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All Eyes On MacKenzie's Augusta National

Over 100 million viewers will watch the last round of The Masters, played as it has been since 1934 over the iconic Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed Augusta National. 

Augusta is the Yorkshire born surgeon turned architect’s best-known work, and on the bucket list of courses to play for every golfer in the world. But unless you are lucky enough to be chosen as a volunteer at the event or win the media lottery, the chances are you will never walk in the cathedral of pines with club and ball in hand.

Or you could be invited to become a member and join the 300 men and women who also have the right to wear the green jacket, but don’t hold your breath as Bill Gates can testify. The Microsoft founder had to wait over 10 years before getting the call.

So how lucky are we to have no less than 50 courses MacKenzie designed from scratch or substantially redesigned right on our doorstep here in Yorkshire. The short 12th at Augusta is the most photographed golf hole in the world, but we have equally memorable holes right here in the Broad Acres.

The 18 holes at Augusta National Golf Club reflect the “less can be more” design philosophies of MacKenzie and club co-Founder Bobby Jones. 

“The expert who tries for subpar scores,” MacKenzie wrote about Augusta National, “will find himself confronted with sporting problems that will require the maximum in strategy as well as skill.”

Jones elaborated on this philosophy in 1933. “We want to make bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies — except on par 5s — dearly bought.”

One might think something that has stood the test of time as well as Augusta National would have been years in the making.

The course, though, was built in only 76 working day and was completed in May 1932. By that August, Jones was able to play an informal round. The first Masters (then called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament) was held in March 1934 by which time MacKenzie had sadly passed away, and with half of his $10, 000 fee still owing.

Jones had originally planned to use Donald Ross to create a club in his home state of Georgia, but a visit MacKenzie’s Cypress Point Club on California’s Monterey Peninsula during which he also played MacKenzie’s Pasatiempo Golf Club soon changed his mind. 

Their goal was to build “the ideal inland course,” and they made the perfect couple. “I suppose no two people ever agreed better on a golf course,” Jones told golf writer O.B. Keeler in January 1932. “Dr. MacKenzie and I tried each other out thoroughly. Our ideas seem to be synonymous.”

As MacKenzie noted in The American Golfer as construction got underway, Jones “has rendered me assistance of incalculable value. If, as I firmly believe, the course can become the world’s wonder inland course, it will be due in large part to the original ideas contributed by Bob.”

The course would measure 6,700 yards from the championship tees, with MacKenzie expertly integrating the slopes and natural features of the former peach plantation. Jones called the land “a golf setting that I consider unsurpassed for the idea we have in mind.” 

Rae’s Creek fronting the 12th green would become one of the most notorious water hazards in golf and the severe contours of the greens placed tremendous emphasis on pace and borrow. 

With only 23 bunkers on the original layout, water became an important feature with the tributary of Rae’s Creek guarding the green at the par-5 13th and the pond that challenges golfers at the par-5 15th.“One of the objects in placing hazards is to give the players as much pleasurable excitement as possible,” MacKenzie wrote. 

Decades later, when patron roars fill the air during an exciting Sunday afternoon, one hopes they are both looking down on their masterpiece which has proven to be a timeless and unforgettable epitaph.