Courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine
‘A hole is not worth a damn if no one comments on it one way or another” – Alex Russell
Alex Russell was arguably Australia’s finest golf course architect and yet little is generally known of his life, until now. Neil crafter draws from a new book in Golf Course Architecture‘s October issue.
Alex Russell was born on 4th June 1892 in Geelong, Victoria, to parents Philip and Mary. The family were wealthy pastoralists with a grazing property, “Mawallok”, located in Victoria’s Western Districts near Beaufort.
It is believed that Alex Russell’s grandfather, Alexander, emigrated from Elie in Scotland in 1842 with his two brothers. The Russells were close friends of the Reids of Ratho, who began Australia’s first golf course on their property. Grandfather Alex subsequently moved to Victoria, taking up land at Port Philip, and named his property “Golfhill” – possibly the first record of the word “golf” on mainland Australia.
Golf” magazine of August 10th 1925 reported how Russell had, a few years previous, the makings of a first rate cricketer and tennis player, but poor eyesight was a drawback. Only when he was fitted with spectacles did Russell’s golf reach such lofty heights as the national championship. Russell’s wife Jess was a fine golfer in her own right and was runner-up in the Australian Women’s Amateur Championship on no less than three occasions in 1927, 1930 and 1932.
Russell was elected a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews on 13th August 1951, and held that membership until his death in 1961, a singular honour for an Australian golfer. He was also a member at Barwon Heads Golf Club in Victoria and when in Britain with Prime Minister Bruce, they personally selected Bud Russell (no relation) from Gullane in Scotland to emigrate and be that club’s new professional, a job he held for well over 50 years.
Alex was made a Life Member of Royal Melbourne in 1933 for his services to the club and continued to serve as a member of the club’s Council (Committee) until 1955.
Russell was asked by his club in 1924 to provide a plan for a remodelled 18 holes at Royal Melbourne and this indicates that the Club must have been well aware of his interest in golf course design. He started by drawing a contour plan and then producing a three dimensional model of the planned course in plasticine, skills he would have learnt as a civil engineer and a Major in the Royal Garrison Artillery. This model was on display at the Club for some time and his modelling work commented upon by the press of the day as being “distinctly brainy.
From an international perspective, Russell may not have gained the recognition that he deserved. Without doubt, Alex Russell was a champion golfer, but champions rarely leave anything but a transitory legacy to their sport. In Russell’s case, it is classical golf course architecture,
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