Most children have bad memories of childhood visits to the dentist.
Not me. I look back at them fondly. Sure, I hated the cavity fillings (I had too many!) and the poking and prodding. But my dentist was special. Sadly, I never even realized until it was too late.
My dentist was Dr. Alister M. MacKenzie, the grandson of THE famous architect who designed Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne and Augusta National, site of The Masters. I recall the photo of Augusta hanging in his office in Port Huron, Michigan, the small town where I grew up. I wasn't a golfer back then, so it never resonated with me until years later. Unfortunately, by the time I had my OMG moment that the two were related, he had passed away in 2009 at the age of 77 (obit here).
I can't help but wonder if, somehow, the spirit of his grandfather reached out to me during one of those visits, planting a seed that would grow into a love of the game years later. Perhaps I owe my career writing about golf to those appointments sitting in the chair. Maybe Dr. MacKenzie put some sort of golf mojo in the fluoride.
I have a unique bond with both men: The dentist might have saved my life; The architect my career.
Two Dr. Alister MacKenzies
Dr. MacKenzie, the architect, lived an amazing life. Born in England in 1870, he worked as a surgeon during the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. His architectural career took him to multiple continents - no small feat during that time - and produced some of the world's most epic courses. He passed away in 1934 after years living on the sixth hole of Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, Calif., his finest public design.
I've been lucky enough to play 14 different MacKenzies (see the list below) in three countries on three continents. They all have one thing in common - an uncanny ability to make you want to play them over and over again. The curvaceous bunkers, the perplexing green surrounds, the classic look. It's all mesmerizing.
Dr. MacKenzie, the dentist, lived a life equally as charmed without the glamour. Like his grandfather, he served in the military, spending two years in Korea with the U.S. Army. Also like his grandpa, he loved golf. "Mac" was a past president of the Port Huron Golf Club. By all accounts, he was a beloved member of the community, participating in various local charities including the March of Dimes and the Michigan Special Olympics Water Warriors.
You wouldn't think having a tooth pulled would be a life-threatening event, but my mom, a nurse by trade, swears that was the case. What I thought was a simple toothache quickly spiraled out of control and became a tooth abscess that made it impossible to open my mouth. Dr. MacKenzie sent me to the oral surgeon who admitted me to the hospital. An emergency tracheotomy tray was at my bedside in case things got worse before surgery to remove the tooth. Dr. MacKenzie stopped by the hospital after I felt better, a personal touch that went beyond the job. He was that kind of guy. I still have the hole in the back of my jaw as a reminder of the harrowing experience.
In a roundabout way, the other Dr. MacKenzie had a profound influence on my life as well. During the last recession, I was a laid-off newspaper sports reporter, wondering if my writing career was dead. I eventually turned my focus to golf and architecture like MacKenzie's work, reviewing courses and destinations around the world as a travel writer. That path led to my current role here at Golf Channel/Golf Advisor.
When I tune into The Masters this week, I won't be thinking about Nicklaus, Palmer, Tiger or all the other great heroes wearing the green jackets. I'll be thinking about the MacKenzie family. I wish I got to know the two better, personally and professionally. Maybe someday we can tee it up at the Augusta in the sky.
Thanks Doc, to the both of you.
What MacKenzie courses have you enjoyed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.