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Bobby Jones, Alister MacKenzie and the Birth of Augusta National

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After a storied Amateur career, Bobby Jones retired from competitive golf in 1930 at 28, fresh off his unprecedented Grand Slam, winning both the US and British Open and Amateur Championships in the same calendar year. Jones’ love of links golf and The Old Course at St Andrews was documented in our post, “Bobby Jones in Great Britain,” and here we will pick up the story to discover how this love and appreciation turned into what has become golf’s signature event and grandest tradition.

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With his playing days behind him, Jones sought to create a private golf club where he could enjoy the game in a serene setting. Captivated by the strategic design principles and natural beauty of The Old Course, his vision was to create an inland links-style course that embodied the the essence of St. Andrews.

In 1931, Jones and his associate, investment banker Clifford Roberts, announced plans to build a world-class golf course in Augusta, Georgia, chosen for its mild winter climate conducive to year-round golf, as well as proximity to Jones’ Atlanta home.  They purchased the 365-acre Fruitland Nurseries property for $70,000, a site that was deemed ideal for their vision, with Roberts remarking, “It looks like this site has been waiting here for years for a golf course to be built on it.”

Jones teamed up with Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who shared his vision for an aesthetically beautiful yet challenging inland links-style course inspired by classic Scottish links layouts like Muirfield, North Berwick, and St Andrews. While Augusta National may have links roots, it became “the most famous parkland course in the world” and a template that many other inland, lush parkland courses would follow.

Of their relationship, Jones stated, “I suppose no two people ever agreed better – on a golf course. Dr. MacKenzie and I tried each other out thoroughly. Our ideas seem to be synonymous.” MacKenzie returned the praise, writing, “Bob is not only a student of golf, but of golf courses as well,… and while I had known him for years, I was amazed at his knowledge and clear recollection of almost all of the particularly famous golf holes.”

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Bringing it to Life

On July 15, 1931, The Augusta Chronicle devoted most of its front page to coverage of the announcement that Jones and his associates were building a golf course in Augusta and Alister MacKenzie would be the primary architect. Banner headlines in newspapers nationwide also trumpeted the news.

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Influenced by the classic links courses he encountered in Great Britain, Jones marveled at how they demanded thoughtful shot-making and course management rather than rewarding raw power. He aimed to recreate this strategic test at Augusta National, challenging players to carefully consider every shot, rewarding precise execution.

From the outset, Jones and MacKenzie aimed to create a course that would stand the test of time, a true masterpiece that would captivate golfers for future generations. They meticulously planned and constructed every aspect of the course, from the design elements to the aesthetic details, with a keen eye for enduring quality and timeless appeal. The plan was to present a variety of risk-reward scenarios – strategically placed bunkers, undulating greens, and fairway contours that require players to shape their shots and think their way around the course.

They blended the course seamlessly with the landscape, preserving and accentuating the existing features rather than imposing an artificial design. With its dramatic elevation changes, the rolling terrain was incorporated into the routing, creating a visually stunning layout. MacKenzie favored subtlety and nuance over overt manufactured elements, resulting in a course carved from the earth, with holes flowing organically across the undulating terrain.

The course opened in December 1932 with limited member play, and the formal opening took place in January 1933. It immediately garnered praise from golfers and critics alike. Jones’ vision had come to fruition, and Augusta National quickly established itself as one of the most prestigious and challenging golf courses in the world.

In 1934, the decision was made to flip the nines, with the original first hole becoming number ten. This was based on the idea that the current second nine was tougher and players should ease into their round before taking it on.

Alister MacKenzie

Alister MacKenzie was born to Scottish parents in 1870 in Normanton, West Yorkshire, England. He studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and served as a surgeon during the Boer War and World War I. MacKenzie developed an interest in camouflage during the Boer War, deeply impressed by the Boers’ ability to blend artificial shelters into the natural landscape. This experience would later shape his design philosophy for golf courses, where he received accolades for his work on two of the world’s most famous courses—Cypress Point and Augusta National.

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In 1914, an article entitled “On the Green” by Horace Hutchinson and Bernard Darwin ran in Britain’s Country Life Magazine. It requested submissions for a design contest, soliciting ideas for “an ideal two-shot hole.” MacKenzie’s design would be declared the winner and became “Home,” The Lido Golf Club’s two-shot 18th, with three distinct routes that could be navigated. MacKenzie stated the hole was partly influenced by St Andrews’ “Long” hole. Today, the Alister MacKenzie Society’s “Ray Haddock Lido Design Contest” pays tribute, offering a similar opportunity each year for an up-and-coming designer. See our post “The Lido: Long Island’s Lost Links,” for the story.

After the wars, MacKenzie left the medical profession to pursue golf course architecture full-time. He partnered with Harry S. Colt and gained recognition for his work in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In the mid-1920s, he traveled to Australia to oversee the Royal Melbourne Golf Club redesign. During this visit, he also consulted on Barwon Heads and a few others.

In 1926, after Seth Raynor’s death, MacKenzie took over the design of Cypress Point Club. While he likely used some aspects of Raynor’s initial routing, especially at the iconic 16th hole, he made some significant design changes. MacKenzie’s routing took full advantage of the spectacular seaside landscape, incorporating ocean vistas, forested areas, and massive dunes. The course opened for play in August of 1928 to wide acclaim and was quickly hailed as a masterpiece.

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After playing Cypress Point, Jones developed an appreciation for MacKenzie’s design philosophy and contacted him in 1931 with an invitation to the land that would become Augusta National. They walked the proposed site for three days, MacKenzie staked out tees and greens, and developed an initial routing plan. Jones and MacKenzie believed a course should complement and enhance the natural surroundings rather than attempt to conquer or subdue them, and they were deeply committed to embracing the site’s natural beauty and contours. MacKenzie returned that fall and stayed for two months to oversee the course construction.

Tragically, MacKenzie never saw Augusta National completed. Less than three months before the first “Augusta National Invitational” (Masters) Tournament in 1934, he passed away in Santa Cruz, California, virtually penniless, never fully paid for his work at Augusta. Despite his financial struggles and untimely death, MacKenzie’s legacy lives on through his remarkable designs, including Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne, cementing his place as one of history’s most influential golf course architects.

Did You Know?

The hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club have a fascinating agricultural history that predates the world-famous golf course. Before it was the home of the Masters Tournament, the land was known as Fruitland Nurseries, one of the largest nurseries in the American South during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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The Berckmans family established Fruitland Nurseries in 1858, quickly becoming renowned for its lush peach orchards and gardens. At its peak, the nursery shipped millions of peach trees and other plants across the United States. The Berckmans’ family home, a classic Greek Revival style mansion built in 1854, still stands on the grounds today – serving as the clubhouse for Augusta National.

The family operated Fruitland Nurseries from 1858 to 1918 and introduced a variety of plants, shrubs, and trees to the Southeast. They also pioneered new fruits and varieties of peaches, with Prosper Berckmans eventually becoming known as the “Father of Peach Culture” across the South. Prosper eventually bred the Elberta, Belle, and Thurber peaches, which became Georgia’s primary commercial varieties.

When Jones and Roberts acquired the land in 1931, much of the former nursery had to be transformed. Still, they preserved many mature pine, oak, and flowering plants originally cultivated by the Berckmans family. Jones and Roberts invited Propser’s son, Louis Alphonse Berckmans, to help them decide where to locate various plant varieties on each hole during the construction. This blend of its nursery heritage with the new golf course design created the lush, botanically-rich environment that has become an iconic part of the Masters experience.

Birth of The Masters

In 1934, with the club struggling financially, Jones and Roberts co-founded the Augusta National Invitational. Roberts suggested “The Masters,” a name Jones found too presumptuous. However in 1939, the tournament was permanently renamed. The inaugural event was a modest affair, with a total purse of $5,000, but it quickly gained popularity and prestige. Jones played in the first twelve Masters Tournaments, his best finish being a tie for 13th in the innaugural event. Jones’ presence added to the tournament’s allure and helped draw interest from golf enthusiasts around the globe.

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Gene Sarazen’s famous “shot heard round the world” at the 1935 Masters Tournament was a pivotal moment that propelled the event into the national spotlight. Trailing Craig Wood by three shots with four holes remaining, Sarazen hit a remarkable 4-wood shot from 235 yards on the par-5 15th hole that bounced onto the green and rolled into the cup for a double eagle. This incredible shot tied him with Wood and forced a 36-hole playoff the following day, which Sarazen went on to win by five strokes. Read more about Sarazen in our posts “The Squire’s Tale” and “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf: Looking Back.”

Sarazen’s feat was widely celebrated and helped establish the Masters as a major championship on par with the U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship. The indelible image of Sarazen’s ball finding the bottom of the cup from such a remarkable distance etched itself into golf lore and gave the Masters its first of many iconic moments that would forever be associated with the tournament’s history and mystique.

Augusta National and the Masters remain inextricably linked to the name of Bobby Jones, a true pioneer and ambassador of the game who left an indelible mark on the world of golf. His vision, sportsmanship, and dedication continue to inspire golfers and fans around the world, solidifying his place as one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport.

Further Reading – Books and AudioBooks

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With Audible Plus, the world’s best audio entertainment is at your fingertips. For a review of the benefits and multi-tasking opportunities provided by auditory learning, see our post “Enhance Your Productivity, Enhance Your Game WIth Audiobooks.”

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grand slam jones by mark frost

The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America,
and the Story of Golf

by Mark Frost

Summary: “The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf” is a biography that tells the story of Bobby Jones and his incredible achievement of winning all four major tournaments in the same year, 1930. The book delves into Jones’ background, his introduction to golf at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, and his progress as a junior golfer. It also explores the challenges he faced in adapting his playing style and refining his attitude toward the game to win against the best players of his time consistently. The book provides insights into Jones’ personal life, relationships with fellow golfers, and impact on the sport. Frost’s storytelling captures the excitement of Jones’ historic accomplishment and his lasting legacy in golf.

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Bobby Jones on Golf

Summary: Bobby Jones on Golf compiles wisdom from the legendary golfer on grip, stance, swing technique, shot-making, and course management. Jones advocates developing a smooth, rhythmic swing by learning to “swing easy” and not overpower the club. He provides tips on specific shots like the draw, fade, punch, and chip, advising golfers to become shotmakers who can work the ball. Jones also shares his mental approach, stressing patience, carefree confidence, and enjoyment of golf for its own sake. Overall the book focuses on sound fundamentals, clever strategy, and the thoughtful, relaxed mindset that Jones believes leads to peak performance on the course.

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The Spirit of St Andrews
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: Alister MacKenzie was one of golf’s greatest architects.  He designed his courses so players of all skill levels could enjoy the game while creating fantastic challenges for the most experienced players.  MacKenzie’s courses, such as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo, remain in the top 100 today.  

In his “lost” 1933 manuscript, published for the first time in 1995 and now finally available in paperback, MacKenzie leads you through the evolution of golf–from St. Andrews to the modern-day golf course–and shares his insight on great golf holes the swing, technology and equipment, putting tips, the USGA, the Royal & Ancient, and more.  With fascinating stories about Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and many others, The Spirit of St.  Andrews gives valuable lessons for all golfers and an intimate portrait of Alister MacKenzie, a true legend of the game.

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The Bobby Jones Way
by John Andrisani

Summary: The Bobby Jones Way, written by acclaimed golf writer John Andrisani, analyzes the powerful, near-perfect swing and flawless execution of legendary golfer Bobby Jones to reveal his unique swing techniques and course management skills. By studying countless hours of footage of Jones and interviewing top instructors, Andrisani breaks down Jones’s driving, pitching, chipping, and putting methods to help golfers at any level improve their games. The book illustrates elements beyond Jones’s swing mechanics, including how to hit creative shots and cure problems. It is a comprehensive guidebook for golfers looking to emulate Jones’s skills. Overall, The Bobby Jones Way is an insightful look into the swing secrets and mastery of one of golf’s all-time greatest players.

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Golf Architecture
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: If you were ever in doubt as to what strategic design really means, why it is superior to other philosophies of golf architecture, what makes St. Andrews Old Course “infinitely superior to anything else,” or why the great sin in golf architecture is any feature that looks unnatural, you will find your answers here.

In reading Golf Architecture you will learn to judge the merits and demerits of any hole you play, knowledge that will add considerably to your enjoyment in playing old, familiar courses as well as new ones.
Alister MacKenzie was not the most prolific designer, or even close, but who can approach his achievement of having designed three courses that are consistently listed among the top ten golf courses in the world? Royal Melbourne in Australia, Cypress Point in California, and Augusta National in Georgia are among the brightest jewels in the golfing crown.

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The Masters: A Hole-by-Hole History of America’s Golf Classic
by David Sowell

Summary: Discover the secrets of Augusta National with “The Masters” audiobook by David Sowell. This comprehensive guide provides insights into each hole’s history, challenges, and iconic moments. Perfect for both seasoned fans and casual enthusiasts, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the tournament with this audio tour.

So, the next time you’re watching the Masters on TV, you’ll have a newfound respect for what it takes to conquer Augusta. And who knows? The strategic insights might just help you tackle your local course a little more skillfully.

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Making the Masters
by David Barrett

Summary: Making the Masters by David Barrett provides the origin story of the Masters tournament, detailing how Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts conceived it in the 1930s and quickly established itself as one of golf’s most prestigious events. The book chronicles how Jones and Roberts built the tournament from the ground up despite tough economic times, highlighting key events, winners, and moments that shaped its legacy over the years.  Barrett’s comprehensive history shares little-known stories about the Masters and the many golfers who have defined its prestige as one of America’s greatest sporting events.

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