Lost in time?

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Before earth-moving equipment and irrigation systems, blind par three were created out of necessity. Shots were played up and over dunes or down into dells. Even at the peak of their use, their numbers were still modest: perhaps in the range of 12-15 existed in the early 1900s. Then they began to disappear.

Around 1926, a hillock on Sandy Parlour, the fourth hole at Deal, was partly removed to bring the top half of the flag into view. As David Dobby, club historian at Royal Cinque Ports describes, Sandy Parlour was very popular with the caddies as it was customary to receive a guinea when a player scored a hole-in-one. But this happened a little too regularly for the members' liking, which was one of the reasons the hole was altered. In 1938, all blindness was eliminated when a new tee was built on the top of a neighbouring dune.

The next to fall was the Maiden at Royal St George's. Alister MacKenzie mentions the Maiden in Golf Architecture in the midst of a discussion on the desirability of blind par threes: "At the Maiden hole at Sandwich, it was the grandeur and the impressiveness of the Maiden that made it a good hole, and not the blindness of the green." Secretary Christopher Gabbey says the first change was to move the tee 90 degrees from its original position. The shot was still blind, but no longer played over the summit of the Maiden dune. The second alteration occurred between the 1934 Open and the 1937 Amateur when the green was made completely visible from the tee.

The changing visibility of the eighth at the Maidstone Club on Long Island is an interesting story. Willie Park Jr did not originally intend a blind hole, even though he had laid out many in the past. It is said the hole became blind when storms moved the sand dune inland in the 1930s and 40s. Legend has it an irate board member partially levelled the dune with a tractor in the 1960s leaving today's mostly blind hole.

Perhaps Robert Hunter puts it best in The Links: "Blind one-shot holes are most undesirable, and yet the Maiden at Sandwich was sacrificed under protest, and who would dare lay his hands on the Sandy Parlour at Deal? So goes golf on the links – those sacred bits of God's earth – where men have battled for generations, like the sailor or the mountaineer, with what nature has placed before them."

This article first appeared in issue 15 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2009.