Born in Normanton, West Yorkshire England, (Alexander) Alister MacKenzie would attend the University of Cambridge in 1888 to study medicine. After various positions as an apprentice, he was licensed as a physician in 1895.
Alister MacKenzie's Early Attempt at Golf Architecture
Even in the late 1890s, Alister MacKenzie suggested changes to his local club, recorded in the suggestion book at Leeds GC. Alister MacKenzie's suggestions were not taken to heart. Doing so would have been unconventional as he was not an accomplished player nor did he have previous design experience.
MacKenzie's Military Service
By 1900, Alister MacKenzie was called into service as a surgeon during the Boer War. Seeing active-duty first hand, Alister MacKenzie was able to witness the enemies' adeptness at camouflage. Intrigued, if not consumed, Alister Mackenzie eventually transferred to the Royal Engineers to pioneer the science of camouflage. This passion would influence his design ethos and compel him to ensure that anything touched by the hand of man would be indistinguishable from nature itself.
Between Two World Wars
After the Boer War and before the Great War, Dr. MacKenzie began to implement what would become the foundation principles of Golden Age Design.
Alister MacKenzie at Alwoodley & Moortown
In 1907, as one of the founding members of Alwoodley GC, MacKenzie was able to route and lay out the course with the second opinion of one, Mr. Harry Colt. Following this, a new 18 course at Moortown was completed in 1910 in addition to multiple consultations.
Alister MacKenzie's first private client allowed him the opportunity to really push the envelope, which he did at Sitwell Park GC in 1913. Unfortunately, most of his most controversial work only lasted a couple of years due to the extreme nature of his undulating greens.
Alister MacKenzie's Recognition & Establishment
In 1914, Country Life magazine hosted a golf course design contest. Contestants were offered a £22 prize to design the ideal two-shot hole. Seventy entries were made, and Alister MacKenzie's entry was judged by Bernard Darwin, Hutchinson, and CB MacDonald to be the best. Although already working as an architect, winning the competition established his credentials and garnered him international recognition.
Momentum Gained and Lost
In 1915, Alister MacKenzie was nominated by his acquaintance Harry Colt and approved to be a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. However, because of World War One, not much work was undertaken or accomplished during this time.
Colt, MacKenzie & Alison
In 1919, Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie joined forces with Hugh Alison creating the firm Colt, MacKenzie & Alison. Around the same time, Alister MacKenzie would begin working on his book, Golf Architecture, eventually published in 1920. By 1923, the partnership with Colt and Alison was dissolved.
Alister MacKenzie in America
1926 - Alister MacKenzie & The Lido
In 1926, Alister set his sites on America. Between January and March, he visited the most excellent courses on Long Island. For the first time, he was able to see his own Country Life contest-winning from twelve years earlier, the 18th hole at the Lido Golf Course.
Traveling west, Alister MacKenzie met and began collaborating with Robert Hunter on Cypress Point and on the completion of Seth Raynor's Monterey Peninsula CC Dunes Course, after his premature death.
In June, MacKenzie was back in St. Andrews to attend the Walker Cup with a young Bobby Jones taking part.
Alister MacKenzie in Australia
In September, MacKenzie left for Australia and arrived on October 25th. Leaving just ten weeks after his arrival, Alister MacKenzie left his mark on Australian golf. He left his new design partner, Alex Russell, to make good on his plans.
1927 - Alister MacKenzie & Cypress Point
Arriving on the West coast of America, Alister MacKenzie was able to meet and review Hunter's plans for Cypress Point and his work at Monterey Peninsula and the Meadow Club. Travelling East, Mackenzie would meet and tour well-known courses with Perry Maxwell. In 1927, the Open Championship was being held at The Old Course in St Andrews and won by Bobby Jones. In attendance? Alister MacKenzie - who gifted the champion with a signed copy of his book, Golf Architecture, from 1920.
1928 - Alister MacKenzie Pasatiempo & Crystal Downs
Travels continued for Alister with a trip to the USA to follow up visits with both of his design partners, Maxwell and Hunter. A site visit to what would become Pasatiempo was made while in California.
After a quick trip back to Britain, Alister MacKenzie would embark on a tour of North America as a member of the British Senior's Golfing Society team. Visits were made to Cypress Point to play the completed course. Before departing the USA, Alister MacKenzie would visit Crystal Downs and leave Maxwell with detailed green sketches.
1929 Alister MacKenzie & Argentina
In July 1929, Bobby Jones played a match at the links golf course Cypress Point, which gave him first-hand knowledge of Alister MacKenzie's design theory in practice. Shortly after that, Alister MacKenzie visited Argentina, laying out three courses before returning to Britain.
In June 1930, after a long and somewhat messy divorce, Alister MacKenzie remarried and moved his new wife to California, settling in a small cabin on the sixth fairway at Pasatiempo.
Alister MacKenzie & Augusta National
After years of crossing paths at medals and matches, Bobby Jones invited MacKenzie to Augusta, Georgia, USA to walk the proposed site of Augusta National Golf Club. After three days, an initial routing plan was proposed. After establishing the playing corridors, another site visit was made on October 4th, 1931. In November of 1931, the final coloured plan was drawn and signed by Dr Alister MacKenzie. Another site visit was made in March 1932, to oversee the construction and final grading of the green surfaces. By May 1932 the course was completed and opened for play on January 13th, 1933. The course designed by golf course architect, Alister MacKenzie, would become of the greatest courses in the world.
Alister MacKenzie's Untimely Fate
Less than a year later, golf course architect Alister MacKenzie would pass away in Pasatiempo. Virtually penniless, he would not see much of his work in Australasia and the newly completed Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, United States. Despite his unfortunate fate, he was inducted into the world golf hall of fame in 2005.
A Closer Look at Alister MacKenzie
We wish to thank friend of Evalu18 and collaborator, Keith Cutten, for the material for this short biography. For a more detailed account, you can find his book, The Evolution of Golf Course Design.
Alister MacKenzie is perhaps best known for his book, Golf Architecture. The book The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie provides an excellent overview of his life and work. His lost manuscript, published over sixty years after it was penned, was named The Spirit of St Andrews.
Further Reading on Alister MacKenzie
There are two Alister MacKenzie golf societies. The first, The Alister MacKenzie Society, is a gourmet choice of his designs. UK & Irish member clubs include Cork, Lahinch, Alwoodley, and Moortown. The second, Alister Mackenzie Society, has lesser-known courses either designed or renovated by the good doctor.