two years later.

What can you tell us about Cavendish Golf Club and your background?

Cavendish Golf Club was opened in 1925. It was commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire, who employed the renowned golf course architect Dr Alister MacKenzie to do the work. Cavendish would be one of the good doctor’s final projects before he headed overseas. It is thought by many to be his inspiration for Augusta and one can still see a number of similarities between Augusta National and Cavendish although, unlike Augusta, Cavendish has actually changed very little over the years. It is perhaps one of the most authentic MacKenzie courses still in existence. At 5,700 yards it is not long but it is still a good test of all golfing abilities and once played very few people describe it as a short course!

I grew up playing at my local golf course not far from Cavendish. My father enrolled me for lessons as he was tired of me taking chunks out of his manicured lawn I think! I decided that a career in golf was for me and was fortunate enough to have undertaken my PGA training as an assistant professional here at Cavendish in the late 90s / early 2000s before leaving for a new challenge in Asia. I spent 13 years overseas, mainly in China and Vietnam, firstly coaching then moving in to the club management side. This stood me in great stead for my return to the UK in late 2017 where I took on the role of golf operations manager at Mottram Hall before returning to Cavendish last year.

You are a PGA professional. What lessons can golf professionals bring into club management?

I believe that, for a club to run as smoothly and successfully as possible, all aspects from arrival to departure need to be of a good standard. As a PGA professional, all of our time is spent somewhere along the golfer’s journey, so we get a unique insight to where things can be improved upon or changed to enhance the experience for members and visitors alike.

How do you manage your time to fulfil the dual roles of club manager and professional?

Having a set, weekly schedule has helped enormously so I am able to allocate sufficient time to each area of the business as and when it is needed. With individual and group coaching, shop hours and overseeing the club, there is plenty to do each and every day. We are very fortunate to have a great team here, which takes a lot of the day-to-day worries away though!

Buxton is a small town in the heart of rural Derbyshire and has two golf clubs. How do you attract and retain sufficient members?

This has probably been one of our biggest challenges and is in no small part a reason the club has suffered financially over the past couple of decades. Being a rural course we have to extend our reach way beyond Buxton to attract sufficient members. Given the cost these people then incur travelling we have to maintain attractive membership rates. So, whilst we continue to market for members, we also rely heavily on green fee income which makes up nearly 50 percent of our overall income. But it is a balancing act between generating revenue and ensuring members have sufficient tee times to be able to enjoy their membership at the times they want to.

The club has survived a financial crisis in recent years. How did you turn fortunes around?

We have an incredible membership who were willing to dig deep to help the club out. In addition we ran a crowdfunder campaign online and we were actually staggered at how many ‘friends of Cavendish’ there are out there. We received donations in return for green fee vouchers from as far afield as Australia, India and the USA. We raised over £30,000 in four weeks which ensured we were able to retain all our greens staff and this meant we had a superb course when lockdown lifted. We were one of the few quality courses which opened to visitors immediately and we were unbelievably busy for the whole of last summer. We have also increased green fee rates to a level we believe still offers great value for money and that has actually encouraged more golfers to visit. I think sometimes, being too cheap creates an impression that you can’t be up to much.

How important do you see your connection with Dr MacKenzie?

It’s really important to us. It is a key marketing message and everything we do has to be sympathetic to Mackenzie’s principles. We are the home club of the Alister Mackenzie Society of GB and Ireland and we have great relationships with many of Mackenzie’s other courses both here and abroad. There is no doubt that many visitors come to experience a MacKenzie masterpiece and one of his most authentic creations still in existence.

How valuable is such a heritage in terms of visitor income?

As I said above it is a crucial part of our plans. Visitors make up around 50 percent of our income and through chatting to them we know that many come because of the MacKenzie connection.

Cavendish celebrates its centenary in 2025. Tell us what plans you have to mark this milestone?

It’s a little way off yet but we have already embarked on a centenary plan to improve the course ready for this key milestone. Bunkers have been restored and renovated and we’ll also be improving tees, pathways and drainage. Once we get to 2025 we are planning a number of events including open competitions, invitations and a gala dinner. Many don’t realise that the current routing of the course is not the one that MacKenzie originally designed so we are giving serious consideration to changing things for the 2025 season and playing the course the way he intended. There will be a number of challenges to overcome to achieve this but nothing that is not achievable.

Tell us a little about your ‘Open Week’ and how useful it is for your club?

Open Week at the beginning of August is one of the most important weeks for the club. We have seven open competitions back-to-back and we have over 1,100 visitors play during that week. It generates a huge amount of money for us and is so popular that many have been playing for years. A lot of regulars will book for the following year before they depart.

What are the main elements of the club’s five-year strategic plan?

How long do you have? The ‘5 Year Strategy’, written by the board but with input from a wide range of the membership, is our guiding document as we work to build a secure and sustainable club for the next generation. After many years of under-investment there is so much to do but our mission is to be a first-class golf club that is all-inclusive, providing a memorable golfing experience to all who visit. The course is our priority and over the next five years we’ll be improving that in all areas. We also need to build better practice facilities as well as better greenkeeping facilities and we need to invest in the clubhouse.

How have you raised funds for your improvement projects?

Like any business you need to generate income from your day-to-day activities and so by increasing green fees and subscriptions that has now returned us to being profitable. In addition, we had the crowdfunding money plus other loans and donations given by members. We have also made use of the government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS – it enabled smaller businesses in 2020 and early 2021 to access finance quickly during the pandemic). Finally, we are exploring other opportunities including land sales where we have small plots that do not affect the course. So, it’s really a package of things and we’ll spend prudently to ensure the dark days of financial difficulties are behind us.

How does Cavendish seek to attract beginners including women and juniors?

A large part of my remit when taking on this role was to develop the junior section and attract more women to come and enjoy our wonderful game. We signed up for the Junior Golf Passport scheme this year and have seen great success with over 20 juniors having weekly coaching sessions now. The England Golf initiative, Girls Golf Rocks, is also an avenue we have gone down to try and attract more girls to come and play golf with great success. We have also run two very successful taster sessions for women that we advertised through the current membership base and local social media groups and has resulted in a strong group of beginners.

Cavendish Golf Club’s five-year plan is available to read at


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 12, 2021 11:45
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1 Comment

  1. MarkG November 12, 12:59

    Well done Lee. Never good to stand still.

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