06 May 2024 | Feature stories |

Feature: The MacKenzie legacy in Australia

by Martin Blake

Neil Crafter image
Neil Crafter at last week's book launch.

Dr Alister MacKenzie’s incredible legacy exists through his courses around the world (think Augusta National and Cypress Point to name a couple), and notably in Australia (Royal Melbourne West, Royal Adelaide and New South Wales), masterpieces of golf architecture.

But now his legacy is further preserved with a collection of his writing. Course architect Neil Crafter has pulled all of MacKenzie’s writings – not only on golf but other topics that were his passions – into a new anthology, ‘The Good Doctor’s Prescriptions’, published by Ryan Publishing and launched last week.

`MacKenzie died 90 years ago and for many years, he was thought to be a less than prolific writer.

He had penned one book, ‘Golf Architecture’ in the 1920s which Crafter described as his “calling card”, handed to various clubs around the world including some in Australia.

But the discovery in the 1990s by his stepson of a ‘lost’ manuscript, which later became the basis for MacKenzie’s ‘The Spirit of St Andrews’, has changed the thinking around MacKenzie’s writing. `

Since then a plethora of material has been collected by historians including Crafter, the Adelaide-based architect of 25 years experience and a noted MacKenzie devotee.

The launch was at Royal Melbourne, where it all started in this country. RMGC dispatched its longtime president, LKS Mackinnon, to London in 1926 to find an architect and rebuild the course it had at Black Rock, instructions being to ‘obtain the best expert advice procurable, at no limit as to cost’.

On recommendation of the R&A, Mackinnon chose MacKenzie.

The club paid 1000 guineas and under the arrangement, MacKenzie had the right to work with other clubs in Australia, splitting those fees with RMGC. He arrived in October, whipped up Royal Melbourne West in a few weeks, then started Royal Adelaide and New South Wales, which he drew up in December, keeping the fees from Royal Adelaide much to the chagrine of the folk at RMGC.

Not only that, he looked at Metropolitan, proposed a bunkering plan at Kingston Heath (and recreated the 15th, which is now one of the best par-3s in the world), Victoria and Flinders among 19 courses in Australia and New Zealand on which he had an influence.

No wonder Tony Rule, the RMGC captain, describes Mackenzie’s few weeks Down Under as “a seminal moment in the history of golf in this country.

MacKenzie penned various columns for the old ‘Herald’ newspaper in Melbourne during his time in Australia, at one point lamenting Melbourne’s lack of public golf facilities (a notion that has relevance in these times where councils are inclined against public golf: “I must emphasise that Melbourne cannot afford to lag behind other cities in the world in this matter. Health, happiness and progress demand it.”

Crafter has collated all his writing, and it includes sections on some of his passions beyond golf. For instance, he had expertise in camouflage and entrenchment in war, and he wrote about that.

He was a doctor by profession, and he wrote about health and how golf could help improve people’s wellbeing. “He often said that after he recommended playing golf to some of his patients, he didn’t see them in his waiting room any more,” recalled Crafter.

He was also a follower of politics and economics, “a rabid anti-socialist”, and many of his letters to the editor of newspapers were on that particular topic.

Crafter rates MacKenzie as the greatest of all course architects and he is not alone in that.

He remains annoyed that while MacKenzie’s work at Augusta is celebrated every year, he was never fully paid for designing what is arguably his most famous course, despite having penned letters to the club pleading for proper compensation for his efforts.

As Tony Rule observed, this is “a book that was just waiting to be published”.

The Good Doctor’s Prescriptions, the writings of Dr Alister MacKenzie, edited by Neil Crafter, Ryan Publishing RRP $79.95

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