MacKenzie, Alister

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Born in Normanton, West Yorkshire England, Alexander 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.

Military Service 

By 1900, MacKenzie was called into service as a surgeon during the Boer War. Seeing active-duty first hand, MacKenzie was able to witness the enemies adeptness at camouflage. Intrigued, if not consumed, 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, 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 H.S. 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 there only lasted a couple of years.

Recognition & Establishment

In 1914, Country Life magazine hosted a 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 H.S. 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, 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 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.


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 G.C. 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.

An Untimely Fate

Less than a year later, Alister MacKenzie would pass away in Pasatiempo. Virtually penniless, he would not see much of his work in Australasia and the newly completed course in Georgia.

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.

Architectural Hallmarks

There should be two loops of nine.

There would ideally be four Par 3’s a few short Par 4’s and a few long Par 4’s.

The walk between green and tee should be forward and not too long.

There should be not hill climbing but there must also be sufficient undulations.

Every hole should have its own character.

Blindness should be avoided on approach shots.

All artificial features should have so natural an appearance they should be indistinguishable from nature itself.

There should be heroic carries for the tee. The weaker player should always have an option available at the cost of a stroke.

The course should demand a variety of shots.

You should never have to search for lost balls.

The course should be difficult enough to stimulate even the best golfers to get better.

The high handicap should be able to enjoy the round.


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