Wellness Wednesday: April Book Review

The Good Doctor Returns

Alister MacKenzie Comes Back to Golf

by Geoff Shackelford

A book review by Deb Long

In Geoff Shackelford’s novel, The Good Doctor Returns, Alister MacKenzie comes back to golf and to Southern California. Seems the “good Doctor”, best known for his design of Augusta National and Cypress Point, really did not die in 1934 but has been traveling and keeping a low profile until at the ripe old age of 128, when he makes contact with the novel’s protagonist, a young, disillusioned golf architect who’s creative juices are drained by his employer, a renown international design firm which over time has learned to cut corners and to rely on previous designs to maximize profit. The book is a short but fascinating read which takes us to The Valley Club in Montecito, Augusta National and to Camp Pendleton where MacKenzie and his young associate, John Grant team to design a course reflective of MacKenzie’s seemingly lost philosophy of golf course design – that the hallmark of a well designed course is one that gives the greatest pleasure to greatest number of golfers, not just to the professional from the championship tees.

Other McKenzieian design elements are interestingly incorporated throughout the book’s dialog. As we read, we nod in agreement when McKenzie tells an audience of golf course superintendents that bunkers, as well as all hazards, should be created to promote thoughtful play and to influence the golfer’s line of play to the hole and not placed merely to punish the golfer or for sheer aesthetical reasons; that contrary to recent professional tournament and Open course set-ups, narrow fairways and long rough only lengthens the time for play to be completed and that it squelches all freedom of play and creative shot making. Other lost design details promoted by McKenzie and recounted in Shackelford’s novel include the concepts that a uniformly green course detracts from its character which should include divots, brown grass and bad lies because, as McKenzie writes in a letter to a colleague, that if we never have a bad lie, we will not be inclined to appreciate a good one and that truly, the ability to play from a bad lie distinguishes the good player from a poor one; that a pitch shot to a multi-tiered green does not require as much skill as the run-up shot to a back flag on a subtly contoured but flat green from the fairway.

If you believe that modern golf course design is too contrived, that golf carts should only be available for the disabled and the infirm player, (except for courses that separate each hole by one mile intervals), that golf courses should follow the land’s natural contours and incorporate native vegetation, that artificial waterfalls should be banned and “that the primary reason for the existence of golf and other games is that they promote the health, pleasure and even the prosperity of the community”, you will love this fictional account of Alister Mackenzie’s return to Southern California to design of one last fabled course. If only it were not a fictional account and the Pendleton Beach Golf Links was open for public play.

Geoff Shackelford, The Good Doctor Returns: Alister MacKenzie Comes Back to Golf, Sleeping Bear Press, 1998.

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