What does “the MacKenzie vibe” look like at Lake Merced Golf Club’s golf course?

By: July 12, 2022

The Hanse Golf Design and Heritage Links won the renovation project of the Lake Merced Golf Club golf course renovation.

Starting in October 2021, Hanse Golf Design (HGD) has collaborated with course builder Heritage Links on a comprehensive, nuanced, hybrid restoration of this Alister MacKenzie original, restoring many of the 18 holes but also creating several new ones in homage to what Wagner calls “the MacKenzie vibe”.

Lake Merced Golf Club 13th hole before renovation

In all, Hanse Golf Design and Heritage Links

  • rebuilt all 18 greens,
  • created a 36,000 square-foot Himalayas-style putting course,
  • new short-game practice areas,
  • turf research nursery,
  • refurbished 150,000 square feet of bunkering,
  • restored then expanded all 18 tee complexes,
  • moved the practice facility from one end of the property to the other, and
  • installed a two-wire irrigation system using flexible, no-leak HDPE piping.

According to Heritage Links Vice President Oscar Rodriguez, the final four greens were seeded on June 15, right on schedule — meaning the course will reopen on schedule in the middle of October 2022.

Jim Wagner (VP, Design Partner, Hanse Golf Course Design) said

“The club wanted a restoration and we did have great photography from the 1930s. At 1, 4, 5, 10 and 13, for example, we were able to put the holes back as Mackenzie created them. But we couldn’t do that everywhere. The property had undergone too much radical change through the years.

Lake Merced Golf Club 13th hole after renovation

The first design at Lake Merced Golf Club dates to 1922, and that work is attributed to Willie Lock.

Dr. MacKenzie arrived in the late 1920s when he put his estimable stamp on this topographically diverse routing south of John Daly Boulevard (no, not that one: the road and city were named for John Donald Daly, a prominent, early 20th-century banker).

In the 1960s, the construction of Interstate 280 resulted in Lake Merced Golf Club losing portions of its property, a fate that similarly befell the A.W. Tillinghast design at San Francisco Golf Club, located some five city blocks to the north.

Lake Merced Golf Club responded by moving its clubhouse from the north end of the property to the southeast corner. It also authorized a major rerouting managed by architect Robert Muir Graves and resulted in many new holes that boast no MacKenzie lineage at all.

In short, during 2021-22, Hanse Golf Design and Heritage Links restored those holes that could be restored. Elsewhere they substantially rerouted again, creating several brand new holes in the MacKenzie style.

What does creating/mimicking the MacKenzie style/vibe actually mean?

“It’s the size, scale, look and placement of the bunkering mainly,” Wagner says, “with edging that reminds a lot of people of cloud formations. But it’s also the way they sit in the landscape: down into the green, while some float above grade.

When you put that look into a landscape with vegetation, like Cypress trees, it just screams MacKenzie! The greens here are actually sort of simple compared to some others, but they work well in this setting.”