The Real Mackenzie

{NOTE: On Wednesdays, I’m going to focus more on course design and architecture to varying degrees of detail. This week, I want to talk a little bit about Pasatiempo, which is hosting the Western Intercollegiate Tournament}

During broadcasts of The Masters, whoever is behind the microphone will invariably point out that Augusta National was designed by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie.

Technically, that is true. Mackenzie, with input from Bobby Jones, laid out the original 18 holes; however, so many course designers have been invited to make modifications to address the combined onslaught of technology and improved skill on the golfer’s part that with few exceptions, any evidence that The Good Doctor had even been on the premises has largely been erased. Ironically, the most obvious remnant of Mackenzie’s presence is the large, irregularly shaped bunker that sits about 50 yards short of the 10th green. I’ve watched the Masters for almost all of my adult life and have never seen anyone play from there.

Despite that, Augusta has tried to maintain the strategic values espoused by both Mackenzie and Jones, both of whom were admirers of The Old Course at St Andrews, which presents the golfer with wide fairways and large, undulating greens, leaving it up to him/her to figure out the best route to attach the flag. Oftentimes this may not immediately apparent, which is why it’s rare for a first time participant in The Masters will fare particularly well.

Dr Mackenzie left his largest mark in Australia’s Sand Belt, creating such masterpieces as Royal Melbourne (which will be on display later this year for The Presidents Cup). His best known work in the United States is Cypress Point, a spectacular track on California’s Monterrey Peninsula that most of us will only see via photograph.

But there’s another Mackenzie masterpiece that has been on full display this week. The Western Intercollegiate is being played at Pasatiempo and broadcasted on the Golf Channel (final round is Wednesday, 4/17 at 4:00 PM Eastern).

At 6,600 yards, Pasatiempo (located in Santa Cruz CA) is the classic response to those who think that lengthening courses is the only response to today’s bomb-and-gouge philosophy. If you were disappointed about the relatively soft conditions that took some of the fire out of putting at Augusta last weekend, you will be more than compensated by the action at Pasatiempo, where the greens are about as easy to negotiate as finding one’s way home after a night on Bourbon Street. Even the flattening effects of the television screen cannot hide the wild contours and false fronts of these complexes.

The back nine of Pasatiempo rivals any nine hole set in the world, thanks in large part to a steep barranca that Mackenzie masterfully engages throughout the side (in its own way, the barranca reminds me of the ancient wall that runs through North Berwick West). Take the 11th hole, for example – it’s a relatively short par 4 that appears to be wide open off the tee until one realizes that because of some well placed cypress trees and the offset of the green, he/she needs to hug the left side of the fairway to get the best angle of approach. Doing so brings the golfer precariously close to the edge of the barranca. It would be an interesting study to watch someone play this hole on a regular basis to see how close to that hazard he/she is willing to challenge.

Pasatiempo is open to the public – by no means is it a cheap round, what with a $275 walking fee, but to play a genuine Alistair Mackenzie gem might be worth ponying up the cash.

If not – try to catch it this afternoon. Much like its distant cousin in Georgia, Pasatiempo will be the star of any tournament it hosts.

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