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A. V. Macan

Hero
Year of Birth1882
Year of Death1964 (aged 82)
Place of BirthDublin, Ireland
Biography

Named after his father, Arthur Vernon Macan Jr. was born in Dublin. Macan Sr. graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in medicine and learned all too quickly about surgery while on the battlefield serving in the Prussian Army as a field doctor.

Macan Sr. later became lead physician at Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, championing antiseptic procedures in midwifery, which would result in a significant decrease in birthing mortality. His wife died in 1886 when their son was only four.

A. Vernon Jr. was raised in his home city but was educated as a young man at Shrewsbury School in England before enrolling at Trinity College in Dublin, where he studied Law. His first sporting love was cricket but he was introduced to golf in 1905 and played matches with the Irish Bar Golfing Society against the Oxford & Cambridge Golfing Society.

There’s no doubt he met many influential figures in the world of golf course architecture, including C.H. Alison, who spent several years working in Dublin, and John Low, who was termed “his mentor” in correspondence found after Macan died. He also referred to Harry Colt, Willie Park Jr. and later Alister MacKenzie as influential figures in his design thoughts.

Macan was a Dublin lawyer who loved to play golf and travel throughout the British Isles playing all the great courses but soon after his father died in 1908, Macan set off for Canada, most likely to visit an old golfing chum from Ireland who was a member of Victoria Golf Club.

He won the British Columbia Men’s Amateur Championship in 1912 and he would go on to retain the trophy twelve months later. He also won the Pacific Northwest Amateur and the Washington State Amateur Championships in 1913.

His first design commission also arrived that year, when a group of Victoria Golf Club members purchased some land and engaged Macan to set out a championship golf course on a new property that would eventually become Royal Colwood.

Unfortunately, World War I intervened and he volunteered for service in 1916 as an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of the Canadian Army. He was wounded by a shell casing fragment at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France and blood poisoning in his left foot resulted in the amputation of his lower left leg. He wore a prosthetic device and continued to play competitively as an amateur on his return to Canada.

It’s true to say that Macan revolutionized golf architecture in the Pacific Northwest over a career spanning five decades and his pioneering efforts can be found in more than forty golf courses. His arrival on the west coast triggered a Golden Age of golf course architecture in the region, setting the standard for others to live up to.

Historian and author Michael Riste had this to say in his book entitled The Biography of A. Vernon Macan Golf Architect: ‘Just Call me Mac’ : “His principles for course design stand to this day. He was ahead of his time. Above all, he believed that skilled players should be challenged and rewarded by successful execution in the face of risk but also that golf was for everyone – that the middle and high handicapper must be encouraged to go out and have an enjoyable day.”

Macan’s designs in British Columbia include Royal Colwood in Victoria and Metro Vancouver courses such as Shaughnessy, Marine Drive and Richmond Country Club. Some of his creations in the Pacific Northwest include Fircrest and Broadmoor in Washington and Columbia Edgewater in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, Alderwood Country Club in Portland (host to the 1937 US Amateur) no longer exists.

When serving as the executive secretary of the PNGA in 1947, Macan donated the trophy he won at the 1913 PNGA Men’s Amateur. The trophy, which still bears the name of Butte Country Club (where he won the event) was renamed the Macan Cup and is still competed for annually.

In 1964, at the age of 82, A.V. Macan suffered a heart attack and died while redesigning the Sunland Golf Course in Sequim, Washington.


Extracts:

In a golfclubatlas.com interview in July 2011, Michael Riste spoke of having observed Macan from a distance at Capilano:

“By the manner in which he conducted himself and by the tweed jacket and tie with his fedora covering his head I knew this man came from wealthy roots. His strong Anglo-Irish accent implied he was well schooled. However, he always appeared as just a common fellow trying to do the best job he could.

At the end of every meeting with various members he closed by commenting: ‘From now on please do not call me Mr. Macan, just call me Mac.’ He also added a similar comment as a ps to all his correspondence. To everyone in the northwest from the early twenties until his death A. Vernon Macan became known as ‘Mac’”.

Micahael Riste then elaborated on Macan’s design principles for private and public courses:

“He would always tell his client the quality of the course would depend on the amount of funding available. He strongly believed only a trained architect would be able to walk the property and develop a routing for that particular land. Similarly, he believed only an architect could locate the natural features available and construct a course that would have character and challenges for all classes of player. All his designs made certain the player saw all the difficulties in front of him. Standing on the tee, Mac challenged the player to choose the proper route to match his playing ability.

As the budget decreased Mac reduced the number of bunkers, particularly the fairway bunkers. In the case of a public course, he eliminated many of the fairway bunkers. He believed the medium and high handicapper had a difficult enough time getting around the course that they did not need any hazards. To reduce maintenance costs, Mac installed hillocks, mounds and different slopes around the greens to act natural as hazards.

Macan constantly stated the quality of the course rested on the quality of the greens. For low budget courses and public courses the quality of the greens definitely diminished. Unusual shapes for the greens became a trademark no matter what the cost. To build a good green in the Northwest Mac constantly emphasized the necessity for drainage and more drainage in his green construction process.”

Finally, Michael Riste responded to the assertion that Macan was “not a builder of golf courses”:

“When a client asked Mac to provide a bid for the total golf development, he had a standard response: ‘Like Colt, Alison and Abercromby, I am a course designer, not a course builder. I have lost many jobs because of this.’ Mac had a good knowledge of the construction costs for a golf course and frequently presented these estimates to the client. In fact, he provided drawings and specifications to a client instructing him to hire a builder. For a set fee he would make periodic visits to inspect the work.

For a quoted fee Mac supplied drawings, two or three plasticine green models, and specified the number of days for on site supervision. The he suggested the client find ‘a man who knows how to move dirt and I will instruct on my methos for constructing a golf course. I have nothing to do with the day-to-day expenses of the project. I take no commissions from suppliers.’”

In Volume Five of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective, there’s a chapter by Scott Stambaugh entitled ‘The Resurrection of A. V. Macan in the Pacific Northwest’ where the author examines how one club has managed to devise a masterplan to preserve the architect’s design intents. This is an edited extract of the published narrative:

Overlake Golf and Country Club outside Seattle, Washington, was designed by Frank James and opened in 1927 but it only survived for eight years. For the next 18 years, the property was used first as a horse farm and then as a cattle ranch. The club was ‘reborn’ in 1953 and Macan was hired to design the reincarnation.

Macan’s original routing still exists and the subtle characteristics and nuances of his greens remain on all but a few holes. With the ‘bones’ of the course still strong, the club’s green committee defined a set of goals identifying what needed to be accomplished with a new Masterplan. The major components would be:

‘The architect must allow the ground to dictate play.’ The original contours Macan created on, and around, Overlake’s greens are traits that can be found on all his courses: approachable in the front; slightly elevated; bold contouring – all design elements that demand a well-played shot to manoeuvre the ball close to the hole.

One of Macan’s design philosophies was, in his own words: ‘greens should not be flat but hogbacks, undulations and crowns should be incorporated to defy the backspin players’. The process of recapturing what has been lost through the years is quite easy: scalp; topdress; then repeat. Lost hole locations have been restored on over half of Overlake’s greens.

The reality of a bunker is that it begins its demise the day it is opened for play. The constant blasting of shots, poor raking, weather-related washouts are some of the ingredients necessary for bunker deterioration. Rebullding the bunkers will return them to their former intended state: bold contours and irregular; rough-hewn; somewhat undefined, with natural-looking edges.

Much like the green complexes, fairways and approaches had shrunk to the point where features on the perimeter of the course felt obsolete. And worse, the ‘ground’ game was no longer a practical method of play. Nearly five acres of turf has been recaptured to date, bringing many of the course features back into play.

Overlake is in the infancy of addressing one of the biggest issues on the horizon for older golf courses: serious tree issues with no management plan in place. Protecting desirable trees, planning for replacements and removing trees that are having an adverse impact on the design will preserve the essential character of the course.

The wall-to-wall manicured golf course is quickly becoming a thing of the past. And so the resurrection of A. V. Macan begins. It will be a constant journey and a learning experience. This exercise has left one lasting impression on the committee, plainly stated by Macan’s mentor, John Low: ‘Committees should leave well enough alone, especially when they have a really fine course’.


Snippets:

Matthew Macan, AV’s grandson: “His designs seem to have endured through history. It is (more than) 135 years since he was born and I would guess that golf courses and technology has changed dramatically in that period of time. But it has been 100 years since he designed Royal Colwood with a pencil and a piece of paper and that seems to be quite extraordinary.”

Roland Wild, the Vancouver Province golf writer: “Whether the golfers of the NorthWest accept it or not whether they believe it or not Vernon Macan determined how they played the game for fifty years.”

Robert Trent Jones: “If Mac had decided to live on the east coast in 1912 and started his business there he would have been just as famous as Ross, Tillinghast, MacKenzie and Thompson.

When it comes to green design and construction Vernon Macan was a generation ahead of us all. He knew how to design a green so the wedge player could not get close to the pin. This is what we are trying to accomplish today.”

Jeff Mingay: “It is amazing that a century later many of Macan’s courses haven’t changed. Golfers are enjoying them the way they did nearly a century ago. You go to Colwood today and the fundamental structure of the golf course hasn’t changed at all. A couple of greens have been rebuilt and some bunkers filled in but the layout remains exactly the way it was in 1913.”

Macan himself: "I spend more time supervising the construction of the greens on a golf course than any of my colleagues. I believe the construction of a green is a personal thing. I do not allow any other person to supervise the moving of dirt to form the desired shape. It would be the same as an artist painting a picture. Would the artist allow others to apply paint strokes to his canvas?"

Bibliography:

The Biography of A. Vernon Macan Golf Architect: “Just Call me Mac” by Michael Riste (2011)

Notable Courses

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Broadmoor Golf Club

Broadmoor Golf Club

Seattle, Washington

02
California Golf Club of San Francisco

California Golf Club of San Francisco

South San Francisco, California

03
Columbia Edgewater (Macan)

Columbia Edgewater (Macan)

Portland, Oregon

04
Fircrest

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05
Gorge Vale

Gorge Vale

Victoria, British Columbia

06
Hillcrest Country Club - Idaho

Hillcrest Country Club - Idaho

Boise, Idaho

07
Inglewood

Inglewood

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08
Manito

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09
Marine Drive

Marine Drive

Vancouver, British Columbia

10
Nanaimo

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