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. Even in the late 1890s, MacKenzie suggested changes to his local club, recorded in the suggestion book at Leeds GC. 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.
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 Wars
After the Boer War and before the Great War, Alister MacKenzie began to implement what would become the foundation principles of Golden Age Design. 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. 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.
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 MacKenzie's entry was judged by Darwin, Hutchinson and 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. In 1919, Harry Colt and MacKenzie joined forces with Hugh Alison creating the firm Colt, MacKenzie & Alison. Around the same time, MacKenzie would begin working on his book, Golf Architecture, eventually published in 1920. By 1923, the partnership with Colt and Alison was dissolved.
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. Travelling west, 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. In September, MacKenzie left for Australia and arrived on October 25th. Leaving just ten week's after his arrival, MacKenzie left his mark on Australian golf and new design partner, Alex Russell, to make good on his plans.
Arriving on the West coast of America, 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.
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, MacKenzie would embark 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, MacKenzie would visit Crystal Downs and leave Maxwell with detailed green sketches.
1929 & 1930
In July 1929, Bobby Jones played a match at the links golf course Cypress Point, which gave him first-hand knowledge of MacKenzie's design theory in practice. Shortly after that, MacKenzie visited Argentina, laying out three courses before returning to Britain. In June 1930, after a long and somewhat messy divorce, MacKenzie remarried and moved his new wife to California, settling in a small cabin on the sixth fairway at Pasatiempo.
Augusta National Golf Club
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.
An 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
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 by clicking here. 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, The Spirit of St Andrews, can be previewed by clicking here.
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.
As taken from his book, Golf Architecture, Alister MacKenzie felt the following were essential:
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 n 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.
- Alwoodley Golf Club
- Blairgowrie Golf Club
- Bruntsfield Links
- Burnham & Berrow Golf Club
- Castletown Golf Links
- Cavendish Golf Club
- Cleckheaton Golf Club
- Cork Golf Club
- County Sligo Golf Club
- Galway Golf Club
- Ganton Golf Club
- Hadley Wood Golf Club
- Halifax Golf Club
- Lahinch Golf Club
- Littlestone Golf Club
- Moortown Golf Club
- Reddish Vale Golf Club
- Royal St George’s Golf Club
- Sand Moor Golf Club
- Seaton Carew Golf Club
- Silloth on Solway Golf Club