There is a "line of instinct" on any hole, the late golf architect Alister MacKenzie informs us in a just-published book—an obvious route from tee to green. "If we wish to make a hole interesting," he goes on, "we must break up that line and create the line of charm."
What's true of golf holes can also be true of books. Had it followed the line of instinct, MacKenzie's treatise, The Spirit of St. Andrews (Sleeping Bear Press, $24.95), would have appeared in 1934, shortly after he completed it. Instead, this last literary work by the famed designer of Augusta National, Cypress Point and Australia's Royal Melbourne followed the line of charm for six decades, emerging finally from the bottom drawer of an old desk belonging to a Boulder, Colo., insurance agent.
"I stumbled upon it," says Raymund Haddock, step-grandson of the childless MacKenzie, who died in 1934 at the age of 63. Haddock discovered the carbon typescript in a desk he inherited from his father, who was MacKenzie's stepson and secretary, and who had an office at the MacKenzie-de-signed Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. ( MacKenzie, a Scotsman, lived in retirement at the edge of Pasatiempo's 6th fairway.)
Says Haddock, "I came across a package of pages which I had understood to be notes for a book on camouflage that MacKenzie had been working on when he died." Instead, the package contained seven chapters of the great man declaiming on golf courses and golf—some of it echoing his classic 1920 volume, Golf Architecture, his only other book, but much of it fresh, including a delirious final chapter in which the former British Army surgeon and Boer War veteran rails against "Bolshevism" and prescribes golf as the tonic for world peace.
The "spirit" of MacKenzie's title is a set of 13 design principles he derived from close study of the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland—"the only golf course on real links land that has not been defaced by the hand of man." For MacKenzie, the subtlety and infinite variety of the Old Course's windswept humps and hollows surpassed even his own contrivances. "A first-class architect," he writes, "attempts to give the impression that everything has been done by nature and nothing by himself."
No one who has read Golf Architecture will by surprised by these musings. What delights is the lost manuscript's trove of anecdotes and caustic advocacy. One minute MacKenzie is telling a story of the "three Scottish golfers and the Presbyterian minister" variety; the next, he's enthralling us with a corker about Walter Hagen at the Road Hole or details of his Augusta National collaboration with Bobby Jones (who wrote a brief foreword for the book, also unpublished until now). MacKenzie even confesses that his incomparable 16th at Cypress Point, with its heroic carry over rocks and pounding surf, would never have been built if a woman—club founder Marion Hollins—hadn't teed up and proved she could drive across the chasm. ("Being a Scotsman," he writes in a separate passage, "I am naturally opposed to water in its undiluted state.")
At his best MacKenzie is a writer of style and grace; at his less eloquent, he is a landscape engineer, droning agronomical and construction details for an audience of greenskeepers and contractors. The technical passages have been edited out of this trade edition but are retained in a $250 leatherbound collector's volume due out in April.
Fortunately, there's no editing MacKenzie's bite. "It's very clear when he lost a job and who he lost it to," says publisher Brian A. Lewis, "because he shreds them in the book." One California architect is dismissed as an "approach and putt" designer "who had written a book on golf...which I can hardly believe." According to Lewis, the unnamed wretch is George C. Thomas Jr., co-designer of L.A.'s Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs, both considered classics.
It is these spirited asides that give The Spirit of St. Andrews much of its verve and make it readable for golfers who would imagine that Tooting Bee and Westward Ho are names invented by P.G. Wodehouse, not British clubs whose courses MacKenzie designed. Long in hibernation, this first-ever volume from Sleeping Bear Press is sure to find its way to the shelves of serious golf collectors.