mackenzie golf

The Trials of a Walking Golfer

Walking golf course versus carts

‘We’re not going to wait for you, you’re just going to slow us down’. As welcomes onto a first tee go, it was a rather unusual one. A friend and I were playing at the wonderful Yas Links in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and we had elected to walk rather than take a buggy.  After all, it did seem a shame to play one of the most spectacular golf courses built in the last 20 years and not get as much enjoyment from the experience as we could.  However, the rather aggressive Irish gentleman who we were to spend the next 5 hours with didn’t quite see it that way.

He was labouring under the mistaken view that golf is faster if you play in a buggy than walk it. Now, I probably play golf a little too fast.  Sometimes I need to think a little bit longer before I pull the trigger or take a practice swing over those 2 foot putts. But, I do move at pace. Of a summer’s night at my home course I will get around 9 holes in under an hour, sometimes playing two balls. My Dad (who is now in his eighth decade) and I played 18 at North Berwick a few weeks ago in 2 hours 15 minutes and both shot our handicaps.  All of this popped into my mind as that welcome was made on that tee box at Yas Links.

However, I simply let him know that I didn’t think we would be holding him up and that, if we did, of course he should move on. I was confident of the assertion partly because I could see there were already two groups ahead of us on the short 1st hole, so we were in for the long haul, and secondly, I had seen his partner’s practice swing.

In fairness to the guy, after 2 holes where we had waited on every shot, he did have the good grace to admit he had been wrong on the first tee and he was thinking about getting rid of the buggy himself.

I have an inherent prejudice in favour of walking in almost every case.  For me, golf is not about speeding up to the ball in a cart and hitting it.  It is about appreciating the environment you are in, feeling the turf under your feet as you walk around.  It’s also about the social interaction.  If you are in a buggy all day you don’t get the chance to have a proper chat with your playing partners or build the tension as a match gets tight.

I can think of only a handful of courses where I would choose to take a buggy rather than walk if I played again. Several talk about the long walk from green to tee but this is rarely a real barrier.  Two do come to mind, and they are both Jack Nicklaus creations. The abomination that is the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is best totally ignored if you are in the area, but if you do have the misfortune to endure it, then take a buggy. There is no flow whatsoever to the course and you need to take a buggy to give yourself any possible chance of pleasure such is the distance covered by the course. The other one I would call out is Monte Rei in Portugal.  Another Nicklaus layout, the course itself is much better than the PGA but the walks to those elevated tees, towering down over a left to right hole, really do take it out of you.

A lot of golf courses do encourage you to take a cart but it is rare to find those who actually demand it. I have fond memories of my friend Rich remonstrating with the lady in the pro shop at Terreblanche explaining that it was his human right to be able to walk the course.  I have no idea at all why they insist on it as the course is eminently walkable, it just displays an ignorance of what golf really is. There are other courses, like Finca Cortesin in southern Spain where it makes sense to take a cart given the nature of the terrain, and they may look at you like you are a little mad for walking, but will let you get on with it.

There are times when I will take a cart.  In the middle of a big golf trip where there has been a little over-indulgence, I will gladly take the wheel, or when it is just so hot there is a risk to survival.  However, on those occasions it just reinforces what a false economy it sometimes is.

The worst situation is when you have no choice but to stick to the cart paths.  This then leads to the sight of me trudging 70 yards across a fairway with half a dozen different clubs in my hand, before the long walk back to find the cart is parked 50 yards behind.

Like many, I have succumbed to the joys of a pedometer on my watch and recently measured the number of steps I took walking a 6,500 yard course.  The tees were fairly close to the greens and I came in at 11,000 steps.  I was forced to take a cart at Saadiyat Beach Golf Course earlier this year and, over the course of the 4 hours and 30 minutes, I walked 7,500 steps - not really that much of a saving over a walking golfer but a lot more faff.

I also genuinely think that walking a course helps your game.  You have time to contemplate what is to come, get a feel for the conditions around you, feel the green under your feet as you walk to put your bag down.  All of these nuances add up and if you are physically able to do it, I really think it will help your scoring.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not some kind of cart fascist and for those who really enjoy taking one, or who couldn’t get out any other way that’s fine.  But I do feel a little sorry for those who have only ever played the game in a cart – and such people do exist.  They are missing out of one of the real pleasures in life -  teeing it up first thing in the morning, striping it down the middle, swinging your bag over your shoulder and marching off with a heart full of hope!

My Mackenzie Golf Bag

mackenzie golf bag

When it comes to golf equipment I am a bit of a sucker. There was the brush tee which guaranteed the perfect angle of flight with my drives, the Short Game Wizard which ensured I would turn into Seve around the greens and when it comes to golf bags I got through many over the years. Big ones, little ones, dark ones, light ones. You name it, I’d carried it.

But then I saw a tweet a few years ago with a picture of a carry bag, I’m pretty sure it belonged to Adam Scott. It was a Mackenzie Walker and I simply fell in love. It looked pure class – soft leather and an elegant design which is evocative of a bygone age where golf was so much simpler. I really, really wanted one..

The catch was the price. It would be the single most expensive piece of golf gear I own. As fortune had it I had my 40th birthday coming up and a bunch of very generous friends wondering what to get me. While the $1,000+ bill would be a stretch I kept inviting more people to my party until the price per head became acceptable! Game on.

The bags are all hand made in Oregon, and a lot of love and attention clearly goes into each one. There is a great Q&A from Golf Club Atlas here if you want to find out more, well worth reading.

I spent months lovingly looking at different images on the web and trying to get as much information as I could about the bag. When it arrived it was even better than I imagined it would be. Apart from my very closest family I think I can safely say that this bag is my favourite thing in the world! It is everything that I could have wanted and more.

It is a real headturner and never fails to get an admiring comment. I simply can’t imagine playing golf without it. Having spent a long time looking for as much information as I could get and seen some of the questions out there I thought I would do a little Q&A. If you have anything else you would like to know though please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to answer!

How easy is the bag to carry?
The bag has a great balance to it. It is designed to be slung across the shoulders and there is a little tag at the bottom to put your thumb through which means that it just sits perfectly. So from an ease of carrying point of view it just kills it, as our American cousins may say.

How much does the bag weigh?
Clearly it depends how much stuff you put in it. The leather bag itself doesn’t feel like in any way heavier than a normal bag. It’s a very soft leather which jumps into your hand!

How many clubs fit in the bag?
You can fit 14 no problem and it’s still easy to get clubs in and out. I normally carry 12 without any concern at all.

What can you fit in the pockets?
There are 2 good sized pockets – one on the front and one on the back. They are both the same size. If necessary I can put in a waterproof top in one, trousers in the other and still have room for plenty of balls, a rangefinder etc. Normally I go without the waterproofs and there is tons of room there – I haven’t had to compromise once although it is a good time to rationalise some of the rubbish we carry around!

Plenty of room in the pockets!

Plenty of room in the pockets!

What’s it like in the rain?
One of the key things to remember is that the bag will dry! For the first couple of rounds the leather strap did bleed a little but it wasn’t an issue. In a normal shower or drizzle there are no problems. I did once play 27 holes in torrential rain and the bag took on a lot of water, after the round I emptied it and stuffed it with newspaper and within 36 hours it was back to normal.

How does the bag wear?
Beautifully. The leather becomes a lot softer over time and the colours evolve. After 2 years it looks like it’s a 20 year old bag – in a very good way. It develops even more character and more. Mackenzie say that if any repairs are required they will take care of them – it has a lifetime guarantee. I will be testing this at the end of this golf season as the rim has worn through a little and will report back on how they deal with it.

What was the ordering process like?
Choosing the bag is great fun. The site has many wonderful images to peruse and then you can customise to your heart’s content – although at a cost. Now, if there was one criticism I could level at Mackenzie it would be around the management of expectations around delivery of the bag. It took a little longer to get the bag than expected which was a bit frustrating at times. It’s addressed in the great interview with GCA here and sounds like they are sorting it. This is a thing of beauty which will last a lifetime and all good things come to those who wait I guess!

Any advice for transporting the bag
I'd never bothered before but since getting my Mackenzie I now always use a Stiff Arm protector which means the risk of a snapped driver is lessened. 

Is it worth the money?
Let’s be clear, this bag is expensive. And yet…… This is a bag for life; while I have the strength to carry a bag this will be the one. I just love it and feel so lucky to have one. If you get the chance, and if you’re the kind of person who likes walking with your clubs on your back and a spring in your step then I would encourage you to get one. You won’t regret it!