Thanks to a recent story I posted on the refurbishment of Pasatiempo, the brilliant Alister Mackenzie-designed course in Santa Cruz, Calif., I received a lovely note from Ian Cook, a member in good standing at Hazel Grove Golf Club in Cheshire, England. While not as famous as Augusta National or Cypress Point, Hazel Grove was designed by Mackenzie, one of the game’s greatest design practitioners.
In tribute to Hazel Grove’s centenary, slated to begin in October 2012, the club wished to commemorate the life and work of the good Scottish doctor, a Renaissance man and camouflage expert who built strategic, aesthetically–pleasing courses. “All the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself,” he wrote in Golf Architecture, his seminal book on the subject. And this: “There should be infinite variety in the strokes required to play the various holes.” His design tenets were simple. He believed every ideal course should have two loops of nine holes; that every hole should have a different character; and that there should be little walking between greens and tees. He disliked long grass beside the fairways. He knew that searching for lost balls in the rough was annoying, irritating and slowed down play.
While I am partial to the work of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, there is no doubt that Mackenzie produced some of the finest courses ever built. Among my favorites are Titirangi in New Zealand, where several deep ravines were utilized to great strategic advantage; Crystal Downs, a rippling layout in northern Michigan co-designed with Perry Maxwell; and Lahinch in Ireland, where Mackenzie transformed a previous design by Old Tom Morris into a links masterpiece.
Back to Hazel Grove, a Manchester-area course described by the AA Golf Course Guide as a “testing parkland course with tricky greens and water hazards coming into play on several holes.” To honor the course designer, wall plaques, foundation stones and other commemorative ideas were discussed. In the end, the members of Hazel Grove agreed that a life-size statue of Mackenzie, carved from wood, would be best. According to Cook, “We (wanted) to try and heighten the awareness of the name of Dr. Alister Mackenzie across the world, as his courses are special and he was a true genius when it came to golf course architecture.”
Tim Burgess, a local champion woodcarver, was hired to perform his magic on a solid piece of oak trunk set in concrete behind the club’s 18th green. Work began in mid-September, with “Tim the Carver” brandishing nearly 40 different chainsaws. With assistance from club members who kept the tea flowing and the wood chippings to a minimum, Tim worked for up to eight hours per day for three straight days. The statue stands in front of the clubhouse, gazing down a fairway Mackenzie created 100 years ago. Players who pop up to the 19th hole balcony are treated to a panoramic vista of the statue and the golf course.
Somewhere, the good doctor had to be smiling during the Presidents Cup matches contested at Royal Melbourne in Australia, a course he co-designed with Alex Russell in 1931. Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up a mile from the club and who was one of the few International players to distinguish himself during the competition, commented that while the U.S. team emerged victorious, “the course was the real winner.” This was especially true when the brisk north wind turned the greens into skating rinks.
With or without a statue to commemorate the architect who authored its wide fairways, upswept bunkers and slick, undulating greens, Royal Melbourne proved itself a test for the best. Is it better than Augusta National as a tournament venue? To hear Tiger, Phil and the others tell it, yes, it is.