Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dr. Mackenzie in South America: Jockey Club, Buenos Aires

The last stop on my Argentinian golf tour was the Jockey Club, just outside Buenos Aires in the city of San Isidro.  I was able to snap a few photos and take a short tour of the property but I did not see as much of the Red course (cancha colorado) as I would have liked.  Both courses return to the large tudor club house which seems to make a congenial atmosphere for golf.  The 9th and 18th greens for the blue course are adjoined by a huge "buried elephant" just yards from the clubhouse, its a spectacular sight.

After seeing Punta Carretas, El Campo de la Ciudad, and Jockey Club I have gained additional perspective, seeing another side of Dr. Mackenzie's work.  Mackenzie's South American projects differ in their natural aesthetic and the way the golf course features relate to the land.  Unlike golf courses like Crystal Downs, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne, the Jockey Club in particular, bulges from the flat ground from which it sits.  Drainage ditches are used creatively to create interest in the otherwise featureless site.  The three former courses mentioned above all benefit from exceptionally good golfing ground and seem to blend much better into the surrounding landscape.  The Jockey Club makes an intentional effort to be bold in the man made contours of the greens and bunkers, in turn creating interesting golf.

This trip turned out to be an informative and thought provoking study in the relationship between form and function.  Mackenzie's South American courses reinforce my theory of how much the consideration of function (draining  surface water) drives the form or design aesthetic.I often find this tenant of golf course design to be particularly obvious in the courses of the golden age (approximately 1910-1935).  All three courses, in Uruguay and Argentina, were built on heavy clay soils on relatively flat ground (Punta Carretas is the exception, a course which has interesting terrain).  There is no doubt that the push-up greens, shallow bunkering with convex edges, and ditches around greens and fairways are directly related to the need to surface drain water, ensuring healthy turf.

If anything I was surprised and delighted at the variety of Mackenzie's resume as it is clear that he was not always blessed with great sites.  The stature of the Jockey Club and his other courses only speaks to Mackenzie's versatility as a golf course architect but to the standard of excellence which other architects strive to achieve.

Dr. Mackenzie in South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina

After hopping on the ferry from Montevideo, Uruguay I landed in Puerto Madero 3 hours later ready to explore Buenos Aires.  Beyond the typical sight seeing I had a specific goal in mind (as always), to see the golf on offer in the area.  My first full day visiting Buenos Aires I made my way to the city's public course El Campo de Golf de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires  Its a mouth-full...I paid 30 Argentinia Pesos for my round of golf, that is all of $6.84 USD.  The course is within the city limits and was a short cab ride from the city center.  I was drawn to the course in particular because Dr. Alister Mackenzie also paid a visit back in 1934 to renovate and redesign the routing.

The property is completely flat, well used and a bit raggedy.  I found it to be on par with the conditions of the NYC courses I grew up playing in Staten Island (but with bermuda grass).  

There are back to back double greens on the front nine 2/9 and 3/16!  This surprised me, as well as a double tee in the middle of the back nine.  I'll also never forget the shocker of a par-3 with 50 foot trees directly in front of the tee.  I barely got my 8-iron over and onto the green.  Anything less than perfect is in jail!  Other than the two double greens and the par 3 10th, the greens were not particularly special.  The real challenge lies in narrow openings to approach the greens which are guarded by shallow bunkers.

Kinda' funky for a public track, which seems to serve the city very well.

For more pictures, check out the slideshow, with captions!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dr. Mackenzie in South America, Punta Carretas, Montevideo

I’ve spent the last two months living and working in Punta del Este, Uruguay and took some time to visit 3 courses where Dr. Mackenzie worked way back when.  Club de Golf del Uruguay, Campo de Golf de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, and Jockey Club.  I’ve been lucky and dogged enough in the last few years to visit his courses in Michigan, California, Australia/New Zealand, and now Uruguay and Argentina.

First Stop:  
Club de Golf del Uruguay (renovated/re-routed by Mackenzie, 1930)
Punta Carretas, Montevideo, Uruguay

Hoyo 4--Par 4
A sporty track with several short par 4's (from the tips…322y, 349, 325, 304, 338), average length par 3’s  and 5’s.  All the greens are boldly elevated, back to front and well guarded by interesting/arty bunker horizons.  Some of the par 5’s are reachable but not all have a way to run a ball up the front.     The course sits on a promontory above the harbor and gently slopes towards the water.  The routing takes the golfer in all directions up,down, and side to side exploiting ocean views all around.

I found the drainage ditches in front of several of the lower lying greens to be one of the interesting elements found in the context of golden age design and construction.  These drainage swales created some strategic choices on the reachable par 5’s and 4's, risking a tricky chip opposed to laying back with a full wedge….The bunkers were all fairly shallow with convex outside edges (to shed water above the heavy clay soils, no doubt)
Hoyo 8--Par 4
Drainage path in front of green site

An interesting fact about the club is that the local government requires the grounds to be open to the public at 2pm on Sundays.  No golf but I did see some children romping in the sand traps, runners and picknickers.  Probably a horror at most private clubs in the US, everything seems a little more relaxed down here.  On Monday morning the golf course is open for play to the public all day for no charge!  I walked the whole course Sunday afternoon, but played holes 9-18 (x2) on Monday as the front nine was closed for maintanence.  

For more pictures check out the slideshow!

Punta Carretas