In Photos: Top public Alister MacKenzie golf courses in the U.S.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Every spring, the genius of Dr. Alister MacKenzie is revisited with the playing of The Masters at Augusta National.

And while many of MacKenzie's best U.S. courses -- Augusta, California's Cypress Point Club and Michigan's Crystal Downs C.C. -- are private, there are a handful of exceptions.

Northern California is an epicenter of MacKenzie's public-access golf. MacKenzie lived in a modest house along Pasatiempo Golf Club, a famed semi-private club in Santa Cruz, Calif. Its location is marked by a statue in the backyard and a plaque along the sidewalk. Solving MacKenzie at Pasatiempo means reading ferocious greens, while avoiding tortuous traps and deep barrancas. It's a timeless classic that's tough to beat on the scorecard.

MacKenzie's handiwork lives on at two municipal facilities, Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica near San Francisco and at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento. Both are local favorites and are affordable for residents. A lawsuit filed by environmentalists who wanted Sharp Park to close was dismissed in 2012.

Two hours north in Monte Rio, Northwood Golf Club offers a unique nine-hole tour of the towering redwoods.

Accessible Alister MacKenzie golf courses in the Midwest

The Midwest is home to two rival college courses designed by Alister MacKenzie -- the University of Michigan Golf Course in Ann Arbor and the Scarlet Course at Ohio State in Columbus. At OSU, all it takes is one friend who is a student or is a full-time worker at the university to find your way on. There are thousands of such people. In 2015, Michigan opened its MacKenzie treasure to the masses by creating a golf package that allows anybody to play.

Play Palmetto Golf Club during Masters week

The private Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, S.C. provides the most unique way to play MacKenzie golf. It opens its doors once a year during Masters week. Head Professional Brooks Blackburn sees many of the same faces year after year. Tee times made available in January are mostly sold out by mid-March, he said. The green fees in 2015 are $225 per person, a small price to pay for a chance to enjoy another classic course with ties to MacKenzie, who converted the Palmetto sand greens to grass and lengthened the layout.

Chasing MacKenzie -- a globetrotting Scotsman who designed the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia and others -- isn't easy, but it's certainly rewarding.

Mar 17, 2015

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LarryLeach's avatar
LarryLeach wrote at 2017-02-12 15:51:32+00:00:

I played for the University of Michigan on the fabulous golf course for four years in the late 1950's.  I loved the golf course and I loved it's Frank Lloyd Wright-like club house which was removed in 2016 and replaced with a much bigger and beautiful facility.  I had the chance to play Crystal Downs while I was in hight school and again in the 1980's and it never happened.  A friend of mine says it is the best course he ever played and he has played a lot of courses.

LarryLeach's avatar
LarryLeach wrote at 2017-02-12 15:42:10+00:00:

I love Lahinch.  The most enjoyable 18 holes I ever played!  It took me a half hour to find the tee on their most famous par three.  A rock on the dune signifies the pin position on the hidden green.

Kevjdonohue's avatar
Kevjdonohue wrote at 2015-08-17 00:17:46+00:00:

He did not design the old course at Lahinch. Tom Morris did, Mackenzie was brought in after the fact for tweaking of a few holes. Then later in early 2000's they did a small renovation to try and restore the Mackenzie feel of certain holes. A great track you didn't mention is Cork Golf Club (public Mackenzie course). Sorry for the rant but I just came home from 12 days of golfing in Ireland and my caddy (a member since 1988) at Lahinch filled me in on the details.  Cheers and I have been reading your articles for some time now! Keep up the awesome stuff. 

BrandonTuckerGA's avatar
BrandonTuckerGA Staff wrote at 2015-08-18 20:31:30+00:00:

You are correct, Mackenzie worked on Lahinch after Old Tom (most Old Tom courses have been altered since he did the original layouts). Also, Jason wrote about Cork Golf Club here:

Glad to hear you had fun in Ireland. 

06godzillagolf's avatar
06godzillagolf wrote at 2015-04-20 15:49:20+00:00:

U of M in Ann Arbor is a favorite, been playing it for 40 years. Every time I play it I want to play Crystal Downs: had a chance years ago and it fell through, maybe someday...............

06godzillagolf's avatar
06godzillagolf wrote at 2015-04-20 15:48:08+00:00:

U of M course is a favorite to play...every time I play it I want to play Crystal Downs! Had a chance years ago and passed it up, Dam!

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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.