Why Alister MacKenzie’s 13 Golf Course Design Principles Are Timeless


Alister MacKenzie with his wife, Hilda, at No.15 at Cypress Point. Rule 14? Some things need to be complained about.

Julian P. Graham / Loon Hill Studios

Dear readers,

Still the Renaissance man, Rules Guy – when he’s not sipping single malt scotch by a roaring fire and roaming around The rules of golf – enjoys reading about the architecture of the courtyards, especially the work of Alister MacKenzie, one of the true heroes of Rules Guy.

In honor of the latest list of the top 100 GOLF courses in the world (in truth, we consider good Dr. MacKenzie’s at Crystal Downs Michigan to be the best nine holes in the world), here are RG’s thoughts on the famous “13 Principles of Golf Course Design” from the eminent Scotsman. ”, Which appear in both his 1920 classic Golf architecture and its posthumous publication The spirit of St. Andrews. What is a principle, after all, if not a personal rule?

Sincerely, Rules Guy


RULE 1. The course, as far as possible, should be laid out in two loops of nine holes.

The wisdom of this became evident to Rules Guy when he played Couplet GC, with nine loops of two holes – tedious in the extreme. Up, back, up, back …

RULE 2. There should be a high proportion of good two-shot holes, two or three drive-and-pitch holes, and at least four one-shot holes.

Unsaid, but implied, is the wise idea that there should also be a small proportion of bad double-hole holes. We need to complain at the 19th hole, after all.

RULE 3. There should be little step between the green and the tees, and the course should be laid out so that there is always a slight step forward from the green to the next tee at first, then the holes are sufficiently large. elastic bands to be lengthened in the future if necessary.

The Doctor had a bit of Nostradamus around him, already considering the idea that distance progress was inevitable – almost a century before titanium pilots!

RULE 4. The greens and fairways should be sufficiently hilly, but there should be no uphill climb. Leave the climbing to the climbers!

So tell us all! (Side note: Where would an architect or golf writer be worth their saddle shoes without the waving word?)

RULE 5. Each hole must have a different character.

True Story: Rules Guy once found himself having lunch with Michael Imperioli, just before his turn as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos. When asked how he knows when he’s reading a good script, the actor replied, “When every character sounds different.” MacKenzie-esque!

Mackenzie course abandoned

The Lost MacKenzie: how this abandoned design by Alister MacKenzie rises from the ashes


Josh Sens

RULE 6. There should be a minimum of blindness for approach shots.

Without questioning Dr. MacKenzie, the world of golf is a better place to hear Curtis Strange, two-time US Open winner turned broadcaster, “It’s a blonde approach…”.

RULE 7. The course must have a beautiful setting and all the man-made elements must look so natural that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself.

Do you know those cell phone towers disguised as fake leaves to look like trees? MacKenzie the camouflage expert in action. (I don’t know them? Exactly!)

RULE 8. There should be a sufficient number of heroic ranges from the tee, but the course should be laid out so that the weaker player, with the loss of a stroke or part of a stroke, still has a alternative route available to him.

Members of the Relentless Pine Valley Bully will no doubt have a stroke, or at least part of a stroke, from reading the above. The rest of us just whisper, “Amen.”

RULE 9. There should be endless variety in the strokes required to play the different holes i.e. interesting breaststroke strokes, iron strokes, pitch strokes and swing strokes.

“Infinite” rather requires a lot of lessons from designers … but it’s much sexier than “enough”.

RULE 10. There should be a complete absence of the discomfort and irritation caused by the need to search for stray bullets.

Guy Rules challenges the grammar here, if not the underlying idea. MacKenzie looks like he wants to remove the annoyance and irritation, not the need to look for stray bullets. In the meantime, only the gods of golf know what the poor fellow suffers each April as he looks down on the “second cup” at Augusta National.

RULE 11. The course should be so interesting that even the plus man is constantly challenged to improve his game by attempting shots he has not been able to play so far.

Has there ever been a happier phrase than “the more man”? Oh, how Rules Guy aspires to be a bigger man in his next life…

RULE 12. The course must be laid out in such a way that the player with a long handicap, or even the absolute beginner, can enjoy his game despite the fact that he accumulates a large score.

… When, alas and alack, Rules Guy is a “long handicap” player in this life, having racked up too many big scores. We blame the course arrangements!

RULE 13. The course must be as good in winter as in summer, the texture of the greens and fairways must be perfect and the approaches must have the same consistency as the greens.

We must admire the extraordinary ambition and dynamism of this man. That said, MacKenzie was clearly a course architect, not a course superintendent, and never had a Chicago winter to begin with. Please keep this guy out of the Green Committee, it’s a nightmare!

Browse our library of extraordinary decisions and decisions at golf.com/rules. A question about the rules? Ask the guy for the rules! Send your questions, confusions and comments to [email protected] We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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