Introducing the Greatest Golf Contest You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of
By: Robbie Vogel
The odds might be long but we’ve all dropped a business card or entry slip into one of those fishbowls promising one lucky winner a free round of golf, tropical vacation or delicious burrito. I’d bet few if any of you ever won one of those contests. And those online contests, where you tag three friends in hopes of snagging a dozen personalized balls or a new driver? Yeah, you’re probably screwed there too.
But (30 for 30 voiceover) what if I told you… there was a free contest with a prize that would make you the envy of every golf-obsessed human on Earth? Where your entry would be judged against less than 100 others, with the winner receiving a cool $3,000, an invite to the annual MacKenzie Society meeting (held on a rotating basis at, unsurprisingly, an Alister MacKenzie course), 18 holes of golf at said course, and an additional $2,000 to defray travel costs.
Not a bad haul. The catch? You’ve got to be a pretty damn talented golf course architect.
The Lido Design Competition
The extremely professional looking effort you see above is last year’s winning entry in the Lido Design Competition, a worldwide contest where armchair golf course architects vie to design the two-shot golf hole which best exemplifies the Alister MacKenzie style. The contest is judged each year by a respected course architect and anyone is eligible to enter, provided they are not the architect of record on any existing golf course.
The competition began in 1987 and was inspired by Dr. MacKenzie’s winning drawing which he entered into Country Life Magazine’s contest, put on by the Lido Golf Course in 1914. Since then, thousands of MacKenzie disciples and GCA enthusiasts have entered the famed Lido Design Competition.
Interestingly enough, this year’s judge Gil Hanse, was among the many of applicants who sent an entry into the inaugural contest. Though his entry only made it to the quarterfinals, I don’t think he’s too broken up about it…
The golf-obsessed entrants in this contest have either played enough MacKenzie courses to understand his philosophy or (in my case), own a dog-eared and underlined copy of his seminal work, The Spirit of St. Andrews, in which he outlines his near biblical “13 Principles” of an ideal golf course:
1. Courses when possible should be arranged in two loops of nine holes.
2. Large portion of good two shot holes, two or three drive and pitch holes and at least four one shot holes.
3. Should be little walking between the greens and the tees and the course should be arranged so that in the first instance there is always a slight walk forwards from the green to the next tee; then the holes are sufficiently elastic to be lengthened in the future if necessary.
4. Greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating but there should be no hill climbing.
5. Every hole should have a different character.
6. Should be a minimum of blindness for the approach shot.
7. Course should have beautiful surroundings and all artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself.
8. Should be a number of heroic carries from tee, but the course should be arranged so that the weaker golfer, with the loss of a stroke, shall always have an alternate route open to him.
9. There should be an infinite variety in the strokes required to play the various holes
10. There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of looking for lost balls.
11. The course should be so interesting that even the plus man is constantly stimulated to improve his game in attempting shots he has hitherto been unable to play.
12. Course should be so arranged that the long handicap player, or even the absolute beginner, should be able to enjoy his round in spite of the fact he is piling up a big score.
13. The course should be equally good during winter and summer, the textures of the greens and fairways should be perfect and the approaches should have the same consistency as the greens.
Hanse never won a Lido contest, but his fellow entrants in this contest have demonstrated a level of talent and course architecture acumen that is extremely impressive, considering they’re not real architects. These are the golf tragics among us who doodle holes in meetings and see Cape templates while driving seaside highways. Just in the past year, entries came in from the assistant women’s golf coach at Grand Valley State;a high school senior from Illinois; a PGA pro from Mesa, AZ; a Penn State student who caddies at Oakmont (decent life); an active PGA Tour pro (Zac Blair, obviously); an Australian architecture student… and the list goes on.
A few armchair architects out there play the role of Duke and Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, returning each and every year to terrorize the field, taking home multiple championships, and always threatening the podium. San Francisco lawyer Bo Links, whose name is so good that I might be tempted to cry foul play if I didn’t know that names are withheld until after the judging is complete, won back to back in 2007 and ‘08. His winning design is below.
Another California resident, Cameron Hurdus of Ventura, took the title home in 2012 and 2016, and finished runner up last year with this little number:
Like the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Indiana engineer Bryan Orellana came agonizingly close to defending his 2017 title in 2018, finishing runner-up. His design was inspired by a hole at St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg, which he played when he attended the MacKenzie Society’s meeting as the reining contest champion. Seems like a bit of an unfair advantage if you ask me, but the guy’s undeniably got chops:
And to cap it off, last year’s winner David Hoekstra, a shop manager in Pella, Iowa, previously took home the crown in 2011.
Enough about those with talent and artistic skill. Let’s get into my entry for the 2019 competition, which resembles nothing so much as an abandoned elementary school project.
If you can make heads or tails of that, I sincerely congratulate you. I was aiming for a hole with an obscene amount of width, but one that forces the player to use that width in order to score. Those who blindly bomb it won’t fare as well as those who work their way back from the green, noting where the flag is cut before planning their route of attack. I envision this hole being played in three ways:
OPTION 1: If the pin is cut on the left, the best play is the boldest – a fade that soars over the beach, catches the tall fairway kicker high up on its left side, and feeds the ball down into the collection area. The long left side of the green lies open to the player from this position, yet the test is not completed. From here, even the best player is left with a ticklish shot ranging from 50 to 130 yards, and spin control becomes crucial. Those who opt to shy away from the beach can thread a tee ball between the two fairway bunkers but must flirt with the front tongue of the left bunker, lest their shot runs into the low area in the fairway and obscure the second shot. The player is aided by the fact that shots hit too long may be corralled, and particularly bold players may attempt to sling a draw that catches the right-hand greenside slope and embarks on an odyssey around the full width of the green to lay dead at the hole.
OPTION 2: A pin on the right side turns this green into a pseudo-redan, and the ridge running down the right side of the hole can be used to funnel approaches onto this multi-tiered putting surface. Position A off the tee is between the bunkers and beyond the low area, which offers the ideal angle to attack the ridge high and let the ball dribble onto the green (an advanced tactic), or to come in low and take the ground’s contours up to 50 yards shy of the green. For every yard the player strays from the left bunker, the low area and right bunker encroach. A second option: play up the extreme right side, skirting the right-hand dune and avoiding the fescue, which opens up an unobstructed view of the green’s right side. Longer players may even open up back middle pin locations.
OPTION 3: Central pins mean that either the left or right-hand route is in play. Free-swinging first-timers may try to carry the fairway bunkers entirely, which can just as easily lead to a pitch from the collection area as a sideways blast from the fairway bunker. The Halloween Bunker lies in wait to gobble up short approaches, both misjudged bump-and-runs and from those players who bravely (read: foolishly) shunned the aid of the ground game.
Like most great golf holes, my concept is intended to appeal to golfers of all skill levels. Elite players can feel proud after strategizing their way to a birdie, while folks putting out for seven will look back on the uber-wide landing area and helpful greenside shoulders as a fair test, and begin to plot their strategy for the next loop.
So if you’ve got some free time, working knowledge of the Good Doctor, and a package of colored pencils, I say have at it. Even if you consider you artistic abilities to be non-existent, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might just have a chance to win the golf experience of a lifetime.
Click HERE for contest entry details