36 with MacKenzie: Golfer is taking year off to play some of world's best courses

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John Boyette, Aiken Standard, S.C.
·7 min read
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Apr. 4—In hindsight, 2020 might not have been the best time to launch a golf trip across multiple continents. But Morgan Purvis wasn't going to let a global pandemic deter his vision.

The longtime Aiken resident, who now calls Atlanta his primary home, has embarked on an ambitious project: Play 36 different courses designed by golf course architect Alister MacKenzie.

MacKenzie designed Augusta National Golf Club, home of this week's Masters Tournament. And, during his visit to Augusta in the early 1930s, he also found time to do significant work at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken.

Purvis, a Palmetto member, had back surgery in April 2020. That helped him decide on a journey that any golfer would call a dream trip.

"I wanted to do something very different and decided I was going to take a year off from finance and spend that year playing 36 different Alister MacKenzie golf courses around the world," he said.

Plus, he said, "I had my best golf experiences on courses he designed."

He's about one-third of the way through with the project and hopes to complete another third by the middle of May.

Purvis is documenting his travels with a website, 36withmackenzie.com, that includes photographs and blog entries.

"The rationale there is 36, which is two rounds of 18-hole golf, and I'm 36," Purvis said. "It has a nice little ring. That's the idea behind the branding."

Aiken connection

The ties that bind Aiken to Augusta National are many.

When Bobby Jones set out to build his dream course in the early 1930s, he chose the site of a former nursery in Augusta. There was much support from Aiken's Winter Colony residents, who were some of the wealthiest people in the world.

Jones wanted MacKenzie to co-design his dream layout. He had fallen in love with MacKenzie's work in California during a trip to the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.

Jones, the greatest amateur golfer of all-time, was eliminated early in the tournament. That gave him the opportunity to visit and play two of MacKenzie's notable designs, Cypress Point and Pasatiempo.

Jones and MacKenzie greatly admired each other, and the two quickly began work on transforming the 365-acre Augusta property into an 18-hole championship layout.

Palmetto, about 20 miles away, was eager to transform its putting surfaces from sand to grass. Clifford Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National and the Masters with Jones, said that Palmetto's board of officers reached out as construction on Augusta National neared completion.

"We were especially eager to help because some half-dozen of our members were also members of Palmetto," Roberts wrote in The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club.

According to Roberts, Palmetto only raised about $25,000 for the project. That was well short of what was needed, but he wrote that MacKenzie volunteered his services free of charge. Augusta National also was able to provide Palmetto with course supplies at lower rates.

"In short, our construction organization, with a little help from us, accomplished the almost unbelievable task of modernizing the Palmetto Golf Course at a total cost of $25,000," Roberts wrote.

Inspiration strikes

Before Purvis came up with the 36 with MacKenzie idea, he had already played two of the architect's most famous layouts: Augusta National and Cypress Point.

He shot 84 at Augusta National on his first trip, with a birdie at the par-5 13th the highlight.

"The second time there were no highlights," he said with a laugh. "It was an unmitigated disaster. But at the same time, it was a special walk."

Playing Cypress Point, on the Monterey Peninsula, helped inspire Purvis to test other skills.

"I didn't' have any type of photography or writing background, but I wanted to push myself to do something that I never have," he said. "From a photography standpoint, you play Cypress and it's kind of an amalgamation of dunes course and woodland-style golf course.

"Then you make that turn on 15 (along the Pacific coast) and you're like 'Oh my gosh, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of property I've ever seen in my life.' It is that spectacular."

Purvis tested positive for COVID-19 in June, but was able to squeeze in a trip to the United Kingdom before virus restrictions put golf on hold there.

While in England, he played Alwoodley Golf Club and Moortown Golf Club. Alwoodley is considered MacKenzie's first notable design, and Moortown was the site of the first Ryder Cup Matches on British soil.

"It was one of the more enjoyable golf rounds I've ever had," Purvis said. "I played with an older gentleman who is really involved with a couple of the MacKenzie golf societies, and he couldn't have been nicer."

A turning point for the project came when Purvis played the Old Course at St. Andrews. MacKenzie was a consulting architect for the Royal and Ancient in the 1920s and did his famous map of the course.

"I did play the Old Course, a day I'll never forget. That's the day where I felt like the project turned into something," Purvis said. "It's the memory of that day. I got up at 6:30 and took pictures, beat the maintenance staff out there. Then I went out and shot my best round of the whole trip. I shot 78 from the back tees at the Old Course."

Family members got to see him play the last hole.

"They saw me tee off on 18, watched me hit my second shot, I hit it to 20 feet, and then made the putt," he said. "When I made the putt, they clapped. That is one of the greatest experiences I'll ever have. Not a lot of people are going to clap for my golf game."

'Great examples'

Purvis knows that his golf project is the envy of many of his friends.

"I've never married and have no kids," he said. "It makes it easier to go on international trips at seven weeks at a time."

He's also enjoyed spending time with his mother, Barbara Morgan, and his stepfather, Rev. Fred Andrea. She was the longtime solicitor for the Second Judicial District and he is the retired pastor at First Baptist Church.

"I'm fortunate to be here and have great examples of what this town can give to people," Purvis said. "They are two people that both served. What I'm doing is selfish in a way, but it is because of my deep passion for (Palmetto) and it's nice to be back."

MacKenzie designed golf courses all over the world. In addition to his work in the United Kingdom and the U.S., he also designed layouts in South America and Australia.

It's the latter that Purvis is anxious to visit, but he'll have to wait until travel restrictions are lifted. Royal Melbourne is part of MacKenzie's work Down Under and is considered one of the top five courses in the world.

"I just think everything I've heard, I can't wait to see it," he said. "That's probably the dream course on the list. I've played Augusta. I've played Cypress. Royal Melbourne is the one I haven't, and I'm chomping at the bit to play."

Purvis is thankful for his Aiken roots and growing up around Palmetto.

"I've been very fortunate because of golf. I've said that this is my love letter to golf, and it is," he said. "Golf has taken me a lot of places. Some of my own volition, some because people wanted me to do something. I am incredibly thankful for it. None of that would have ever happened without this (Palmetto)."

When pressed on which MacKenzie course he would want to play if he could just pick one, Purvis doesn't hesitate.

"It's a tough question, but the answer is also easy," he said. "It's Palmetto. What this place brings out to me and the feelings, and the way I came to love the game because of all that's happened here. This has to be the answer."

Then he smiles.

"At the same time, you tell me I could play Augusta National every day, I'd probably take that, too."