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The lives of legends intersect

How MacKenzie, Jones met remains a mystery
February 8, 2012 - 3:14 pm
Patrons gather around the green at Nos. 9 and 18 at Augusta National Golf Club in 1934, the year of the inaugural tournament.  Special
Special
Patrons gather around the green at Nos. 9 and 18 at Augusta National Golf Club in 1934, the year of the inaugural tournament.
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By John Boyette |

The clues are scarce: a meeting at St. Andrews, a signed copy of a book and a monumental upset in California.

The mystery of how Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie first met -- and how Jones arrived at picking MacKenzie to design Augusta National Golf Club -- has never been fully explained.

 

The golfer and architect created their masterpiece in the early 1930s, and it is the center of attention each spring as the home of the Masters Tournament.
 
The puzzle is more than 80 years old and spans two continents. Still, historians and golf experts have not been able to pinpoint when the two kindred souls first talked about the game.
 
"This is one of the great mysteries, but most of the MacKenziephiles believe they met sooner, perhaps as early as (1926) when Jones was in St. Andrews and MacKenzie had completed his rendering of the Old Course," author and blogger Geoff Shackelford said. "But we don't really know for sure."
 
It's only fitting that St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, offers the first clue in the relationship between Jones and MacKenzie.
 
Jones was a child prodigy and still in his teens when he first played the Old Course in 1921. Playing the British Open, Jones encountered trouble in the third round. After playing the first nine in 46 strokes, he took a six on the 10th hole and then picked up his ball and disqualified himself.
 
MacKenzie, after serving in two wars as a civil surgeon for the British Army, found another career in golf architecture. In the 1920s, he was asked by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club to become a consultant for the Old Course, and he spent a year surveying the course and devising a system for flagstick locations for use in championship play.
 
Jones eventually grew to love St. Andrews and returned for the 1926 Walker Cup Matches as one of the best players in the world.
 
That's where MacKenzie saw Jones play for the first time. This time, Jones would not disqualify himself. He and Watts Gunn won their match, then the next day Jones routed Cyril Tolley 12 and 11 in the 36-hole singles.
 
Three weeks later, MacKenzie was in the gallery again as Jones won the British Open for the first time at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
 
MacKenzie embarked upon his famous world tour shortly after seeing Jones play, but he returned the following year as Jones defended his title at St. Andrews with a record score of 285.
 
According to The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie , this is when Jones and the architect first met. It also was reported that MacKenzie walked in his gallery with golf writer O.B. Keeler, who chronicled Jones' career.
 
Collision course
 
After his successes overseas, Jones began to entertain thoughts of life after golf.
 
He yearned to give up the stress of competitive golf, and he hoped someday to build his own private retreat where he could play golf in seclusion with friends. But he still had goals to accomplish, and he wasn't quite ready to quit playing.
 
Jones began forming his own ideas for what the ideal course should be like, and he soon found that MacKenzie shared similar views. The architect had written a book on the subject in 1920, and he sent Jones a signed copy in 1927. It is on display among the memorabilia at East Lake, Jones' home course in Atlanta.
 
One can only imagine Jones turning the pages of MacKenzie's little green book and nodding his head vigorously as he read the 13 principles that the architect held dear.
 
Those beliefs included preserving all natural beauty and emphasizing strategy as well as skill, two ideas with which Jones wholeheartedly agreed.
 
But there was one major belief the two held in common: The ideal golf course should be challenging and interesting no matter a golfer's ability.
 
"Here Jones, already thinking about the golf course he would build some day, could read what amounted to the resume of a brilliant prospective designer of his course, combined with the man's thoughts on construction, deception, Bolshevism, bunkers, and the fine art of manuring (don't put it in too deep, Mackenzie advised)," Curt Sampson wrote in The Masters .
While Jones continued to win major championships, MacKenzie's star also was rising. In 1926, he set out for the United States to seek new opportunities, and he found them in California.
 
Samuel Morse and Marion Hollins were building a club not far from Pebble Beach, and had chosen Seth Raynor to carry out the design. But Raynor died, and MacKenzie was commissioned to design Cypress Point in February 1926.
 
Morse, who was hoping to land the U.S. Amateur for Pebble Beach in 1929, also asked MacKenzie to redesign the eighth and 13th greens on that course. According to a published report, in changing the greens MacKenzie put an emphasis on the placement of the tee shot for those holes.
 
Hollins also commissioned MacKenzie to design a club she was building in Santa Cruz, Calif. She wanted the finest club west of the Mississippi. Construction on Pasatiempo began in September 1928, and the goal was to have a grand opening that coincided with the following year's U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.
 
Although neither man knew it, Jones and MacKenzie were on a collision course that would link them forever.
Smitten by design
 
Jones never played in more than a half-dozen championships in a year, and for 1929 he scheduled just two events. In June, he won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club after tying Al Espinosa. In the 36-hole playoff, Jones shot rounds of 72 and 69 to win by 23 strokes.
 
The other event was the U.S. Amateur, scheduled for early September, at Pebble Beach. Jones was trying to become the first to win three U.S. Amateurs in a row.
 
Jones was making his first appearance in a championship on the West Coast, and interest was high. He traveled to California early enough to play courses all over the state. That included visits to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and a chance to play the new course designed by his acquaintance, MacKenzie.
 
The week before the U.S. Amateur, Jones established a course record at Pebble Beach with 5-under-par 67. His torrid play carried over during a round at Cypress Point.
 
"Pebble Beach's vaunted par probably is in for another trimming, for Bobby is hot," the United Press reported Aug. 30, 1929. "His 71 at Cypress Point Thursday indicated no let-up on the part of the champion."
 
Cypress Point was the first time Jones had played a full MacKenzie design, and he was smitten.
 
"If Jones had been impressed with Pebble Beach, he fell head over heels in love with the newer Cypress Point, as though he had discovered a younger, prettier sister of a celebrated beauty," Charles Price wrote in A Golf Story: Bobby Jones, Augusta National and the Masters Tournament . "He found the design 'almost perfect,' oddly enough, what with his length with a driver, because of its abundance of short par-fours and shortish par-fives."
 
Returning his focus to Pebble Beach, Jones didn't disappoint as he breezed through the 36-hole qualifying rounds and tied for medalist honors with Eugene Homans. For his opening match, he drew unheralded Johnny Goodman, a 19-year-old from Omaha, Neb.
 
Goodman, who had traveled to the tournament via cattle car, was not intimidated by his more accomplished opponent. He promptly won the first three holes, and he didn't wither away when Jones squared the match at the 12th. After halving the 13th, Jones made bogey on the par-5 14th to fall 1 down. Goodman made par on the final holes, Jones could not square the match, and an upset for the ages had occurred.
 
Ironically, one of MacKenzie's Pebble Beach holes tripped up Jones in his loss.
 
"Bobby thought the fatal holes were the thirteenth and fourteenth," Keeler would later write. "He got a half at the thirteenth by lofting a stymie in a manner that sent the huge gallery into the seventh heaven, but he should have had a simple win after his great drive and Johnny's excursion into a trap at the back of the green."
 
Goodman's good fortune didn't last long. He was eliminated in the afternoon round by Lawson Little Jr.
 
Jones stuck around, and he even served as referee for a third-round match at Pebble Beach. He gave up that role, though, after he received more applause at each green than the competitors.
 
Jones also took the opportunity to play Cypress Point again. And he had a chance to talk with MacKenzie. This is where most historians suggest they had their first in-depth discussions about architecture.
 
"The more they talked, the more impressed Jones became with Dr. MacKenzie's theories," Price wrote. "While neither was aware of it, the Augusta National Golf Club -- and, hence, the Masters Tournament -- was being born."
 
Perfect architect
 
Goodman is often credited with helping match Jones and MacKenzie. After all, without his opening-day loss, Jones wouldn't have had the chance to sample MacKenzie's Pasatiempo or Cypress Point courses and fall in love with the designer.
 
It makes for a nice story, but it's not completely accurate.
 
Jones had played Cypress Point before the U.S. Amateur and he did play at Pasatiempo's opening day, but it was held Sept. 8, 1929. That was four days after Jones had lost to Goodman -- and the day after the U.S. Amateur final was held.
 
"That get-together had been organized a year ahead of time," said Robert Beck, Pasatiempo's former historian. "Certainly nine months (ahead of time) to get him to come out here."
 
On opening day, Jones and Hollins teamed up in an exhibition match against Cyril Tolley and Glenna Collett. Jones and Hollins were defeated, but Jones gained admiration for MacKenzie's work. The architect was in the gallery and got a chance to talk with Jones that day.
 
Shackelford, in his history of Cypress Point, wrote that Jones and former U.S. Open champion Francis Ouimet played the new club after his loss to Goodman. "That round, coupled with the Pasatiempo opening round a few days later, must have convinced Jones of MacKenzie's remarkable ability," Shackelford wrote.
 
Shackelford and Jones expert Sid Matthew contend that Jones and MacKenzie first came to know each other during one of Jones' visits to St. Andrews.
 
In his book, Price wrote that Jones spent the week after his loss to Goodman talking to old friends, including MacKenzie, "whom he had met while playing in past British events but with whom he had never had many opportunities to discuss golf in depth, particularly course architecture, an aspect of the game that had always intrigued him."
 
Jones had established before the 1930 season that it would be his final campaign as a player.
 
The Walker Cup was being held overseas that year, and it would be a perfect time for him to try to win the only major title that had eluded him: the British Amateur.
 
And his experiences on the West Coast also led him to the conclusion that MacKenzie would be the perfect architect for his dream course.
 
Jones won all four of golf's major titles that calendar year -- and it became known as the Grand Slam.
 
During Jones' march to the British Amateur title at St. Andrews, MacKenzie again accompanied Keeler in the gallery.
In November 1930, Jones dropped the bombshell to his adoring public. He was retiring from championship golf.
 
A dream offer
 
While Jones was busy winning the Grand Slam and planning his retirement, MacKenzie was settling down in California.
He married for the second time, this time to an old flame, and they set up a home on the sixth fairway at Pasatiempo. He also had been busy during the late 1920s expanding his design interests into the midwestern portion of the United States.
"He made the comment that he liked to live in a place where he could play golf in his pajamas," said Jay Walkinshaw, Pasatiempo's general manager. "Pasatiempo is probably close to that. It's a wonderful place to live."
 
MacKenzie would soon be pressed into service for a new project -- the Augusta National.
 
The mystery of when Jones picked MacKenzie might never be solved, but the clues seem to point toward Cypress Point.
 
Or do they?
 
"Many believe that Jones had no idea who would be the architect of his dream course until he played Cypress Point and Pasatiempo after his first-round loss in the 1929 U.S. Amateur," Shackelford wrote. "However, Jones and MacKenzie had met long before 1929 during one of Jones's stays at St. Andrews. The two surely had many a chat about the nuances of St. Andrews, a course both men considered the ultimate in golf architecture."
 
Price, who knew Jones well and was a confidant in later years, believed the upset at the hands of Goodman was the catalyst.
 
"If this defeat had not taken place practically at Alister MacKenzie's doorstep, it seems safe to say that Augusta National would not be the Augusta National we know today," Price wrote. "As O.B. Keeler was to write so often of Jones's career, what characterized it most was the aura of 'predestination.' "
 
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or john.boyette@augustachronicle.com.
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