Alister MacKenzie

Full Name
Alexander MacKenzie
Website:
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Year of Birth
1870
Year of Death
1934 aged 64
Place Born
Normanton, Yorkshire, England
Place Died
Pasatiempo, California, United States

World Golf Hall of Fame – Class of 2005. “A good golf course grows on one like a good painting, good music, or any other artistic creation. It is not necessarily a course which appeals the first time one plays over it, but one that grows on the player the more frequently he visits it.” From The Spirit of St Andrews.

Educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield before commencing medical studies at Caius College, Cambridge in 1888, Alister MacKenzie graduated from university with a couple of degrees in 1897, by which time he was already working in his father’s general medical practice.

MacKenzie was born and bred in Yorkshire but both his parents were Scottish and the family holidayed every year in remote Lochinver, close to where his father was raised in the traditional Clan MacKenzie lands of Sutherland, so it’s true to say he was more than aware of his Scottish roots.

He served with the Somerset Regiment in South Africa during the Boer War, sailing to South Africa in 1900 and returning home 12 months later. His experience of dealing with concealed entrenchments in warfare made a big impression on him and he’d go on to use elements of camouflage in his course designs in later years.

A founding member of Alwoodley in 1907, Mackenzie also set out the new club’s course, which was his first attempt at golf design. Harry Colt was called in to appraise the layout and his seal approval meant other commissions soon followed from clubs in the local Yorkshire area and further afield.

The architect’s putting surfaces were often angled away from the centre line of approach, meaning a drive to a certain point on the fairway would result in an easy shot to the green, with imprecise tee shots requiring a more difficult shot over trouble of some description.

“To complement these undulating and angled greens, MacKenzie created large flowing bunkers – often flanking the fairway – that were highly visible to the golfer,” wrote Henry Lord and Peter Pugh in Masters of Design – Great Courses of Colt, MacKenzie, Alison & Morrison. “Such a natural, conspicuous style created beautiful but fear-inducing hazards.”

MacKenzie joined Harry Colt and C. H. Alison as a partner in their design company in 1919 but the association lasted only four years before it was dissolved. It was a strange alliance in the first place, though at least one commentator has suggested it had been set up merely as a means of avoiding competition.

Golf Architecture was published in 1920 and in this book MacKenzie listed his thirteen design principles (see below) which he tried to keep to when laying out a golf course. Of course, the terrain of a particular location might prevent one or more of these rules being adhered to but they certainly formed a solid overall framework for his designs.

In 1926, MacKenzie embarked on the first of several overseas trips that would see him established as the first truly international golf course architect, travelling first to the United States to team up with his friend Robert Hunter and win the contract to design the course that Seth Raynor had originally been earmarked for at Cypress Point in California.

MacKenzie also teamed up with Perry Maxwell in the States and their decade-long collaboration resulted in the partnership producing highly regarded designs at venues such as Crystal Downs Country Club, the University of Michigan, Oklahoma City Country Club and Melrose Country Club in Pennsylania.

MacKenzie also spent a couple of months in Australia in 1926, where he advised a total of nineteen clubs, amassing fees in excess of £2,400 for his efforts in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. He appointed Alex Russell as his Australian design partner, with superintendent Mick Morcom acting as their construction superintendent. In 1930, he sailed to Beunos Aries via Bermuda and Rio de Janeiro, completing half a dozen projects in Argentina and a couple in Uruguay during a two month spell in South America.

In July of 1931, the doctor made his first appearance at Augusta National during a site inspection visit with Bobby Jones and the course that they would collaborate on was officially opened in January of 1933. Sadly, MacKenzie never did see the finished course at Augusta – but then the same could be said of many of his great works; from Royal Melbourne to the Jockey Club in Argentina or Crystal Downs in the United States.

By this time, MacKenzie was spending most of his time in California and it was on the Pasatiempo Estate in Santa Cruz that he died of a heart attack twelve months later.

Snippets

World Golf Hall of Fame: “The amazing thrill of driving successfully over the ocean at the 16th hole at Cypress Point,” MacKenzie said, “more than compensates for the loss of a dozen balls.”

MacKenzie’s book The Spirit of St Andrews was published long after he passed away, in 1995 and it’s a fine read, emphasizing the importance of strategic, rather than penal golf course architecture. It also captures the feeling that golf is meant to be an exciting game, full of fun for players of all abilities, which is exactly what he tried to achieve with his designs: “Golf on a first class course is never monotonous...Every really good golf course should have some touches of subtlety.”

From the book The Evolution of Golf Course Design, author Keith Cutten had this to say about the architect: “MacKenzie was a master of producing strategic, playable designs; and routings never followed a set formula. As perhaps best-showcased by his work at Cypress Point, he let the land dictate the order of holes.

MacKenzie green contours were often bold, and they sometimes bordered on the extreme; however, they always rewarded the player who approached from the appropriate angle. MacKenzie loved to present multiple options within a hole, and he valued variety in approach styles; leaving the player to choose from where to attack from, and how to execute the correct shot.”

MacKenzie’s thirteen golf course design principles:

  1. The course, where possible, should be arranged in two loops of nine holes.
  2. There should be a large proportion of good two-shot holes, and at least four one-shot holes.
  3. There should be little walking between the greens and tees, and the course should be arranged so that in the first instance there is always a slight walk forwards from the green to the next tee; then the holes are sufficiently elastic to be lengthened in the future if necessary.
  4. The greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating, but there should be no hill climbing.
  5. Every hole should be different in character.
  6. There should be a minimum of blindness for the approach shots.
  7. The course should have beautiful surroundings, and all the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself.
  8. There should be a sufficient number of heroic carries from the tee, but the course should be arranged so that the weaker player with the loss of a stroke, or portion of a stroke, shall always have an alternate route open to him.
  9. There should be infinite variety in the strokes required to play the various holes – that is, interesting brassie shots, iron shots, pitch and run up shots.
  10. There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls.
  11. The course should be so interesting that even the scratch man is constantly stimulated to improve his game in attempting shots the has hitherto been unable to play.
  12. The course should so be arranged that the long handicap player or even the absolute beginner should be able to enjoy his round in spite of the fact that he is piling up a big score. In other words, the beginner should not be continually harassed by losing strokes from playing out of sand bunkers. The layout should be so arranged that he loses strokes because he is making wide detours to avoid hazards.
  13. The course should be equally good during winter and summer, the texture of the greens and fairways should be perfect and the approaches should have the same consistency as the greens.
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Courses designed by and courses remodelled and added to by Alister MacKenzie

Alwoodley

2nd Yorkshire - Best in Area 14th England Ranking 37th Britain & Ireland Ranking

The Alwoodley Golf Club is home to one of the finest and most subtle inland courses in the British Isles, located in a secluded spot.

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Description: The Alwoodley Golf Club is home to one of the finest and most subtle inland courses in the British Isles, located in a secluded spot. Rating: 5.3 out of 6

Augusta National

1st Georgia - Best in Area 8th USA Ranking 8th North America Ranking 13th World Ranking

Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world and was designed by the world’s greatest golfer, who teamed up with the world’s greatest architect.

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Description: Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world and was designed by the world’s greatest golfer, who teamed up with the world’s greatest architect. Rating: 5.9 out of 6

Barwon Heads

15th Victoria - Best in Area 29th Australia Ranking

Barwon Heads Golf Club was founded in 1907 in Geelong and was initially a nine-hole links on land north of the village of Barwon Heads.

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Description: Barwon Heads Golf Club was founded in 1907 in Geelong and was initially a nine-hole links on land north of the village of Barwon Heads. Rating: 5 out of 6

Bingley St Ives

10th Yorkshire - Best in Area

The fairways at Bingley St Ives Golf Club weave through distinct areas of parkland, woodland and moorland as the round progresses from the first tee to the final green.

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Description: The fairways at Bingley St Ives Golf Club weave through distinct areas of parkland, woodland and moorland as the round progresses from the first tee to the final green. Rating: 4 out of 6

Blairgowrie (Rosemount)

3rd Perth & Kinross - Best in Area 37th Scotland Ranking

The Rosemount course at Blairgowrie Golf Club is charmingly situated at the feet of the Grampians, amongst the majestic pines, birch and heather.

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Description: The Rosemount course at Blairgowrie Golf Club is charmingly situated at the feet of the Grampians, amongst the majestic pines, birch and heather. Rating: 4.6 out of 6

Bolton Old Links

17th Lancashire - Best in Area

Bolton Old Links Golf Club is laid out in two loops of returning nines with the inward half routed around the outside of holes 1 to 9...

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Description: Bolton Old Links Golf Club is laid out in two loops of returning nines with the inward half routed around the outside of holes 1 to 9... Rating: 4.3 out of 6

Bonnyton

6th Renfrewshire - Best in Area

The course at Bonnyton Golf Club – a lesser-known design of Alister MacKenzie – opened in 1922 with heather-fringed fairways laid out on Ballagioch Hill, high above the conservation village of Eaglesham.

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Description: The course at Bonnyton Golf Club – a lesser-known design of Alister MacKenzie – opened in 1922 with heather-fringed fairways laid out on Ballagioch Hill, high above the conservation village of Eaglesham. Rating: 4 out of 6

Bramall Park

19th Cheshire - Best in Area

Alister MacKenzie was responsible for laying out the course at Bramhall Park Golf Club and these 18 holes opened for play in 1922. Apart from when a couple of holes were reconfigured in 1967, the course largely remains true to its original design.

Bruntsfield Links

15th Lothians - Best in Area 84th Scotland Ranking

The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society dates back to 1761... but the current parkland course is relatively young, dating back to 1897.

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Description: The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society dates back to 1761... but the current parkland course is relatively young, dating back to 1897. Rating: 4.2 out of 6

Burnham & Berrow (Championship)

1st Somerset - Best in Area 28th England Ranking 67th Britain & Ireland Ranking

Burnham & Berrow Golf Club has played host to many important amateur championships over the years and the course is regularly used for Open Championship qualification.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Burnham & Berrow Golf Club has played host to many important amateur championships over the years and the course is regularly used for Open Championship qualification. Rating: 5.2 out of 6