Monday, 27 December 2010

#1 Alister MacKenzie

Best Course: Cypress Point

Other notable work: Royal Melbourne, Augusta National, Crystal Downs (w/Maxwell), Pasatiempo,

Remodelling Work: Pebble Beach, Kingston Heath, St. Andrew’s Old, Lahinch

Overview: In 1907, there opened up an opportunity to build a new course called Alwoodley near Leeds. Alister Mackenzie offered his services and presented the group with a layout and series of drawings for the course. The founding members called in Harry Colt to offer his valued opinion. Colt walked the property and even stayed at MacKenzie's house. Colt largely agreed with the routing and general layout that MacKenzie had already devised. Eventually MacKenzie was left to build the course on his own and his career had begun.


Colt eventually invited Mackenzie to join his firm and while they made an impressive team, there has been some evidence of tension between the two great architects. It is no surprise that MacKenzie would eventually move on, but that was after MacKenzie went to Australia on Colt’s behalf and would change the face of architecture in Australia.

One of the biggest breaks for Mackenzie came in 1914 when he garnered first prize in the Lido Competition for the best designed two-shot hole. His par four featured 5 alternative routes and multiple play options and was eventually adapted for the 18th at Lido Golf Club. This brought a great deal of attention on both sides of the ocean since it was judged by Horace Hutchinson, Bernard Darwin and CB Macdonald.

Mackenzie’s career was full of many great commissions all over the world culmination with the greatest of all at Augusta National where he was paired with Bobby Jones to design a course that was based upon the playing style and experience of the Old Course.

16th at Pasatiempo

Praise for the work: MacKenzie could do it all. His work has so much variety from the strategies to the artistry that he almost defies description as an architect. His routings featured holes that very few would dare try, he almost seemed to revel in the oddest bits of land and there possibilities for holes. Some of his short fours have pushed the envelope well beyond the norms, yet have yielded some of the most fascinating and confounding great holes in golf. MacKenzie reveled in holes like the Road hole that are too tough, recognizing that greatness came from pushing the limits rather than finding convention. I always loved his bitter disappointment at the lack of controversy at Cypress Point feeling that controversy was a clear indicator of excellence

Every part of his designs pushed the envelope from the wildly contoured greens through to spectacular bold bunkering that framed his strategies. MacKenzie loved to present multiple options from hole routes to approach styles, leaving the player often to choose where they cam in from and what style of approach to hit. He generally presented the player with choices but occasionally pushed the player to hit one great dramatic shot too.

In my experience only a handful of architects have been able to create bunkers that blur the line between strategy and art and the greatest of all was Alister MacKenzie. He was able to combine artistic flair, with scale, a little intimidation, a tremendous amount of strategy and the greatest blending of grades around bunkers any architect has ever done to build the best bunkers the game has ever seen.

Criticisms: There are a small few that question some of his more unusual holes as being a bit too quirky, but there are very few that can find much fault in his work, particularly with the list of great course he has designed. The only one question I can bring up is the limited time on site at Royal Melbourne and Crystal Downs where another architect largely provided the bulk of the field work. His Australian credits are long, yet his trip was very short.

Royal Melbourne

Great Quotes: 'It frequently happens the best holes give rise to the most bitter controversy. It is largely a question of the spirit in which the problem is approached, depending on the player. Whether he looks at it from the 'card and pencil' point of view and condemns anything that disturbs his steady series of 3’s or 4’s, or whether he approaches it in the 'spirit of adventure.'

"It is essential that [the architect] should eliminate his own game entirely, and look upon all construction work in a purely impersonal manner. He should be able to put himself in the position of the best player that ever lived, and at the same time be extremely sympathetic towards the beginner and long handicap player. "

“It is much too large a subject to go into the placing of hazards, but I would like to emphasis a fundamental principle. It is that no hazard is unfair wherever it is placed.”

“A hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as then special effort is needed to get over or avoid it”

“No hole is a good hole unless it has one or more hazards in the direct line of the hole”

17th at Cypress Point

Favourite Course: Cypress Point

Cypress Point represents the greatest transition work in the game. Moving from the dunes to the forest, back to the open dunes land and eventually to the ocean is done so seamlessly that you barely notice the change of scenery. The entire course holds together cohesively despite the fact that the setting is in constant change. The way MacKenzie uses the bunkers in particular to pull everything together is magnificent. I love the way bunker and dune often has no definitive start and end, all great examples of site directed architecture which was most appropriate at Cypress Point.

5th at Crystal Downs

What I take from him: He is the clearest example that greatness comes from pushing the boundaries. MacKenzie pushes me personally to explore the unusual bits of land in quest of unique hole opportunities that I may otherwise avoid. He challenges me to push my limits in the type of holes I will present and the strategies that they may require – holes like the 5th at Crystal Downs prove a hole may have no strategic answer – and that itself may lead to greatness. He never settled for a conventional approach in anything he designed, from the contours of the greens to the styling of his bunkers he continued to push the envelope to push his own art. The wonderful thing about all of this is the strategies that unduly his courses are every bit as good as the strategies employed by Colt or Thomas, but the visual presentation was so much more.

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