Lost Hole: The Maiden

By AML

Blind par threes, once common, are now a rarity, even on the quirk-filled links of Great Britain and Ireland.

As Michael Kraker’s terrific survey of the breed (see GCA issue 15, page 50, or read Kraker's article) showed, only very few survive. Most fell victim to a change in golfing fashions, some a surprisingly long time ago.

Even as far back as 1910, Bernard Darwin was writing with surprising rancour on blind holes – he dismissed one hole in the first incarnation of Sunningdale as ‘bad and blind and stupid’.

Holes that originated as the ultimate tests of golfing testosterone (it is very easy to imagine Victorian golfers, equipped with gutty balls that were difficult to get airborne, would challenge each other to hit over the highest hill on a property) were often dismissed as fluky and, once golf design established itself as a formal discipline in the early twentieth century, abandoned or altered.

Royal St George’s in Kent is among the most old-school of Britain’s classic links. There remain plenty of blind shots, crazy bounces and severe greens at Sandwich, to the extent that Open Championship competitors often rage at the course. Jack Nicklaus, for one, has called it his least favourite course on the rota, and he’s far from alone in that view, though many other golfers would pick it as one of the very finest.

Sandwich’s sixth hole is the Maiden, a name that resonates through golf’s history. The Maiden green is two-tiered, protected by four deep pot bunkers and sits among towering sand dunes, one of which gave the hole its name.

The dune known as the Maiden, up to the early twentieth century, was the entire focus of the hole, sitting directly in line between tee and green. For safety reasons, the tee was moved through ninety degrees, still leaving the hole blind, but, as Darwin wrote, much of the terror was gone. “Few bunkers have a more infamous reputation than this Maiden, but the newcomer to the Sandwich of today will think she has done little to deserve it,” he wrote in The Golf Courses of the British Isles, published in 1910.

“There stands the Maiden, steep, sandy and terrible, with her face scarred and seamed with black timbers, but alas! we have no longer to drive over her crown: we hardly do more than skirt the fringe of her garment. In old days the tee was right beneath the highest pinnacle, and sheer terror made the shot formidable, but the tee-shots to the fifth endangered the lives of those driving to the sixth, and the tee had to be put far away to the right. The present Maiden is but a shadow of its old self, and the splendour of it has in a great measure departed.” Darwin may not have been wholly fond of blind holes, but he clearly had plenty of affection for this one!

In the 1930s, the hole was altered again, making the green wholly visible from the tee. The extent of these alterations can be comprehended by the description of today’s Maiden on the Royal St George’s website: ‘not a hole that scares many – but still deserves respect’. For a hole whose principal role, at one time, was to induce fear in the golfer, this is a change indeed!

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