Chamblee Laments Alister MacKenzie's Design Influence On Golf, Death Of "Ribbon Fairways"


Irony isn't his thing, otherwise Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee might even find it funny that he's dusting off his sticks for a competitive comeback with the hope of playing the Old Course during this year's Senior Open Championship (John Strege reports). 

Yet the same analyst who so eloquently lamented the disappearance of Alister MacKenzie design features at Augusta National just seven years ago, who advocated bifurcation regularly not long ago in hopes of allowing for classic designs to matter, now blames Alister MacKenzie's design philosophy for a range of things, including potentially "damaging" the modern professional game.

In quite the contradictory column, Chamblee says elite players would return to smaller driver heads and spinning balls to shape the balls into...ribbon like fairways lined with thick rough. Except MacKenzie--supported by rogues like Bobby Jones and Ben Crenshaw--had the audacity to channel the Old Course and spread that who whole fun/width/strategy message.

Players, professional and amateur, loved the forgiving nature of his designs, and budding architects wanting to imitate MacKenzie’s work, adopted philosophies along similar lines. To this day when having a debate with a group of Tour players or golf course architect nerds, the consensus will be to have little or graduated rough off of the tee, “to allow for the recovery” many will say, followed by “to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.”

I've never actually heard a tour player recite the greatest pleasure line and can confidently say that there are three active players on the PGA Tour who've actually read those words in print. (That would be the law firm of Ogilvy, Herman and Blair).

Because golf course setups have become far more forgiving – owing to the MacKenzie philosophy, complaints and suggestions of the players and to the social media chorus that we want more birdies ­– players seek to launch shots as high as they can, with as little spin as they can, with as long of a driver as they can handle.

Wait, so the players try to make birdies to please social media, not because it helps lower their scores? Kinky!

Distance has become a means to an end so much, that many are crying for a roll back of the ball when all that needs to happen is to roll back to an era when one man had the guts and the acuity to not listen to the players, or the pervading philosophy of fairness.

Imagine if the U.S. Open and other events returned to this demanding philosophy. Players out of necessity would choose balls that spin more, heads that were smaller so they could shape shots, shots that would start lower for more control and golf swings would evolve to find the balance of distance and accuracy. In time an athlete would come along who could solve the puzzle of how to hit the ball far and straight. 

Yes, they never practice how to hit it straighter these days, these kids. 

It is amazing how quickly some forget the bomb and gouge era of the early 21st century when rough and narrowness was employed to offset a distance explosion. That was back when Brandel was pro-MacKenzie and pro-bifurcation.