Designing like MacKenzie?
Last week I received the result of a survey recently done by Sport Psychology Ltd. The purpose of the study was to investigate the relevance of Alister MacKenzie’s 13 principles of golf course design (1920) to the psychology of golf design in the 21st century.
I truly appreciate the work of Alister MacKenzie and considering the development the game of golf has gone through over the last 100 years, this had to be an interesting study. Also, the survey was mainly done amongst golf course architects, which should give the outcome some credibility.
The résumé of the survey was disappointingly thin but did show that every one of the 13 principles of golf course design, according to the survey, is still relevant to the psychology of golf design in the 21st century.
In the survey, each principle was evaluated on a scale ranging from 1 (the principle would be undermining towards the design of a golf course) to 7 (the principle would be of absolute fundamental importance when designing a golf course). The average came out at about 5.5 placed between the principles being of some, to of strong relevance.
Alister MacKenzie’s principles aimed towards creating interesting and beautiful courses playable for all golfers. Although we all can agree that this is how it should be, time and evolution have undoubtedly changed our perception of what makes a course interesting, beautiful and playable. There is enough material in this for a book but not today – so just a few points.
As much at the survey found Alister MacKenzie’s principles to be of relevance today, they also managed not to convey all his principles in full length.
One example which strikes me, is the difference between the survey’s version of the 7th principle and Alister MacKenzie’s original. Survey - ”The course should have beautiful surroundings” - left out was “- and all the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish from nature itself”. Leaving out the last bit of the 7th principle must be a mistake since it would surely have affected the 5.5 relevance level of this principle and for more reasons.
The equipment available for golf construction today and the often very unsuitable landscapes golf courses are now developed on etc. has clearly pushed modern golf course architecture towards a much more artificial look. The design elements might have a “natural” appearance BUT in a purpose shaped/constructed landscape - not in a “natural” setting. As a result, many golfers and golf course architects now look upon the golf course as a “stadium facility” with expectations of certain dimensions and “look” and no need for a link in appearance between the course and the surrounding landscape. As I understand it, this approach to golf course design clearly goes against the part of the 7th principle, which was left out of the survey and therefore makes this principle a lot less relevant to the psychology of golf design in the 21st century than the 5.5 level of relevance it achieved on the survey scale.
Whether by choice or lack of great sites for golf, modern golf course architects are likely to struggle in trying to follow Alister MacKenzie’s 7th principle of golf course design and will probably often fall short of what Alister MacKenzie had in mind when he put his 13 principles of golf design down on paper.
So why leave a part of the 7th principle out? Was it simply a mistake, ignorance or a wish for a certain outcome of the survey? No matter what the answer is, who wouldn’t wish to design like Alister MacKenzie, after all, this was the man who designed great courses like Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point and Augusta National just to mention a few of his best known courses.
In truth, time might have blurred the relevance of Alister MacKenzie’s 13 principles somewhat, but why don’t you go through MacKenzie’s list and see what you think!
The 13 principles were fist published in MacKenzie’s book “Golf Architecture” in 1920:
1. The course, where possible, should be arranged in two loops of nine holes
2. There should be a large proportion of good two-shot holes and at least four one shot holes
3. There should be little walking between the greens and tees, and the course should be arranged so that, in the first instance, there is always a slight walk forwards from the green to the next tee; then the holes are sufficiently elastic to be lengthened in the future if necessary
4. The greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating, but there should be no hill climbing
5. Every hole should be different in character
6. There should a minimum of blindness for the approach shots
7. The course should have beautiful surroundings, and all the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish from nature itself
8. There should be a sufficient number of heroic carries from the tee, but the course should be arranged so that the weaker player with the loss of a stroke shall always have an alternative route open to him
9. There should be infinite variety in the strokes used to play the various holes – viz., interesting brassie shots, iron shots, pitch and run-up shots
10. There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls (excessive rough)
11. The course should be so interesting that even the plus man is constantly stimulated to improve his game in attempting shots which he has hitherto been unable to play
12. The course should be so arranged that the long handicap player, or even the absolute beginner, should be able to enjoy his round in spite of the fact that he is piling up a big score
13. The course should be equally good during winter and summer, the texture of the greens and fairways should be perfect and the approaches should have the same consistency as the greens
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