Chairman Ridley unravels the timeless qualities of Dr. MacKenzie’s designs

Chairman Ridley unravels the timeless qualities of Dr. MacKenzie’s designs

October 27, 2023
Royal Melbourne Golf Club

Royal Melbourne Golf Club

© Photo by AAC

To the untrained eyes, the courses at Royal Melbourne Golf Club and Augusta National Golf Club look as different as chalk and Pimento cheese.

Looks, however, can be deceptive.

Both courses are timeless masterpieces created by the same genius – Dr. Alister MacKenzie – and both have been consistently rated the best in the world. 

For someone like Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament and a leading amateur of his time, it’s easy to find the similarities. In much the same way as renowned artists like Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, golf course architects have their typical brushstrokes, moods, settings and signature moves that are a dead giveaway.

Royal Melbourne Golf Club hosts this year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC), a tournament which was founded by Augusta National Golf Club, The R&A and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC).

Ridley, the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion, was full of praise for Royal Melbourne’s design.

“Clearly, Royal Melbourne was an influence in the design of Augusta National. Bobby Jones’ first exposure to Dr. MacKenzie was playing the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1929. He lost in the first round and was then invited to play Cypress Point by its founder, Marion Hollins. So, he went over and played the course, which was designed by Dr MacKenzie as well, and loved it,” said Ridley. 

“Both Royal Melbourne and Augusta National were pretty much in the same timeframe. Royal Melbourne opened up here in 1931 and Augusta National in 1932. It is easy to see that some of the design characteristics are similar.”

A couple of golf course design aspects of Royal Melbourne stand out for Ridley as mirroring his beloved Augusta National. 

“The MacKenzie bunkers are classic…the flashing faces of his bunkers are world-renowned. That’s a big common feature in both courses,” explained Ridley.

“But I think the most important thing is the way he developed courses that require you to think about each shot. If you look at this course, it’s certainly not long by today’s standards. And there are a lot of doglegs, just like we have at Augusta National. The fairways are wide enough, again like Augusta, but you can be in the fairway and not have a very good shot to the green because how cleverly he has designed the greens and guarded it with bunkering and where the pin might be.

“There’s a lot of strategy involved in playing both the courses. And that's what Jones really loved about MacKenzie’s design, and that’s what I love, too. His landforms are really subtle, like the undulations you see on the fairways. 

“Also, like Augusta National, Royal Melbourne is what I call a ‘second-shot’ golf course. There’s ample room off the tee. You’re not going to lose your ball at both courses. But you’ve got to put it in the right part of the fairway.”

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It is the subtlety of Dr. MacKenzie’s design, and the finesse with which he challenged golfers of all levels, which makes both courses timeless classics. 

“There are the traditions, and then there is golf itself. I think it’s a mix of both. There are many small things in his design that don’t ever get old,” Ridley said.

“You see some golf courses, and they have a wow factor. But, when you really break it down, they’re not as good as you thought they were when you first saw them. You won’t care about going back there again.

“However, you just can’t get enough of courses like Augusta, Royal Melbourne and the Old Course at St Andrews. It really is down to its design. It’s all about the intricacies and the subtleties. You can play these courses hundreds of times, and it’s always going to be a different experience. Every round, you get to learn new things.

“I think that’s a common thread to Royal Melbourne and Augusta.”

The strategic nature of the golf course is also a big factor in the holes that Ridley loves on both the courses.

“I played the new composite course being used for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Thursday and I’d say the 16th hole, which I had not played the last time we were here, is my favorite. Probably because I knocked it to like three feet when I played, and then missed the putt. It’s not a very long hole (189 yards), but the green is designed in such a manner that it makes you think,” said Ridley.

“I have played Augusta National several times, so I can give you better details of that. There are a lot of great holes there, but my personal favorite is No. 15 (Firethorn, Par 5, 550 yards). I don’t play from the back tees anymore, but if I have a good drive and the weather conditions are OK, I can give it a go in two. It’s a great risk and reward hole, but there is something about standing on top of that hill looking down to the green and the water in front of it and behind it. It’s just a majestic hole.”

The clubs also have a similar philosophy when it comes to course renovation.

When Augusta National lengthened the par-5 13th hole, Ridley said: “We are intent on making sure that we maintain the design philosophy that Mr. Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie devised.”

Royal Melbourne has an aerial picture of the two courses dating back to 1932, which is always used as a reference point whenever the course is being upgraded.

Tony Rule, the club Captain, said: “We have made some changes in the past. Many of them are simply restoration work and we use the picture to make the changes as close as possible to Dr. MacKenzie’s original design.”

Richard Hatt, the Head Professional at Royal Melbourne, added: “Both the golf courses are like two Mona Lisas in two different continents. Whatever you do, you can never make her smile any better. Over the years, we have just tried to be as true as possible to what Dr. MacKenzie created for us.”