By Dr. Alister MacKenzie
Dr. MacKenzie’s Golf Architecture was a monumental book for its time, a timeless book on golf architecture and a must for any student of the field or serious player. MacKenzie was an outdoorsman, a military man, and a doctor of medicine, whose hobby of golf architecture got the best of him. He ultimately abandoned his medical career to pursue golf course architecture and we must be thankful for that. He fully understood the nuances of the game but his genius was borne from his astute analysis of the nature of the course, its purpose and place in golf. One of the elemental distinctions he made was between strategic hazards (primarily sand bunkers, as he abhorred water as a penalty) and random hazards, as were commonly found on Scottish links—most notably at his beloved St. Andrews.
The penal school of architecture was in vogue during much of MacKenzie’s life but he would have none of it. His conception of a perfect course had to do with surrounding the player, frequently challenging him, but ultimately enabling him the freedom to play, to enjoy his day at golf. MacKenzie felt too many golfers looked on hazards “as a means of punishing a bad shot, when their real object is to make the game interesting.” When his masterpiece, Augusta National Golf Club opened there were only 23 bunkers, barely more than one per hole. “Hazards should be placed with an object, and none should be made which has not some influence on the line of play...” While he is in complete agreement with John L. Low’s 1903 comment in Concerning Golf that no hazard is unfair wherever it is placed, MacKenzie avows “a hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as then a special effort is needed to get over or avoid it.”
In one of the lectures that constitute this volume, MacKenzie identifies thirteen quintessential traits of the best golf architecture—the thirteen commandments for the zealous. Some are elementary: the next tee should be nearby the last green and in a direction away from following players; every hole should be of a different character and every course should have four par-threes, a couple of drive-and-pitch holes, but mostly substantial par-fours. Many qualities are more complicated: “The course should be so arranged so 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.” Besides ranking as one of the finest volumes on golf architecture, this book is valuable for the good course management it teaches, especially to those neophytes. Golfers must use their minds and act with authority; after all, this is war. MacKenzie was a military specialist in camouflaging earthworks; it was that peculiar skill that shaped his concepts for strategic bunkering.
MacKenzie’s simple formula for a good golf course is twofold: it must never become monotonous; and the best course construction is “almost entirely due to utilization of natural features to the fullest extent and to the construction of artificial ones indistinguishable from nature.” He was also one of the earliest proponents of hazards to putting, designing unique greens such as the seventeenth at Augusta where the vertical halves slope in opposite directions, or the fifth with its backward tiering. He wanted the route to the green to be generous, never lined with ball-gobbling rough or ponds, but he could also be audacious when given property with substantially different terrain, as on the Monterey Peninsula for Cypress Point. Wisely there, the green movement is more tempered due to the high risk factor of many other shots, and perhaps the distracting drama of the surrounds. Admirers of the art of Mackenzie in the U. S. should also view Ohio State University GC, the University of Michigan GC and Crystal Downs CC, Green Hills CC (CA ), Pasatiempo GC, Northwood GC and Stockton G & CC.
While totally serious and eminently important, this book is far from a chore to read. Although a stern, physically imposing Scot, MacKenzie liked a joke, even if at possibly his own expense. One of two rival green shapers admitted he could never quite achieve the subtle contours of the other, and asked his secret.
“The other replied that it was perfectly easy; he simply employed the biggest fool in the village and told him to make them flat.”
Foreword by Herbert Warren Wind, Afterword by Lewis A Lapham.
This product was added to our catalog on Monday 27 April, 2009.