It happened 100 years ago. On a sunny and mild Saturday in August, Redvers “Red” Mackenzie stunned the golf world by pulling off one of the most remarkable feats in golf, an “albatross.” It was the second in recorded golf history, the first on this side of the Atlantic. During one of the greatest games ever played in Canada, the albatross landed during an exhibition match against Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood at the Country Club of Montreal in 1923.
The first use of ‘albatross,’ to describe 3 under par, is not clear. Nine references describing a double eagle, as an albatross, found by one Scottish golf history sleuth, date back to 1929. A cartoon from The Montreal Star captions Mackenzie scoring an ‘albatross two,’ which just may be the first time the term was used.
The British are given credit for coming up with a new avian name to describe a double eagle, whereas the Americans preferred sticking with “double eagle.” It was Young Tom Morris, son of Old Tom, who made history with golf’s first albatross in 1870. On the first hole in the British Open at Prestwick, he notched a three on the 578-yard par 6.
The Americans and British duke it out claiming second place in albatross or double eagle golf history. The US claims Bobby Jones grabbed the second at the 1930 British Amateur whilst the Brits insist Mr. John Dunn had the second on the Old Course 1924.
Neglected though was Mackenzie’s albatross in 1923 edging out both Jones and Dunn for second place honours, and the first in North America. Why does this matter? Because rarer than an ace, the estimated odds of scoring a double eagle are about a million to one; even more impressive that it was accomplished before steel-shafted clubs came along that carried the ball further.
Neglected though was Mackenzie’s albatross in 1923 edging out both Jones and Dunn for second place honours, and the first in North America.
Walter Hagen, already in possession of two US Open titles, the PGA Trophy, and two British Opens, was beginning a stretch in 1923 that catapulted him to stardom. Confident and cocky, but charismatic with a rebellious streak, Hagen, a school dropout at 12, eschewed the Country Club set with its class system that saw professional golfers as merely hired help beholden to the club that employed them. Instead, he embraced the flamboyance and excess that was the ‘roaring 20s’ awakening the possibility that a professional golfer could become a sports celebrity all on their own.
And what better way to distinguish himself than by having a “show.” While Hagen may have balked at the class system that refused professional golfers, even in national tournaments, from entering the clubhouse, he unabashedly wanted to be like them: wealthy. Winning tournaments and national titles, if they won, with purses insufficient to live off, kept pro golfers dependent on their positions at golf clubs to make a living. Hagen changed that.
In Joe Kirkwood, Hagen found a kindred spirit despite his opposite temperament: Kirkwood was quiet and retiring to the point of shyness. Credited with putting Australia on the world golfing map, and the first Australian to win a PGA title, like Hagen, Kirkwood came from a working-class background. At 10, he went to work on a sheep farm in the Australian outback. His boss, an avid golfer, introduced the young Kirkwood to the sport. With the club in hand, tending sheep, and not much else to do, he whiled away the hours hitting and manipulating the club and ball. He became so proficient at it that he had come up with a series of ‘trick shots’ that became more famous than his fine competitive play and tournament wins.
The pair embarked on a tour of their golf show in 1922. It took them around the globe in challenges with local professionals, amateurs, and the leading golfers of the day. They charged a princely appearance fee, normally $500.00, plus expenses, often with side prizes/bets offered by the host club or members.
Although some of the early golf greats from across the pond had toured North America in exhibition matches, Hagen and Kirkwood took it to another level. Tacking on an hour-long show, after 36 holes, with Kirkwood demonstrating his dazzling trickery with club and ball, along with a sponsor, added a panache to the event that was uniquely American, so Walter Hagen, the consummate self-promotor. They competed in about 120 matches that took them across North America, to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Their sponsor was ‘The Reddy Tee.’ Paid $1500 to use them, the wooden peg with a conclave platform came on the market in May 1922. Initially rebuffed by purists, this instant tee, developed by an American dentist, replaced caddies having to sculpt a mould of dirt from moistened soil for the tee. A package of 18 sold for 25 cents. Hagen and Kirkwood would deliberately leave them on the ground after their drives with spectators, usually young boys, scrambling to grab them up.
Like Hagen, Mackenzie got his start in golf as a caddie. Born and raised in Montreal he lived near the Outremont Golf Club, founded by Canadian Golf Hall of Famer, Dr. Robert Stanley Weir. With a bred-in-the-bone first love for hockey, he soon caught the golfing bug.
Caddies were allowed to play early in the morning. They came up with a novel ritual for the 4:00 am wake-up call. Tying a long string around their toe, they dangled the string outside their bedroom window and the first awake would go around tugging the string to alert the others.
Mackenzie, usually the first up, earned him the title, “official jerker of the cord.”
The Country Club of Montreal was an early design by Albert Murray in 1910. Brought on as their new head professional in 1920, he promptly went about redesigning 3 holes on the course. Before taking charge, he had spent 12 years at the helm of the Outremont and later the Kanawaki Clubs. Albert wanted to challenge Hagen and Kirkwood against two of his students, amateurs ‘Red’ Mackenzie, and C.C. ‘Happy’ Fraser whom Albert had taken under his wing when the latter was a member at Kanawaki. ‘Happy,’ or ‘Hap,’ so, nicknamed for his frequent and wide smile that seemed to roll up to his forehead, had captured the Canadian Amateur Championship a year earlier at the Hamilton Golf Club.
Mackenzie, a rising force in amateur golf, was now 22 and writing for The Montreal Star as their golf editor. He caddied for Albert as a thirteen-year-old when Albert won his second Canadian Open in 1913 and considered him a mentor, and, “although he never gave me a lesson, he was the pro I liked best.” “I used to watch him and imitate his swing. Eventually, people said my swing resembled Albert’s more than Albert’s did.”
Mackenzie’s first victory came in the fall of 1922 when he walloped famed Canadian golf architect and amateur golfer, Stanley Thompson of Mississauga, by 11 strokes in the Quebec Golf Association’s first invitation tournament held at Beaconsfield G.C. Mackenzie was playing well, having captured the Quebec amateur title two months earlier.
A month later, in the Canadian Amateur at Kanawaki, coming to the 36th hole one up, he missed a four-footer to tie Bill Thompson- an older sibling to Stanley, who was also competing- of the Mississauga Club, forcing a sudden death playoff. On the 37 th hole, with defeat staring him in the face, he drained a 60-footer to stay in the race, as the gallery of 700 roared in delight. A missed iron shot on the 38th hole, his ball landed on a stone in a cross ditch, snatching away any chance of victory and lost to Thompson by one.
Kirkwood and Hagen were also busy competing in the British and US Opens where the defending champion Hagen had lost by one stroke to Arthur Havers at Troon for the British Open. Kirkwood placed 4 th . Both finished well behind the pack in the US Open at the Inwood Country Club. Their exhibition record was 13-1. The Country Club spared no details to showcase a golfing event not witnessed before by Montreal golfers and for those who had never gripped a club.
Programmes with short Hagen and Kirkwood biographies and a scorecard were handed out.
Two days earlier, Hagen had romped over 36 holes (66/72) at the Buffalo Country Club in another exhibition match with Kirkwood against Gene Sarazen and ‘Long’ Jim Barnes for the win.
Megaphone in hand, Art Ross, of NHL fame, and Country Club captain, would announce the scores on each green. He also enlisted a corps of 15 experienced members dispersed among the spectators, to explain the scoring, answer questions, and direct the gallery. The Club arranged for continuous tramway service from the bridge over the St. Lawrence to the clubhouse. For the all-day event, lunch and dinner were included for all those who desired, and if you had not secured an admission badge ahead
of time, you could get them on site.
As the crowds began streaming in for the 10:30 start, Albert and “Happy’ Fraser began the first 18 against Hagen and Kirkwood. By late morning 1500 patrons had lined the fairways and around the greens to watch the foursome.
Hagen and Kirkwood got off to an early lead of two, then on the 10th ‘Happy’ cut that to one with a birdie 4. Albert was struggling but not complaining. He was still nursing a badly sprained wrist, thanks to hacking his ball out of the rough by a stand of trees and meeting a root at the Lakeview GC in the Canadian Open the week before forcing him to withdraw.
The 11th and 12th were halved but on the 13th, Kirkwood scored a birdie 3. Hagen increased the count on the next with his partner, winning the match, 3 and 2 on the 16th . In medal play, Kirkwood’s brilliant putt on the 18 th earned him an eagle 3 for a 71. Hagen also came in with a 71. Happy supplied the best card on the back 9 with 34 for a 73 to Albert’s 77 for the 18.
It was ‘Red’ Mackenzie’s turn. Three days earlier he had broken the Country Club course record with a 68 in a practice round with ‘Happy’, and the week before tested his skills against the best golfers on the continent in his debut at the Canadian Open at Lakeview GC, in Toronto. He had also played reporter for The Montreal Star. While Hagen and Kirkwood were expected to provide all the thrills and entertainment, Red was determined to make them work for their laurels. Hagen’s slashing style and ability to hit out of trouble had no peer. Kirkwood’s pinpoint accuracy with his irons had a beauty all its own. On the first tee, all got long drives with Red’s ball slightly in front. The hole was halved. Their opponents went one up after Kirkwood holed an exquisite pitch shot for a birdie 4 on the second.
The match was squared on the third when Red ran down a 12-footer for a birdie. The 4th was halved. Red hit the green with a smooth midiron on the 5th, but his 8-foot birdie attempt rimmed the cup to halve the hole. But he placed his team ahead on the next draining a 25-foot putt on the short 6th.
Hagen came right back and holed an eagle 2 from the edge of the green on the seventh and the match was squared again.
Over the next 5 holes, the teams battled it out to a draw. Red had a chance for the lead again on the 13th but his 8-foot putt refused to drop. While Red, Albert, and Hagen drove over the trees on the dog-leg 14th, Kirkwood drew applause when he elected for a controlled hook shot around the corner.
Red then sank a difficult putt for birdie 3. Hagen’s eagle attempt almost failed, when the ball tittered on the lip of the cup, but then dropped for the win.
The visitors went up again on the par 3 15th when Kirkwood’s tee shot landed two feet from the hole for the birdie. The home team answered right back on the 371-yard sixteenth when Red’s second pitch shot hung on the edge of the hole, half in half out, but his birdie 3 was good enough as Hagen had found the side ditch from the tee, played it out of bounds, but recovered well for a five.
On the 17th, Red chose to putt from just off the green which he later regretted, being too far away to be accurate. All hope was lost on the 18th with Red and Albert staring down Dormie one.
All got away with good drives on the 488-yard par 5. As Red walked up to his ball some 268 yards away, he could see it was in a small divot. A slight cross breeze coming off the river nudged him toward using a mid-iron for his second shot.
But he knew the course so well. He put back his mid iron and took out his number 1 driving iron. Aware there was a bit of a shelf on the green he aimed just to the right, confident if it connected, the ball would get some roll toward the hole. As soon as he hit it, he declared “That’s going to be close.” The ball sailed away, hit its target, bounded on the green, and steadily rolled toward the hole, egged on by the gallery. It dropped into the hole without touching the flag stick.
The gallery erupted. Every fashion of hat and cloche went flying. A photographer, standing on the roof of the clubhouse, almost fell off in the excitement. Red had broken his course record, with a 67 for an “Albatross 2”, which ended up tying the match.
After waiting a couple of minutes for the uproar to settle, Hagen came home with a birdie for a 68. Kirkwood finished with a 71; Albert posted a respectable 73 under the circumstances.
A 23-year-old amateur had just bested two of the best golfers in the world. The boisterous gallery closed ranks around the green as Red was hoisted on the shoulders of club members. Red also made history with North America’s first albatross/double eagle in golf and the second after Young Tom Morris accomplished his in 1870 at the British Open in Scotland.
To claim that the very next day Red turned professional would technically be incorrect. He had to wait out the winter before accepting a position as head professional at Stanley Thompson’s newly minted Montreal area Marlborough golf course in 1924; after 5 years he moved on to the Elm Ridge G.C., an A.W. Tillinghast design in the city’s west end and one of the first clubs in Canada organized by members of the Jewish community who were restricted from joining other golf clubs. He remained at Elm Ridge for the next 38 years.
On the crest of the first wave of Canadian-born professional golfers, Red became active in the PGA of Canada on their executive committees and their president in 1945.
A natural leader, the” official jerker of the cord,” was the driving force behind the creation of the Montreal Professional Golfers Alliance in 1929 which ran for 16 years. The MPGA, styled like the modern-day FEDEX Cup was a series of tournaments for district professionals held throughout the season. The MPGA aimed to help local professionals stay sharp with their game in a fun, fraternal, but competitive environment. Their tour took them to different courses in and around the environs of Montreal with fulsome coverage in the local papers. No similar tour existed in Canada at the time.
The pros teed it up in the morning for 18 holes; in the afternoon, mixed teams made up of pros and men and women club members played. The MPGA occasionally extended challenges to Ontario and US professionals. The professionals earned points in various categories and accumulated them over the season. Showing up earned you a point and a good trick shot merited another one.
The MPGA would gather in the fall for their annual banquet, usually held in the ballroom of a downtown Montreal hotel, to announce the winners and hand out the trophies and awards followed by music and live entertainment.
In the winter, Red circled back to his first love, hockey. Although he abandoned aspirations to be a pro hockey player, he often worked out with the Montreal Maroons, an early NHL club, at the Montreal Forum.
He did a short stint as a goal judge in the NHL: “For no pay, you got a free pass into the rink and plenty of abuse.”
Then for two seasons, he was a referee in the old American Hockey League followed by a stretch in the NHL. “Refereeing was even tougher although the pay wasn’t too bad.” He also did some scouting for his close friend, Art Ross, then manager of the Boston Bruins.
Frank Calder, NHL’s first president, approached Red about coaching. The Eastern Hockey League comprising top semi-pro talent was establishing a team on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and needed a coach. With the Atlantic City Auditorium to fill -the proprietors keen on a box office attraction for their winter visitors- the Atlantic City Sea Gulls was born.
They took on the toughest amateur and professional teams on the east coast from College teams to the New York Rangers. Resort owners and Hotel Managers pitched in for a brass, “Boardwalk Challenge Trophy” that the team won twice in succession.
Back then, the guardrails that separated a blood sport from the game of hockey were pliable. Some of the players from that era would make Dale Hunter look like a choirboy today.
Red recruited mostly Canadians and sometimes got letters from prospective players. One, from a lad in Fort William, asking for a try-out read, “ I‘ll be 16 in January, am 5 foot 11 inches tall, weight 150-160, right-handed, one tooth missing and ready to sacrifice the rest of them for hockey”.
After 6 years with the Gulls, Red coached The Washington Eagles for 3 years and penned articles for the Washington Post explaining the game to the hockey-naïve. Next came three years with the Philadelphia Falcons followed by a year with the San Francisco Shamrocks.
Red finished his 15 years of coaching with the Shawinigan Cataracts in 1949. With 5 championship wins, his teams never placed lower than second in the standings. Many of his players went on to stellar careers in the NHL as players and managers. One of those players, Emile ‘the Cat’ Francis, passed away last year.
Redvers ‘Red’ Mackenzie, a master golf instructor, renowned head professional, expert curler, hockey coach and deeply knowledgeable sportsman died at the age of 78 in 1978.
He was survived by his wife, three sons, and a priceless nugget of golf history.
Albatross/Double Eagle history:
Albatross in Golf – Scottish Golf History
Hagan and Kirkwood Tour:
Stephen R. Lowe; Sir Walter and Mr. Jones; Walter Hagan, Bobby Jones, and the Rise of American Golf, 2000,
Sleeping Bear Press,
Reddy Tee, ibid. pg.129-30
‘Official Jerker of the Cord’
Red Mackenzie Revives Many Golf Memories, The Montreal Star, 1950, 07/11 pg. 26
Redvers Mackenzie: Quebec Amateur/ Canadian Amateur
Thompson Winner From Mackenzie, The Montreal Gazette, 1923, 07/09, pg.13
Dominion Amateur Title Goes to W.J. Thompson, The Montreal Star, 1923 07/09 pg. 17
Won Invitation Golf Tourney; The Montreal Star, 1922, 09/25
Mackenzie Victory In Invitation Event; The Montreal Gazette, 1922,09/25 pg.15
The Match at the Country Club of Montreal
‘Marvelous Golf Is Served Up at Country Club,’ The Montreal Star, 08/13, 1923, pg.11
Mackenzie Recall Famous Shot That Gave Him Victory: The Montreal Star, 1961, 05/27 pg.22
Redvers Mackenzie Set Up New Course Record: The Montreal Gazette, 1923, 08/13 pg.6
Red turns golf pro:
Redvers Mackenzie, Noted Amateur, Accepts Position at Marlborough, The Montreal Star, 02/20 1924, pg. 18
Hockey Coach and Referee
Redvers MacKenzie Hockey Stats and Profile at hockeydb.com
Mackenzie Back After 40 years; The Montreal Gazette, 1964, 01/05 pg.28
Atlantic City Sea Gulls
‘Red’ Mackenzie dies at age 78. The Montreal Gazette, 03/18, 1978, pg.18
Who’s Who in Hockey, Stan Fischler, Shirley Fischler; Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2003
Montreal Professionals Golfers Alliance