Travelin’ Joe Passov’s five favorite Alister MacKenzie courses to play

Lahinch's risk-reward par-3 11th hole.
Eric Hepworth

1. Pasatiempo, Santa Cruz, Calif.
MacKenzie was a master at deception, hewn from his experiences with camouflage in the Boer War. Check out his Tom Doak–restored bunkers at Pasatiempo's uphill, par-3 3rd to see how he messes with your mind as you struggle to perceive their proximity to the green. MacKenzie treasured undulation, variety and character in every hole, traits that define Pasatiempo. His artistry in bunker design and skill at hazard placement—to "give players as much pleasurable excitement as possible," as he said—is displayed at the long par-4 10th, where the newly restored gully bunker rivals its sibling in the middle of Augusta National's 10th as the most dramatic I've seen.

2. Lahinch, Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland
While not exactly a MacKenzie, the Doctor's fingerprints are found throughout the 14 holes he constructed here in 1927. As an architect, he pioneered the notion of building courses that could entice and entertain higher handicappers while offering a true championship test to elite players. No course accomplishes this as well as Lahinch. It's a pure delight. The famous blind Dell and Klondyke holes were authored by others, but the nestled-in-the-dunes par-3 11th (only used during winter months to protect the hole's new green) and two superior short par-4s—the 9th and the 13th—bear witness to MacKenzie's risk-reward genius.

3. Royal Melbourne (West), Black Rock, Victoria, Australia
Question: How can a course without a single water hazard be deemed the best in the world by the likes of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Ben Crenshaw? Answer: when it's Royal Melbourne. The course melts into its landscape, fulfilling MacKenzie's maxim that "all natural features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself." More significantly, it's a supreme test of shotmaking and strategy. Before last year's Presidents Cup, Phil Mickelson observed, "The (short) par 4s may be reachable, but they are really not drivable. It's more important to set up your approach shot and get the correct angle…much like a British Open." A thinking man's course is the great equalizer, and the fact that you can make even high scores without losing a ball appeals to this hardy hacker.

4. New South Wales, La Perouse, N.S.W., Australia
On my first trip here in 1992, I saluted MacKenzie for the par-3 6th, a dead ringer for Cypress Point's 16th. The problem is, he didn't build New South Wales's 6th hole; Eric Apperly did, years later. MacKenzie's trademark bunker sprawls are nowhere in evidence, either, but his routing is mostly intact, and it makes memorable use of the huge ridges that crisscross the property. The uphill-then-downhill par-5 5th that heads straight to the shores of Cape Banks and the Pacific Ocean is one of a kind, as is the drive-and-pitch 14th, which demands a bite-all-you-can drive over a scrub-filled ravine.

5. Northwood, Monte Rio, Calif.
Many of this little beauty's strategic features have eroded with time, but hey—they say the same about me. Happily, the powers-that-be are slowly but surely restoring bunkers and contours on this 9-holer. MacKenzie built the course in 1928 for the ultra-exclusive Bohemian Club (Pebble Beach designer Jack Neville was a member), which says something about the Doctor's stature as an architect. If much of Mac's magic has faded away, the remnants—and the novelty of a walk through the Redwoods for under $30—is compelling. Fans of fantasy-calendar settings should make the pilgrimage to the Korbel sparkling wine country of northern California for a heady golf buzz to rival the finest bottle of vino.