History of the Alister MacKenzie Society

The Alister MacKenzie Society (aka The MacKenzie Society) began informally in 1987 when friends from the Meadow Club, Pasatiempo, Green Hills and the Valley Club gathered at the Meadow Club in Fairfax, California to celebrate and enjoy the genius of Alister MacKenzie reflected in their clubs’ courses. The event was so enjoyed by all, that a repeat was scheduled the next year at Green Hills, attended by enthusiasts from the same four clubs.

There followed a three-year hiatus, until 1992, when the same four clubs, now joined by representatives from Crystal Downs and Cypress Point, convened at Pasatiempo. The following year, an invitation was extended to Lahinch in Ireland for an event held at the Valley Club.

As stories were exchanged about Dr. MacKenzie’s design work on their courses, and as some of the architect’s original hole sketches surfaced, interest was sparked quickly in building an archive of historical information about MacKenzie. Golf historians among the group also envisioned the importance of preserving MacKenzie’s courses and protecting them from the redesign efforts of well-intentioned but misguided club boards and green committees.

Being led by the core of organized history enthusiasts, the informal society gathered at Crystal Downs in 1994, for a pivotal meeting that included not only the previously mentioned clubs, but now also Royal Melbourne in Australia. At that meeting, Robert Laubach, a Crystal Downs member and long-serving USGA official, urged the creation of a more formal organization with clearly stated goals. The result was that the group formed by the eight clubs officially incorporated in 1995 as a Michigan non-profit corporation called “The Alister MacKenzie Society.” The newly formed organization’s articles of incorporation stated the clear purpose of the Society as follows:

To locate, identify, and preserve information and documents relating to Alister MacKenzie (1870 – 1934) and his work, and to serve as a resource for historical scholars and others who have a legitimate interest in Dr. MacKenzie, in the products of his work, and in attempting to maintain the integrity of design and intent of the original MacKenzie golf courses.

The Society received prudent advice not only from Robert Laubach, but also golf design experts such as the well-known golf writer Ron Whitten, who advised Society members of the pitfalls of other societies, previously formed, to honor great golf architects, that had been too loosely structured, expanded too quickly, and had become merely an “excuse” for golfers to play each other’s courses without any more visionary objectives. Following on that advice, great care was given to the drafting of detailed bylaws that would guide the MacKenzie Society’s future.

In addition, the Society applied to the Internal Revenue Service and received tax exemption as a charitable organization, based on its historical investigation and preservation objectives.

The Spirit of St. AndrewsSince its thoughtful formation, the Society has remained true to its purpose, and through the diligence of its members has gathered hundreds of items of historical significance involving Alister MacKenzie, including photographs, drawings, newspaper and magazine articles, and even a “lost manuscript” in MacKenzie’s own pen that was published in 1995 as The Spirit of St. Andrews. MacKenzie’s great step-grandson, Ray Haddock, had possessed the manuscript for years before being alerted to its significance by several Society members. The book was a publication success, and from its sales proceeds, Mr. Haddock made a generous contribution to the Society to fund what has become known as the annual “Lido Prize,” a hole design competition for aspiring golf course architects. The name “Lido” commemorates the name of the Charles Blair MacDonald course on Long Island for which Dr. MacKenzie in 1914 had designed a prize-winning finishing hole for Travel and Leisure magazine. The annual prize, administered by the Society, is now a flourishing design competition with up to 100 entries each year. Well respected judges, including over the years Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Arnold Palmer, to name a few, have provided a unique stature to the competition and led to coverage in leading golf publications.

In 2005, Alister MacKenzie was inducted posthumously into the Golf World Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida for his lifetime achievements. Invited guests for the two-day ceremony included Ray Haddock and MacKenzie Society representatives Gary Nelson from the Meadow Club, Barry Staley from Pasatiempo, Dave Rosenberger from Crystal Downs, Nick Leefe from Alwoodley and Ken Mould from St. Charles. Ben Crenshaw gave the official tribute speech recounting MacKenzie’s career. The ceremony was carried live on the Golf Channel.

More recently, MacKenzie Society representatives and a former Lido prize winner, Bo Links, have been active in efforts to preserve MacKenzie designed Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, California, which the City of San Francisco had proposed be closed and turned into a special wildlife preserve.

Today, the Alister MacKenzie Society has fifteen member clubs, each one joining in the year indicated below:

1987 – Meadow Club*
1987 – Green Hills*
1987 – Pasatiempo*
1987 – Valley Club*
1992 – Crystal Downs*
1992 – Cypress Point Club*
1993 – Lahinch*
1995 – Royal Melbourne*
1995 – Cork
1997 – St. Charles
1998 – Alwoodley
1998 – Moortown
1998 – Titirangi
2002 – Claremont
2007 – Jockey Club

Membership is restricted to golf clubs that can clearly document their courses’ MacKenzie design heritage. New members must be sponsored by a Founding Member club and must be approved by the MacKenzie Society’s Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors consists of individuals nominated by the governing bodies of each of the Founding Member clubs. These Founding Member clubs are indicated by an asterisk in the list above and consist of the original U.S. member clubs involved in incorporation of the Society and the two international representative members, Lahinch and Royal Melbourne, who also were present at the official founding in 1994. Nominees from these member clubs are then elected as directors by the existing Board of Directors of the Society. Directors generally each serve a five- year term but may be re-elected. Several directors have served more than ten years and have brought significant continuity and stability to the organization.

Members other than Founding Members each may designate a Team Director, but Team Directors have no voting rights.

A nominating committee consisting of past presidents of the Society nominates a slate of officers, each of whom serves for a period of two years, with the exception of the secretary, treasurer and executive director, who are appointed by the Board and generally serve longer terms for purposes of continuity. Each member club, in accordance with its internal procedures, also designates an historian to attend the Society’s annual meetings.

A parallel but independent MacKenzie Society has developed in Europe, and its designated representative reports annually to the Board of the U.S. Society on activities of the European participants.

In addition to members, the Society includes Affiliates and Honorary Affiliates to accommodate other courses, such as Haggin Oaks in Sacramento, California and Redlands Country Club in Redlands, California, as well as organizations and individuals, each with a significant interest in the work of Dr. MacKenzie but otherwise not meeting the complete criteria of a MacKenzie designed course. Affiliates and Honorary Affiliates must be approved by the Board of Directors.

The Society holds an annual “gathering” at one of the member clubs, which event includes, as its centerpiece, the historical meeting, as well as directors’ meeting, team directors’ meeting, an informal two-day golf event, and social functions. Emphasis is always on history, preservation and the perpetuation of Alister MacKenzie’s design principles that make golf such an enjoyable pastime for golfers of all skill levels.

The Society is extremely proud of its record and the historical resources it has accumulated that have inspired and guided accurate restoration work at almost every member course, as well as at other MacKenzie courses around the globe.

June 19, 2010
David M. Rosenberger, President