Alistar MacKenzie, one of history’s most respected course architects, has produced many of the great masterpieces of golf course architecture-Cypress Point, Augusta National, Crystal Downs, Lahinch, Pasatiempo, and Royal Melbourne. As with so many artists there is the story of a lost treasure from their collection. In that spirit it turns out that the most creative design he ever came up with may be one that was never built, as related in this article by Thomas Dunne in 2007 of the lost MacKenzie design of El Boqueron in Argentina.
It turns out that in 1930, while in his creative prime, the stock market crash and the beginning of The Great Depression sent MacKenzie global in search of new work. In spite of economic travails in Argentina the very wealthy elite asked him to design two courses at The Jockey Club in Buenos Aires. While he was there he met a wealthy land baron, Enrique Anchorena, who was in the process of putting together the grandest private park in all of South America on his private estate. He hired the most distinguished architects to do the landscaping and building construction. So it just made sense to commission MacKenzie, who just happened to be in the neighborhood, to design his private course for this estate.
This was going to be a a course that was played by Enrique’s family and friends, so it gave MacKenzie a unique opportunity to try things he would never do on a more intensely played course. What resulted was a mind boggling design on a rolling piece of rural ground which included nine double greens with dramatic contouring, his signature jagged edged intimidating bunkers, plenty of subtle tactical deception, and a good deal of nasty in patches of curros (gorse) adjacent to the playing areas to punish wayward shots.
The effects of the depression prevailed and the course was never built but the plans survived and ended up framed on the wall above the fireplace in the clubhouse that one of Anchorena’s heirs took for his permanent home. Fast forward about 60 years when David Edel, a struggling PGA pro, was visiting Argentina one winter and happened to hear about the surviving plans for the MacKenzie course from a golfing friend. Edel, who grew up playing MacKenzie courses in California, became obsessed with the notion of purchasing the plans from the family and bringing this “Lost MacKenzie” to life in America.
It took another ten years but in 2006 Edel spent a considerable portion of his family savings to procure these plans and start a process of finding an appropriate place to build his dream course in the states. He found an appropriate piece of ground of similar topography to the original at El Boqueron just outside Austin, Texas-the place seemed perfect, even the prevailing wind was in the same direction. He then searched for the appropriate architect to do this design and settled on Mike DeVries who was an acknowledged expert in MacKenzie designs. For DeVries this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to pay homage to the man he most respected in the world of golf course design.
Unfortunately our current economic malaise has delayed the construction of this private golf club in Austin for now, but Edel has taken up residence on the property and fervently believes that someday this dream will be realized to bring the Lost MacKenzie to life in the hills outside Austin.
Thomas Dunne added another piece to this story in 2009 when he interviewed Mike DeVries the designated architect for the El Boqueron course to be built in Austin. In this interview he went over DeVries amazing drawings of the double green settings planned for this project. The detail in DeVries descriptions of the planned complexes reveals the bold creativity that MacKenzie brought to his designs. This is a rare look into the thought processes of a legendary designer and a well studied disciple of the great artist.