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.

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