Sunday, 2 January 2011

13th at Royal County Down

From the dune on the left

Royal County Down is the most remarkable golf course I have ever played. All the blindness and partial blindness somehow doesn’t interfere with the joy of playing the course. There are many great holes there, but the one that has the most interesting lessons is the par four 13th.

Looking back - hidden slope on left side feeds into green
 The tee shot is quite open compared to most holes and it is easy to assume a ball anywhere in the fairway is the correct play. But a key diagonal dune that begins in the right rough and extends all the way to the green is the key to the hole. A player hitting safely onto the right side of the fairway has a completely blind approach over the dune, which is covered in long grass, bunkers and even a little gorse. The play is actually to the far left side of the fairway where the green becomes “mostly” visible. From that point the hole can be attacked without crossing the main part of the dune or it’s bunkers, but getting to that position you must be careful to avoid the gorse in the hillside just left of the fairway.

My favorite part of the hole is the partially blind approach. Your eye says stay left - where the sole deep bunker awaits - yet the easy route is to use the hidden kicker slope short and right of the green to feed the ball in. Why don’t people hit it there, because most can’t get by the fact that they have to hit it blindly over the dune and trust their stroke to be accurate? It’s a mindset that mainly North American golfers struggle with since we’ve used to seeing everything well.

So what is to be learnt? Rewarding accuracy with visibility is an old technique that is largely ignored in the modern era of earthmoving and fairness. It is an excellent way to reward positional play. Blindness makes players uncomfortable and is a terrific way to get inside the player’s mind. Deception and intimidation still make a player uncomfortable and must be used to add challenge and interest to the game.

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