Dr Alister MacKenzie


Dr Alister MacKenzie is arguably golf’s best- known course architect thanks to his famous designs which include the majestic Augusta National.

Born in Normanton, Yorkshire in 1870, to parents of Scottish extraction, MacKenzie attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield then Cambridge University from where he graduated with degrees in chemistry, medicine and natural science.

He joined his father’s medical practice but was soon called away to serve in the second Boer War. During the posting MacKenzie developed a talent for camouflage – a skill that would go on to serve him well as a golf course designer.

The Good Doctor cut his teeth as a course architect at Alwoodley Golf Club in Leeds in 1907 where he was one of the club’s founding members and, having already made outline sketches for a course, was tasked with laying out 18-holes across the moorland.

Although this was his first project, the hallmarks of his later works are still there for all to see. As he would explain in his book, “Golf Architecture,” MacKenzie believed emphasis should be on the natural beauty of the terrain rather than artificial features, and that every hole should have a different character.

Along with Augusta National founder Bobby Jones he shared a love of links courses and especially the Old Course at St Andrews, which influenced his philosophy on greens and bunkering.

The term “MacKenzie green” is much used, but each putting surface he created was unique. Although some are plateaus and others two or three tier, his greens are generally undulating, and feature testing borrows.

MacKenzie’s sand traps are links-like, making use of the land’s natural contouring and appearing to have been carved out of the terrain rather than added as an afterthought.

He laid his hands and intellect on many of the world’s top courses including 26 in his home county of Yorkshire and collaborated or consulted on many more in the Broad Acres. He was especially prolific in the Leeds area starting with his second piece of work at Moortown Golf Club which hosted the first Ryder Cup on British soil in 1929.

His other works around the city include Headingley, Horsforth, Garforth, two courses at Temple Newsam and changes to Leeds Golf Club which he had joined as a member in 1900 whilst a surgeon at Leeds General Infirmary.

His first writings on golf course architecture were recorded in the club’s suggestion book , MacKenzie later recalling: “On my return from South Africa I wrote two or three pages in the suggestion book of Leeds Golf Club, pointing out how the course could be changed by utilizing the natural features, and making others indistinguishable from them and thus creating a greater resemblance to the golf on seaside courses, which in those days everyone admitted to be vastly superior to inland courses, though few, knew why they were better.”

He would soon turn his words to actions when the 7th hole became his first ever creation as a golf course architect.

From 1910 until the outbreak of the First World War, MacKenzie’s stock was rising and he started to work further afield including on layouts at Duff House Royal in Scotland, and Castletown in the Isle of Man.

Closer to home he designed Dewsbury District, Sitwell Park, Harrogate’s Oakdale and Crosland Heath during that period.

After serving with the Royal Engineers, MacKenzie quickly returned to course architecture and, in 1920, joined forces another of the day’s great architects Harry Colt in a partnership that would last three years.

Mackenzie is credited with changing the face of golf in Australia as a result of his visit in 1926 and much of the superlative golf available in Melbourne’s southern suburbs is related -directly or indirectly- to him.

His tour lasted just 73 days during which time he had consulted at 19 clubs and earned £2,400. His best piece of work is the West course at Royal Melbourne, which moved Tiger Woods to say during the 2019 President’s Cup: “This is how golf should be played. It’s beyond a dream."

He then moved to the USA and left his mark there in the shape of classics like Cypress Point before he passed away at his home in Santa Cruz, California two months before the inaugural Masters in 1934, and reputedly still owed half of his $10,000 fee for designing Augusta National.

Thankfully he left an embarrassment of riches in his home county of Yorkshire for all to enjoy.