A Book Outline:
“Pleasurable Excitement: The Golf Courses of Dr Alister MacKenzie”
by Neil Crafter
The great British golf course architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, is widely considered to sit comfortably in the pantheon of the greatest golf architects the world has known. And yet there is no comprehensive record of the courses that he designed and redesigned. This book – in fact two books, as a two-volume set is being proposed – sets to correct this wrong.
There are currently three known published lists of MacKenzie’s courses contained within three books, each of which has some notable errors and omissions. Further, since these lists were published, the advent of digitised historic newspaper archives (such as the British Newspaper Archive) have revealed many more courses that those authors were unable to uncover. The three lists are:
C&W – ‘The Architects of Golf ’ 1991, by Cornish and Whitten
Hawtree - ‘Colt & Co.’ 1993, by Fred Hawtree
DSH – ‘The Life and Work of Dr Alister MacKenzie’ 2001, by Doak, Scott and Haddock
Some of MacKenzie’s courses are included in all three lists, some in only two and some in just one of the lists. Neil Crafter has been undertaking research into Dr MacKenzie’s life and design works for some 20 years and in throughout that time he has amassed a great deal of information on those design works that has enabled him to develop a comprehensive list of his own that updates considerably these three earlier lists. What is more, each course entry is backed up by detailed text that describes MacKenzie’s design activities at each of these courses.
Neil Crafter wishes to publish a book that is a historic examination of each of the new courses that MacKenzie designed, along with the many existing courses that he redesigned through his career. It also examines a number of courses where his designs were never built – for various reasons – and even includes commissions that he submitted for but was unsuccessful.
The book is proposed to be titled “Pleasurable Excitement: The Golf Courses of Dr Alister MacKenzie”, in reference to his oft used phrase “pleasurable excitement.” One example of his use of this phrase comes in his book “The Spirit of St Andrews” where he writes on p55:
“One of the objects in placing hazards is to give the players as much pleasurable excitement as possible.”
It is important to note that this proposed book is not a biography of Dr MacKenzie, as one has previously been successfully published in 2001 by the authors Doak, Scott and Haddock. Second hand copies of this book are scarce, and when they come on the market they command prices in the US$600-1000 range. Neil’s planned book differs in that it is not another biography, rather a comprehensive and detailed examination of MacKenzie’s golf courses from a historical perspective. Neither is it a coffee table book with glossy photographs of the courses as they are today, rather it is a historical examination of the courses and MacKenzie’s involvement in them, illustrated with period maps, plans, sketches and photographs, many of which will come from the author’s extensive personal collection.
The number of entries is considerable, and builds significantly on the previously known extent of MacKenzie’s design work, so much so that it is proposed to publish the book in two volumes. The first volume is proposed to cover the courses he designed in Great Britain and Ireland, while the second book will examine his courses in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. The GB&I List contains some 173 courses, while the Rest of the World list contains an additional 82 courses, giving an overall total of 255 courses that MacKenzie was involved with during his career. By way of comparison, the most recent listing of courses in the Doak Scott and Haddock biography of Dr Mackenzie (2001), contains only 115 courses. Neil’s research has more than doubled the known MacKenzie courses.
Each book will also include a section on the courses that have been incorrectly attributed to Dr MacKenzie over the years.
An example entry for one of the courses in the book is included below for your reference. Some entries have less text, others more, depending upon the importance of the course and the available information. At the time of writing this Book Outline, Neil has completed around 95% of the individual course entries and has amassed many of the necessary illustrations for the book, although there is still a good amount of work that needs to be undertaken in regards to illustrations.
Neil has a copy of the recent ‘Classics of Golf’ book “The Life and Times of Donald Ross” by Chris Buie, and sees his MacKenzie book fitting neatly into this historical genre of golf architecture books.
We trust you find this outline of interest and look forward to your feedback.
About the Author
> Born 19th July 1957
> Educated at St. Peter’s College, Adelaide, and the University of Adelaide, B.Arch (1979)
> Worked as an architect 1980-1991
> Worked as a golf course architect 1991- present
> Represented Australia as an amateur golfer four times in 1984-85, including a member of the
World Amateur Trophy (Eisenhower Cup) team 1984
> 4 times South Australian Amateur Golf Champion
> Editor of ‘Golf Architecture’ magazine, the annual publication of the Society of Australian Golf
Course Architects (SAGCA) from Issue 1 (1997) to Issue 10 (2006)
> Author of a number of golf and golf course design articles in books and magazines
> Currently researching books on Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Bernard Darwin
> Co-author of a new book (2017) on Australian golf course architect Alex Russell – Dr
MacKenzie’s Australian partner - ”Discovering Alex Russell: The Man and His Legacy”.
> Neil has been researching the life and works of Dr Alister MacKenzie for some 20 years.
Published – Book: ”Discovering Alex Russell: The Man and His Legacy” (2017) Ryan Publishing, with co-author Dr John S. Green
Publications – Articles in Journals and Books:
Over 25 published articles in magazines and compilation books including ‘Golf Architecture’, ‘Golf Course Architecture’ and ‘Australian Golf Digest’ magazines.
Adirondack Club of Lake Placid
Lake Placid, New York, United States of America
DSH list “Adirondacks Club” under courses that NLE, from ca1930. Hawtree and C&W list it as a MacKenzie course that NLE, with C&W only listing it in the course index but not under the MacKenzie listing. Not listed in MacKenzie & Egan’s 1929 Brochure
New 36-holes, construction of first 18 commenced but course not completed, involved Wendell Miller as engineer/constructor
An announcement was made in New York City on 20 June 1930 that the newly established Adirondack Club of Lake Placid had contracted to purchase the historic Stevens House hotel property at Lake Placid. This included their landmark hotel on top of Signal Hill, an existing 9-hole golf course, a large section of the Brewster Peninsula and other lands, totalling around 500 acres (202 ha). The proposal involved expenditure of $3,000,000 to establish a further 300 room clubhouse, a casino boathouse and an 18-hole golf course set within 125 acres (50 ha) of the Brewster peninsula with its own separate golf clubhouse. At this time, the new club had asked American golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast for his opinion on the site and he had given a favourable report. It was expected that the club and its new building would be open in time for the Third Olympic Winter Games that were to be held in Lake Placid in 1932. The new club’s Board of Governors read like a Who’s Who of American business and industry.
In August 1930, it was announced that work on the club’s new 18-hole golf course would begin in October with Tillinghast as the architect. However, prior to commencement, it appears that the men in charge of the new club had a change of heart with regards to their choice of architect, and Dr Alister Mackenzie was invited to visit Lake Placid, undertaking his inspection of the site in either late September or early October. Extracts from his inspection report were reported in the ‘Lake Placid News’ on 24 October 1930:
“I have seen and advised upon sites for golf courses all over Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and Africa, but I have never inspected any site which more favourably impressed me inland. The undulating character of the ground with the absence of hill climbing has many of the characteristics of the best sand dune courses by the sea. In addition to this, there is a most attractive variety of trees which are lacking at most seaside courses.
A first class course on land of this type must of necessity increase the prosperity of the Lake Placid district and will also increase the value of the surrounding land. As the soil is perfect for growing the best golfing turf, I am convinced that you will obtain a course which will compare favourably, not
only as a test of golf, but in popularity, with any course in the east of the United States.”
What caused this change of heart is not known, but Mr George T. Sharp of the club's executive committee wrote to Mr Wynant D. Vanderpool of the United States Golf Association’s Green Section after MacKenzie’s inspection, asking their opinion of him and his work. Both Dr John Monteith of the USGA and Vanderpool corresponded and Vanderpool eventually replied to Sharp by saying that the USGA Green Section was in no position “to pass judgement on the relative merits of various golf course architects,” but noted that “we have never heard of anything to Dr Mackenzie’s discredit and understand that he does excellent work.” The letter also raised a point in regards to MacKenzie’s inspection report on the proposed site, noting that the report included a mention of the Jasper Park course in Canada, and pointed out correctly to Sharp that this course had in fact been designed by Canadian architect Stanley Thompson.
By November 1930, it would appear that Dr MacKenzie had been appointed as the architect, as according to the ‘Lake Placid News’ on 14 November, his construction engineers Wendell P. Miller & Associates were on-site in Lake Placid, with Harry Lawson in charge of a survey team to make a:
“topographical map in preparation for what Dr Alister Mackenzie in his report on the proposed course, has declared will be the outstanding course in the world,” somewhat of an exaggeration on what MacKenzie actually suggested. “Before the course is laid out the engineers engaged by the board of governors of the Adirondack Club will map out the land in order that every point of beauty may be worked into the architectural design. In addition, draining and irrigating will be studied and physical and chemical analysis of soil made to discover the best treatment for the course.”
In late November, Lawson had nearly completed his survey and was impressed by the qualities of the site, and was reported as saying that:
“here we have 100 per cent of the fundamentals and elements of the perfect golf course, namely an abundance of virgin woods, a beautiful lake on three sides for a background, ideally located hills, knolls, valleys for natural drainage and a very rich soil with which to develop a wonderful turf. With these elements of golf design and architect with the world-reputation and ability of Dr MacKenzie can design what will be the foremost championship course in America, the only type of course which should be considered in a resort with the national recognition that Lake Placid enjoys.”
The same report confirmed that:
“Dr MacKenzie of London, Chicago and Los Angeles, whose courses dot the whole world, has been selected as the golf architect. The firm of Wendell P. Miller and Associates of Columbus, Ohio, Chicago and Los Angeles was selected as engineers because of its national and international work in this line in
England, Canada, South America, United States and Australia.”
By March 1931 it was reported that “a tentative layout of the golf course has been completed by Dr MacKenzie who is expected in New York this month for consultation with the board of Governors and with the engineers,” and that MacKenzie and the clubhouse architect, Clifford C. Wendehack, would visit the site with the engineers to plan the location of the clubhouse.
Construction had not fully commenced by May 1931 when it was announced that the golf course would be expanded to 36 holes, as it was realized “that eventually the two courses will be needed and the board of directors are planning well in the future so that no point of beauty or natural golf hazard may be sacrificed by later changes.” The site of the planned 18th green was viewed one morning that month by an invited group of newspaper men and local golfers and after luncheon it was viewed again, only to find that:
“during their absence the ground had been stripped to the foundation of the green, stakes were down and the green awaited grading and the top soil .....Several other tractors were pulling, scraping and digging and the work that ordinarily takes weeks was accomplished in a few hours due to Dr McKenzie’s contention that with the use of special machinery a golf course can be constructed in half the time and with less expenditure of money.”
This type of demonstration was one that MacKenzie and Miller had just given the previous month at their Bayside Links in Queens, New York.
An explosives expert from the Dupont company inspected the Brewster Peninsula site in June 1931 with a view to estimating the cost of clearing the golf course site of trees and rocks. A report on 12 June noted that Dr Mackenzie was currently in Europe and would arrive back in New York on 18 June and would visit Lake Placid two days later. In the end though, MacKenzie’s arrival was delayed until the following month and he was not able to visit Lake Placid until around July 11 or 12, just a day or two before he travelled south from New York for his first visit to Augusta, Georgia. In July, work began on clearing a road into the Brewster Peninsula and the clubhouse:
“Dr MacKenzie, who designed the course, is arriving from Scotland on Friday, and will check the road plan so that it will not cross any fairway and will not parallel the course on such a manner as to prove dangerous to motorists who otherwise might be injured by a hooked or a sliced ball.”
A log-style clubhouse was to be constructed utilizing logs sourced from the road and golf course clearing operations.
It was reported the next week that MacKenzie would have to make some alterations to the first of the two courses in order to avoid the new road, and he “will return to Lake Placid in a few days to start a clearing gang on the fairways.” In late August 1931 it was reported that he would revisit the site:
“as soon as foliage thins enough to permit a final checkup on the golf course layout. Those in charge realize that it would be extremely unwise to proceed far in clearing the fairways until this had been done as trees cannot be replaced for many years once they are cut.” The same report noted that “Mr Sharp, chairman of the organization committee, has reveived a letter from Robert P. Jones, father of the famous “Bobbie”, stating that they considered Dr Mackenzie one of the greatest golf architects in the world and that they had contracted with him to build a course for them at Augusta, Ga.”
This was the last mention of MacKenzie and the Adirondack Club of Lake Placid in the local press and it appears that the project fell into financial difficulties – as many clubs and developments did around this time – and the construction of MacKenzie’s course at Lake Placid never eventuated beyond some clearing and initial construction of the 18th green. The Stevens House hotel was auctioned off in 1933 and taken over by Essex County a decade later for unpaid taxes. In 1947 the building, by this time a local eyesore, was demolished. Today, the Brewster Peninsula remains mostly forested with some residential properties dotted along the lake shore, with a series of nature trails running through the peninsula.