Alister MacKenzie: The Designer Behind Haggin Oaks and Augusta National

Exploring the legacy of the legendary golf course designer Alister Mackenzie, who designed Haggin Oaks, Augusta National and countless famous golf courses around the world.

A sunset photo of Haggin Oaks

The history behind Alister MacKenzie designing The Alister MacKenzie Golf Course at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento is fascinating. It all started in the early 1930s, when the city of Sacramento was searching for someone to design a premier golf course that would rival the best. With much luck, a well-known architect was currently working in California designing other courses. His name was Alister MacKenzie, a UK designer who is known for creating masterpieces like Augusta National, the host of the prestigious Masters Tournament. Mackenzie also designed Pasatiempo, Cypress Point, and many other famous golf courses around the world. Although Haggin Oaks was Alister MacKenzie’s first municipal golf project.

Originally a surgeon in England, Alister MacKenzie served in the Boer War, and World War 1, developing camouflage techniques for trenching and bunkering. Discovering new ways to create depth perception and optical illusions in the battlefield landscape. MacKenzie immigrated to the US in the early 1920s. Alister MacKenzie was famous for his golf design, creating deceptions of distances, placing greens, bunkers and trees in certain situations that would then fool the golfer. He created ocean greens, and hidden bunkers, that you could not see from a tee box. 

MacKenzie’s innovative design philosophy, of blending natural landscapes with strategic challenges, resonated deeply with Sacramento’s vision for their golf course. His ability to craft courses that were both visually stunning and intellectually stimulating made him the perfect candidate to bring the course to life. Alister MacKenzie’s belief was that gorgeous flowing, nearly biblical golf courses would always require thought, positioning, and a proper dose of luck. He believed that each course had more to say about its environment than the architect who designed it. Practicing before the era of bulldozers, left him with little capacity to force golf holes where they didn’t belong. MacKenzie completely understood the role of risk and reward in the placing hazards by which course designers still aspire today. MacKenzie had a knack for rhythmically combining modest golf holes with more heroic challenges allowing room for even the novice player to still enjoy the game. Remarkably MacKenzie gave himself only one week to work on the layout and a month to work out the finer details for the Sacramento course.

It was in October of 1932 that the first 9 holes opened, originally named the Sacramento Municipal Golf Course. The second nine holes officially opened with an exhibition match featuring the Dutra Brothers Olin and Mortie, two local golf professionals. The following year MacKenzie opened one of the crowning achievements in golf, The Augusta National Golf Club. Augusta National is home of the Masters competition and considered to be one of the finest tests in the golf world. The Alister MacKenzie Golf Course at Haggin Oaks falls into the same design style as Bayside and Augusta National, as they were all built during the same time frame, with no rough along the fairways, undulating greens, and minimal bunkering.

To this day Doctor Alister MacKenzie is still recognized as being one of the greatest golf architects of all time. Haggin Oaks is quite likely the most played MacKenzie golf course around the world, with the most amount of rounds played.

The Alister MacKenzie Golf Course located within the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, California stands as a testament to MacKenzie’s genius. Offering golfers a chance to immerse themselves in the same timeless beauty and strategic brilliance that define Augusta National. It remains a cherished gem within the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, continuing to inspire players and pay homage to the enduring legacy of its legendary architect.

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