Alister MacKenzie’s Design Magic Lingers at Augusta National 80 Years Later
A mutual love for the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland forged the bond between Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, who co-designed Augusta National in the early 1930s. Not much pure MacKenzie remains these days, but unquestionably, the spirit of St. Andrews is sprinkled throughout the Masters course. You just have to know where to look.
If you want to see what many of the original bunkers looked like at Augusta National, check out the spectacular sprawl of sand in the middle of the 10th fairway. Its creatively crafted lobes and noses stand out in stark contrast to the more oval-like, sharper-edged bunkers elsewhere on the course that evolved (some would day devolved) over time.
Perhaps it’s not so much the individual design characteristics that harken to MacKenzie but his design philosophy, one that traces every root to his admiration for St. Andrews. In the early ‘30s, MacKenzie penned his second book on the subject of golf courses and design and called it, “The Spirit of St. Andrews.” He wrote, “I doubt if even in a hundred years’ time a course will be made which has such interesting strategic problems and which creates such enduring and increasing pleasurable excitement and varied shots.”
MacKenzie added, “St. Andrews is a standing example of the possibility of making a course which is pleasurable to all classes of golfers, not only to the thirty handicap players but to the plus fourteen man, if there ever was or will be such a person.”
Which is exactly what Bobby Jones wanted for Augusta National.
As Jones historian Sidney Matthew notes, Jones first encountered MacKenzie when he obtained a line drawing map of the Old Course that MacKenzie had prepared for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1924. Jones studied the topographical map frequently prior to his visits to St. Andrews in 1927 and in 1930. Thereafter, he hung the map on the wall of his law office, where it remained until his death.
In 1927, MacKenzie presented Jones with a copy of his first book, “Golf Architecture,” which he wrote in 1920. In it, he espoused his ‘13 General Principles of Architecture.’ Among them: The emphasis should be placed on natural beauty, not on artificial features; There should always be an alternative route for the weaker player, yet a sufficient number of heroic carries to challenge the stronger player; There should be a complete absence of the annoyance caused by the searching for lost balls (meaning, an avoidance of utilizing heavy rough in the design); and “The beginner should not be continually harassed by losing strokes from playing out of sand bunkers.”
Which is exactly what Jones wanted — and got — for Augusta National. Jones was smitten with St. Andrews as well, telling the Saturday Evening Post in 1958, “Of all the courses I’ve played tournaments on, if I had to be sentenced to play only one course for the rest of my life, it would be St. Andrews in Scotland.”
It’s clear that Jones’ admiration for St. Andrews and for the design doctrines of MacKenzie are brightly illuminated in the layout of the Augusta National Golf Club. The course opened with fewer than 30 bunkers and today, has just 43. Until a few years ago, there was no rough whatsoever; today, there’s a player-friendly “first cut,” hardly the stuff in which you’ll lose a ball. Heroic carries abound at holes such as the 12th, 13th and 15th, yet the majority of holes can be played with a putter if need be — just the way MacKenzie liked it. Nearly every hole, with water or without, continues to present “alternative routes” and “interesting strategic problems,” as MacKenzie espoused. As for natural beauty? In April, name a prettier inland golf course on Earth. It can’t be done.
This past Tuesday, Phil Mickelson put his finger on the lasting appeal of the MacKenzie-Jones design ideology. Referring to Augusta National, Mickelson said “It’s a magical place to begin with. But for me personally the feeling that comes over me as I drive down Magnolia Lane is I don’t have to play perfect to play well here, because I can recover from mistakes here. You always have a shot. You always have a swing if you hit a bad shot. You have a chance to salvage your par. You have a chance to let your short game save it for you. And if I do hit a number of good shots, I’m able to make birdies.”
More than 80 years later, comments from like that from Phil Mickelson (not quite +14, but not bad at +5), indicates that the design philosophy of Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones is alive and well at Augusta National.