About Dr Alister MacKenzie
A unique man of diverse talents, Dr Alister MacKenzie believed golf was the best medicine for many of his patients. His interest in it escalated to a consuming passion and he devised some of the world's most interesting courses.
MacKenzie courses are revered by golfers the world over and include:
- Britain's Alwoodley and Moortown Clubs in Yorkshire (1907,1909)
- Royal Melbourne (1926)
- America's Cypress Point and Pasatiempo (1928)
- America's Crystal Downs (1929)
- America's Augusta National, Home of the US Masters (1934)
Student, Soldier, Physician and Golf Architect
Nicknamed "the Course Doctor," Alister MacKenzie - a founder member of The Alwoodley Golf Club - was born in 1870 to Scottish parents in Yorkshire and christened Alexander. He died in 1934 in California after a fascinating life, leaving behind a blueprint for future intriguing golf course designs and a legacy of classic golf courses, of which Alwoodley was the first.
A graduate of Cambridge and Leeds University with degrees in chemistry, medicine and natural science, MacKenzie joined his father's medical practice but was then called away to serve in the Boer War. Ironically it was the camouflage techniques of the Boers that first nurtured his design ideas for golf courses.
MacKenzie took up medicine again after the war but then abandoned his medical practice in favour of golf course architecture. His decision to do this was in part down to his conviction that golf had very real benefits for patients, and he was quoted as saying:
"How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorstep to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting rooms again!"
Alwoodley becomes a Reality
By 1907 MacKenzie was convinced he could design a course much better than other inland courses and he became a founder member of Alwoodley. The course was laid out in heathland and became a great success. Next he turned his attention to designing Moortown Golf Club in Yorkshire, which hosted the 1929 Ryder Cup Match. Then, in 1914, MacKenzie grabbed the national spotlight by designing the 'ideal' golf hole in The Lido Design Competition sponsored by Country Life magazine, and judged by Bernard Darwin of the Times Newspaper, who started to speak very highly of the courses designed by MacKenzie.
World War I then intervened and MacKenzie's expertise in camouflage, rather than medicine, was put to good use. In 1918, when the war ended, MacKenzie pursued his vocation in golf course architecture and two years later wrote 'Golf Architecture'. His second book, written in 1933, was entitled 'The Spirit of St Andrews', but was not found and published till 1995.
The Mackenzie Features for an Ideal Golf Course
- should be arranged in two loops of nine holes (to create different wind conditions throughout the round)
- should have a mix of long par fours, drive and pitch holes and at least four par threes (to create infinite variety in the type of shots called for during a round)
- the greens and fairways should be undulating, without steep hills for the golfer to climb
- there should be a minimum of blind approach shots
- the emphasis should be placed on natural beauty, not on artificial features
- there should always be an alternative route for the weaker player, yet a sufficient test for the plus-handicap player (this feeling influenced course layouts when penal designs were king)
- there should be a complete absence of the annoyance caused by searching for lost balls
- course conditioning must remain consistently outstanding
MacKenzie's International Legacy
MacKenzie's maxims were realised at a host of courses throughout the 1920s, culminating with his 1928 design of California's Cypress Point Club and Pasatiempo. A year later after Bobby Jones had played both these courses, Jones was then convinced Alister MacKenzie was the man to build his dream course - the Augusta National Golf Club, Home of the Masters, which embodies MacKenzie's precepts.
Among MacKenzie's many admiring architects, and influenced by him, is Steve Smyers who said
"The thing that stands out for me is his spectacular bunkering. In both aesthetics and positioning, he was a master - absolutely brilliant. He used few bunkers, but he positioned them in such a way that they were in the line of play and in the line of sight, so they could scare and excite you, and thrill you with the risk/reward possibilities, but always he left a route that would let you play around them. MacKenzie tried to create excitement in a round, but he always provided options for every class of golfer and always gave you a chance to recover after a missed shot."
Dr MacKenzie, remembered affectionately as a robust man, affable and tactful yet forthright, had a clear view not only on the designs of golf courses, but on the game itself. He belittled those who played in the "card and pencil" spirit as opposed to embracing golf with the "spirit of adventure."