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A Game of Chance - by Peter Thomson

This article courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more

A GAME OF CHANCE

We are all imitators. We are each a huge database of observation and information accumulated and filed over our lifetime. It is from this collection and re-collection that we draw in our creative mood. What we have seen that stimulates us, looms large in our minds.

So it is with golf course planners. We have our own passions and idols as any other artists. We follow examples which strike us as worthy. And we each feel an urge to impose our will. Thus it is that courses are born, holes extended, upgraded, faults perceived corrected, and generally, following our craft.

If all goes well, with support, something is achieved. If support fails, we fail. All our dreams are lost.

We have then an experience that either makes or breaks us. Do we exist to entertain the golf world? Or do we trade to educate and persuade? I like to think the latter.

Even so, the art of persuasion is a gift, used to advantage by salespeople and politicians. True artists, it is said, are oblivious of fashions and trends. Lucky them! Creativity comes from within. Somewhere deep in the database. True creators have generally speaking a hard life. Most have only been recognised after passing on. Who for example, remembers who created Huntingdale, or Barwon Heads? Or for that matter, Commonwealth.

Mackenzie who looms so large in our landscape knew well how to persuade. He had style and front, and a Scottish brogue. He wrote a neat little book which carried his aphorisms. And when he came to selling his wares, he obviously succeeded where others failed.

During the period of the late 1920’s, Mackenzie was associated with Harry Colt and Charles Allison, the great golf architects of the day. When the leaders of the then fledgling Melbourne Golf Club went on their pilgrimage to the United Kingdom, to find amongst other duties an architect for the proposed new course at Black Rock, they must surely have approached Colt and maybe Allison as well.

Mackenzie was not an independent at the time. Colt was very busy, designing in the end 400 odd courses around the United Kingdom and the Continent. The prospect of a long sea voyage to Australia, would not have loomed a mouthwatering proposition, even for a large fee. Allison was likewise occupied with Colt. The two were a tandem.

Mackenzie though, had a passion for travel and he must have leaped at the chance - no doubt with Colt’s support if not urging. Opening up a new window in the Pacific must have seemed a must.

So it was that Mackenzie came to Australia and not Colt or Allison. The effect of this is that Mackenzie’s particular passions became the style of first, Melbourne Golf Club (Royal), and then several others. The yawning bunkers and rolling greens of Melbourne G.C. so became our example of architecture at its best.

It is fascinating to contemplate what Royal Melbourne would look like today, had Colt come this way, because a study of Colt’s efforts and masterpieces, like Sunningdale, show no examples of large gaping bunkers nor huge rolling greens. Colt was the grand designer of Lytham St Annes, which comprises 188 bunkers all of which would be classified as "small, pot type", the majority of which were Colt’s creations, since then carefully kept intact and emulated in the later additions.

Royal Melbourne would not of course been appropriate for such treatment as dished out to Lytham. Pot bunkers would not have looked right. Even allowing for that, a Colt Royal Melbourne would have looked entirely different to the Mackenzie RM. So it goes. Leaving one’s footprint on the world is a special privilege. It is in our case a trust. Apart and beneath the environmental essentials, our courses should be honest efforts at emulation of that which we deem worthy. "Classical" is a much overused word, but it carries certain inference that is respectable. All courses though have something of classical input, even if it is only a small percentage. With good courses the percentage is higher.

by Peter Thomson

courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more