Rating famed golf course designer Dr. Alister MacKenzie beyond Augusta

The 15th hole of the Cypress Point Golf Course in California, circa 1999. (Photo by Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto/Getty Images) Phil Sheldon/Getty Images

Rating famed golf course designer Dr. Alister MacKenzie beyond Augusta

Courses

Rating famed golf course designer Dr. Alister MacKenzie beyond Augusta

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Dr. Alister MacKenzie is synonymous with Augusta National. It’s his most famous golf course design for an obvious reason: The architect’s work is beamed to hundreds of millions of golf fans every April during the Masters.

But Augusta National is not alone in standing out among MacKenzie courses.

The man from Normanton, England was a prolific designer, creating masterpieces around the world.

After earning degrees in medicine, chemistry and natural science, MacKenzie served as a civil surgeon in the Boer War that lasted from 1899 to 1902 in Africa. It was in South Africa that he developed an interest in using natural terrain as camouflage and led to him being appointed to the British School of Camouflage during World War I. He used that expertise to good effect in his course design.

MacKenzie’s design ethos is summed up in “The Spirit of St. Andrews,” in which he outlines 13 principles of course design. Principle seven is arguably the most important: “The course should have beautiful surroundings, and all the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself.”

MacKenzie’s first design was Alwoodley Golf Club in Leeds, England. He created numerous other English courses before graduating to Australia and the United States. His Cypress Point design on California’s Monterey Peninsula so impressed Bobby Jones that the 13-time major winner enlisted the doctor to help create Augusta National.

Cypress Point ranks second on Golfweek’s Best Top 100 Classic American course list, second only to Pine Valley, with Augusta fourth behind Shinnecock Hills. Six of MacKenzie’s courses feature in that Top 100, all within the first 40. Alwoodley and other international courses such as Royal Melbourne, New South Wales and Royal Adelaide rank high on other lists.

Golfweek has been ranking golf courses for more than 20 years. Currently, a team of 750 raters judge courses based on 10 criteria, creating arguably the most comprehensive course-rating system in golf.

With so many experts, it seemed natural to use them to describe MacKenzie’s courses aside from Augusta. We selected raters for each course based on those who had most recently played a MacKenzie course or those with intimate knowledge of the layouts to provide a MacKenzie top-10 list that excludes Augusta.

The response was overwhelming, with each rater providing succinct insight into MacKenzie’s work. Gregg Newmark’s view of the Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif., which just misses the top 10 despite a 6.8 rating, is indicative of the esteem with which Golfweek raters hold the architect.

“MacKenzie emphasizes the attributes and beauty of the native land, rather than moving it to create a landscape,” Newmark said.

Here are Golfweek’s top 10 courses on which MacKenzie worked to some extent, excluding Augusta. MacKenzie is credited with the full design of some of these courses, and his work on others was of a much more limited scope on existing layouts. And his work around the world went far beyond this list, including courses such as Lahinch in Ireland and Kingston Heath in Australia at which he did not do full layouts.

(Palmetto Golf Club)

10. Palmetto Golf Club

Where: Aiken, S.C.

Opened: 1895

Golfweek rating: 6.87

Co-designers: Thomas Hitchcock, Herbert Leeds, James Mackrell

The Buzz: “Great green complexes and surrounds make Palmetto so enjoyable. There is a lack of trees around the greens that, combined with locations often on ledges and plateaus, combine to make club selection interesting. The bunkers really help disguise elevation changes. Palmetto plays much longer than the card’s yardage, but it is a real pleasure to play.” – Golfweek rater Eric Carrier, Pinehurst, N.C.

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