Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Link Between Golf and Camouflage

Alister Mackenzie (1915), demonstration of trench camouflage

There is a direct connection between golf and camouflage. It resides in the dual achievements of a British surgeon, Dr. Alister Mackenzie (1870-1934), who was one of modern history’s leading golf course designers, as well as an early contributor to World War I army camouflage.

Mackenzie served as a surgeon with the Somerset Regiment in South Africa during the Boer War. In the process, he studied the effective use of camouflage by the Boers.

Later, during WW1, he returned to military service not as a surgeon but as a camouflage expert. Following the war, he turned his full attention to golf course design (called “golf course architecture”), for which he became internationally known. He designed some of the world’s finest golf courses, among them Augusta National Golf Club (Augusta GA), Cypress Point Club (Monterey Peninsula CA), Royal Melbourne Golf Club (AU), Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz CA), Crystal Downs Country Club (Ann Arbor MI), Lahinch Golf Course (Ireland), and Meadow Club (Fairfax CA).


As early as 1915, he published an article on “Military Entrenchments” in Golf Illustrated (Vol 3 No 1, pp. 42-44), in which he wrote—

…what earthly connection is there between golf course construction and trench making? The connection consists in the imitation of nature. The whole secret of successful golf course construction and concealment in trench making consists in making artificial features indistinguishable from natural ones, and for the last ten years I have been daily attempting to imitate nature.

Accompanying that article were two comparative photographs (reproduced above). One of them (top) is a side view of soldiers in a trench designed by Mackenzie, while a second photo (bottom) is the same trench as viewed from the front, from 10 yards away. The caption notes: The man standing up is behind the trench. The men’s heads while firing were completely concealed at 40 yards away.


Alister Mackenzie, “Entrenchments and Camouflage” [credited to “Lecture by a British Officer Skilled in Landscape Gardening”] in Professional Memoirs, Corps of Engineers, US Army and Engineeer Department. Vol 14 No 47, pp. 574-638—

The brilliant successes of the Boers were due to great extent to their making the best use of natural cover and the construction of artificial cover indistinguishable from nature.


 In 1920, Mackenzie published a book titled Golf Architecture (London: Simpkin, Marshall, et al) in which he claimed—

There is an extraordinary resemblance between what is now known as the camouflage of military earthworks and golf-course construction.

The writer was fortunate during the war in being asked to give the demonstrations to members of the Army Council which were the foundation of, and led to the establishment of, the first school of camouflage.

These demonstrations were evolved from his experience as a golf-course architect in the imitation of natural features.…

There are many other attributes in common between the successful golf architect and the camoufleur
(pp. 128-129).


Anon, DR. MACKENZIE IN AUSTRALIA in The Advertiser (Adelaide AU), October 20, 1926, p. 15—

Dr. A. Mackenzie, an expert in golf architecture, is traveling to Melbourne by the Otranto, which reached Fremantle today from London. Dr. Mackenzie’s mission to Australia is in connection with the laying out of the Royal Mebourne golf links, but his visit has brought inquiries for consultations from other golf clubs in almost every state…

During the war he was in charge of the camouflage schools, and was responsible for many of the methods used during war time for disguising army operations. Dr. Mackenzie said he sought after several essentials in golf architecture. Every hazard, green and other essentials of a golf course should appear to be the work of Nature, and he strove to make them so. He aimed at increasing the interest of golfers in their links by providing alternative routes for weaker players, and more difficult if more interesting ways for higher standard golfers.



Alister Mackenzie, quoted in H.C, GOLF: Pavilion Gossip in The Australasian (Melbourne AU), October 30, 1926, p. 33—

Many soldiers at home and overseas have been engaged in what is now known as camouflage. The successful concealment of gun emplacements and other earthworks of military importance, as in the best types of golf course construction, depends on utilizing natural features to the fullest extent and the construction of artificial ones so that they are indistinguishable from nature. An object of military importance resembling a natural feature as viewed from the ground and the air may, and in all probability will, be overlooked to such an extent that it escapes the disagreeable attention of the enemy. My readers must not from this get the impression that there should be any concealment in golf course construction; the exact opposite is advisable, but it is suggested that the fullest use of natural features and the construction of artificial ones indistinguishable from nature are just as important as in earthworks.


Alister Mackenzie, quoted in ECONOMICS OF WORLD TOPIC FOR ROTARIANS: Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Pasatiempo Gives Talk to Club in Santa Cruz News (Santa Cruz CA), October 8, 1932, p. 2—

Since my youth I have always been foolish enough to tilt at windmills and fight against public opinion. In war I fought against the training of soldiers. In the fall of 1914 I offered to prove to the British war office that a force of civilians trained to conceal their fortifications on common sense lines could successfully repulse an army of soldiers ten times their number. This offer was rejected but two years afterward I was ordered to London to give these demonstrations to the King, the army council and the leading generals who were home at that time.

These demonstrations because the origin of the school of camouflage. Owing to jealousies and perhaps lack of diplomacy on my part, I was subjected to insults, abuse and even reduction in rank.


Anon, FOUNDER OF THE SCHOOL OF CAMOUFLAGE IN LONDON DIES AT PASATIEMPO HOME: Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Golf Architect, Passes Away in Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz CA), January 7, 1934, p. 7—

Dr. Alister MacKenzie, internationally famous golf course architect, author and founder of the Camouflage School, England, which all officers of the allied forces during the World War attended to learn camouflage, died early yesterday afternoon at his home in Pasatiempo. He was 63 years of age, a native of Scotland, and had resided in this city since March 1930.

…He was working on a book on camouflage at the time of his death…

During a recent visit to the Hoover Memorial War Library at Standford, Dr. Mackenzie asked the librarian for some book[s] on camouflage. He was told there had been no real book on the subject printed, but that the library had on file copies of articles from the pen of a famous military engineer. These were given to Dr. Mackenzie. He found them to be his own writings [delivered as lectures initially in 1914] in the Military Engineer of Washington DC, appearing without credit being given to him.

The founding of the camouflage school in [Hyde Park, London] England was perhaps one of Dr. Mackenzie’s greatest achievements. It was the initial gesture in the art of camouflage, which performed a wonderful service during the war and was so effective in aiding the allies in their operations against the German forces.


Anon, GOLF AND ARMAMENTS in Daily Advertiser (Wagga Waggs, New South Wales AU), April 19, 1934, p. 2—

Dr. Alister Mackenzie (who was in Australia within the past year or two, but has since died) won universal fame as a golf architect…

But he was something more than a golf architect. He had a creative mind and a rare intelligence…

Perhaps Dr. Mackenzie best displayed his genius, and his quick perception of vitally important truths, in connection with his camouflage work. During the war he was one of the outstanding camouflage experts. In this work his quick and highly sensitized mind learned something which possessed great international importance. He thoroughly believed that camouflage could be used not merely for defensive purposes, but as a tremendous factor in preventing war. Before he died he was credited with working on a book which was intended to “prove that the peace of the world would be assured if all the nations would camouflage their defenses.”


In January 1934, the same month in which Alister Mackenzie died, his final (and most extensive) article on camouflage in relation to golf course design—titled “Common Sense of Camouflage Defense”—was published in The Military Engineer (Vol 26 No 145, pp. 42-47). >>>more