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Golf: Hide and Sleek

Hal Phillips

Considering all his outward reverence for tradition and history, today’s golfer has few practical throwback options on the course. Yes, he can walk 18 holes, hire a caddie, wear a Hogan cap, or even attach kilties to his shoes. But rare is the gentleman who would forsake his Pro V1 for a Haskell or his microfiber for tweed. Old Tom Morris reportedly made a fine niblick, but the market for one today is limited to collectors and hickory-wielding reenactors.

Therein lies the beauty of the MacKenzie Walker, the all-leather carry bag that first debuted in the 1980s, subsequently fell into obscurity amid successive ownership failures, and recently reemerged under the aegis of Portland, Ore.–based professional Todd Rohrer. It is not for everyone, to be sure, but the sumptuous, hand-sewn MacKenzie ($695 for the Walker bag, $645 for the lighter Sunday version) presents a simple and elegant complement to the high-tech accoutrements of the modern golf world.

"Technology makes the game a little more enjoyable, but so does this," says Rohrer while gently stroking two new shipments of buttery leather, one in black, the other champagne. "The first bag I make out of this stuff is going to look like a Rolls-Royce with buckskin seats."

Rohrer recalls the first time he saw a MacKenzie bag. He was managing the Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club in Portland; it was the late 1990s, during the Fred Meyer Challenge, "and Peter Jacobsen came walking across the practice green with the coolest black-leather Sunday bag I’d ever seen," says Rohrer. "I was like, whoa. These bags evoke strong emotions. They just make people feel good."

Former PGA star Jacobsen was an early backer of the MacKenzie bag; in fact, he and his brother, David, designed and named the product (inspired not by legendary course architect Alister MacKenzie, but by Rick MacKenzie, the brothers’ caddie during a 1985 trip to Scotland, who is now the caddie master at St. Andrews). Rohrer is the new keeper of the flame for the bag’s small but loyal following, and he is determined to refine the MacKenzie without reinventing it.

"The round ring at the top of the bag used to be a piece of steel we got from Mexico," notes Rohrer. "But through my sewing-machine mechanic I found an experienced welder who just happens to sculpt in metal. Now the ring is hand-formed stainless steel, and the weld on it is just about a work of art—and you’ll never even see it, because we sew it into your bag." Also out of view is the 1.7-ounce composite-fiber batten (replacing a 22.8-?ounce metal frame) that provides the bag with just enough structure without compromising its requisite Sunday-bag slouch.

Otherwise the MacKenzie remains gloriously low-tech, unchanged, and unadorned—no double-helix nylon straps, no insulated water-bottle receptacle, no special compartments for, well, anything. The company will hand-sew a set of barrel-style head covers for its customers, but outwardly there is nothing more to a MacKenzie than a single strap, a couple of pockets, and impossibly soft leather, which, when slung across your shoulder, feels as plush as a comfortably worn club chair.

While its appeal lies largely in its lack of ornamentation, the MacKenzie could benefit from at least one modern feature: a bag stand. "We’ve had that conversation," Rohrer says, a bit cautiously. "But if we ever do have one, it will be the most damnably elegant bag stand you’ve ever seen."

 

MacKenzie Golf Bags, 503.734.6355, www.mackenziegolfbags.com

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