Michael Weston takes a trip to Derbyshire to visit Kedleston Park, a beautiful parkland course gearing up to host Regional Qualifying for The Open 2018

Kedleston Park Set For 2018 Open Qualifying

Long before the world’s best golfers lock horns on the North Sea coast in July, the scramble to tee it up in golf’s oldest Major will have begun.

By the time we tune in for the opening day of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie on July 19, many hearts will have been broken, but one or two dreams will have been fulfilled, too, as a final field of 156 golfers battle it out for the Claret Jug.

At Kedleston Park Golf Club, the only date that matters is June 25, for this is when Derbyshire’s number one golf course will host Regional Qualifying for The Open for the very first time.

Kedleston Park Set For 2018 Open Qualifying

The par-5 5th at Kedleston Park [Photography: Kevin Murray]

It comes on the back of some significant improvements and upgrades to the James Braid design, overseen by renowned course architect, Tom Mackenzie.

The aim was to improve the visual appeal of the holes, and to enhance the layout’s strategic and tactical demands, both of which have been achieved in some style.

Understandably the club is very proud to have been recognised for its improvements. “This announcement caps off one of the finest 12 months in our club’s history,” said Club Chairman, Ian Neal, after the club was confirmed as a host venue for Regional Qualifying.

“We are all very excited at the prospect, and look forward to welcoming some of the best amateurs and professionals in the country to our newly upgraded course in June 2018.”

However, Kedleston’s head professional will not be one of those players. “I’ll be here to help ensure it all runs smoothly,” says Ian Walley with a smile. “Maybe I’ll have a go next year when I’m a bit more relaxed and able to focus more on playing.”

It’s a shame because even a 16-handicapper can recognise his ability. Walley reels off half a dozen birdies and rarely finds himself in trouble as he treats his playing guests to a bit of an exhibition.

This is not to suggest Kedleston – which will also host the English Boys’ U16 Open Amateur Stroke Play (McGregor Trophy) in July – is a walk in the park. However, that is what you get here, a beautiful stroll within the grounds of the magnificent Kedleston Hall, a grand 18th century stately home just a few miles northwest of Derby city centre.

The par-5 opener will give Open hopefuls the chance to get off to the perfects start, although the course bites back on the 2nd, a long par 4 with two bunkers well placed down the fairway for long hitters.

This is very much the story of the course: where there are chances to make gains, a stern test usually follows. The par-3 7th is one of the feature holes, playing over a lake and offering a fantastic view of Kedleston Hall from the green.

Arguably the most picturesque hole comes at the 10th. Every club would love to be able to boast a hole reminiscent of one at Augusta, but this downhill par-4 measuring 375 yards would not be out of place in Amen Corner with it’s green well protected by two bunkers and a lake, and framed with rhododendrons.

It’s Carnoustie that will be on the minds of those who tee it up here in June, but hundreds of golfers across the country will be fighting to make it through to one of four Final Qualifying events. It’s a long, hard journey, but one worth the effort.

In 2014, Merseyside factory worker John Singleton progressed through Regional and Final Qualifying to achieve a lifetime ambition to play in The Open at Royal Liverpool.

Those starting their quest at Kedleston Park, looking to follow a similar path, would to well to persuade Walley to relinquish his duties on June 25 for a spot of caddying.