Dr. Alister MacKenzie and me

My childhood dentist - the grandson of the legendary architect of the same name - might have saved my life.
Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed many famous courses, including Augusta National, home of The Masters.

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.

Alister MacKenzie designs I've played
Santa Cruz, California
Semi-Private
4.7625294118
191
Fairfax, California
Private
5.0
3
South San Francisco, California
Private
4.5357142857
5
Pacifica, California
Public/Municipal
3.3410882353
302
Sacramento, California
Public
3.8821857143
250
Frankfort, Michigan
Private
5.0
5
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Private
4.5416666667
10
Montevideo, Montevideo
4.7142857143
3
Lake Placid, New York
Resort
3.1666666667
4
Lahinch, County Clare
Public
5.0
12
Blairgowrie, Perthshire
Private
4.0
1
Little Island, County Cork
Private
4.5
2
Daly City, California
Private
4.6667
3

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.

July 10, 2018
Alister MacKenzie is considered one of golf's finest architects. His course designs span four continents and include Augusta National and Cypress Point. Read more about the influential figure.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
3 Comments
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Commented on

Hey Jason, I belong to Grennhills CC in Millbrae CA. which is on the San Francisco peninsula. It is an Alister Mackenzie course. I used to play on a lot of the public courses on the peninsula and surrounding Bay Area, have played Sharp Park and Pasatiempo but since joining GHCC I pretty much just play there except when we go on a vacation. What I love about the Dr's design is that each hole really never plays the same way twice, which keeps me engaged every time I get to T it up. Jeff

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Commented on

Hi Jeff, Congrats on joining Greenhills. I've never played it. Let me know if there's ever a spot in your foursome! Cheers.

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I would not consider Pasatiempo a public course, even when I first played it in the 1970’s it was a semi private course. I had decided to be a golf course architect before I first played Pasatiempo. But playing Pasatiempo opened my eyes and imagination as to what is possible in designing a golf course.

The good doctor was a great course designer and his worldwide travel to design great golf courses was a great gift we received from the great doctor.

Jim Springer

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Dr. Alister MacKenzie and me