Sunday, 2 January 2011

Blindness – an architectural failing or charm?

13th - blindness can be avoided
A blind hole: A hole where the golfer can not establish a clear line of site to his target on one or more of the shots because of intervening topography.

Blind shots have largely been eliminated from modern golf for three reasons. One is the architect has the equipment and resources available to move enough earth efficiently to eliminate blindness. The second reason is that many in the golfing industry see the blind shot as architectural weakness or poor design. But the main reason is that liability and safety concerns force the architect to try and remove any potential risk through earthmoving. And yet an enigma like Tobacco Road gets built that truly ignores convention and embraces the blind shots as part of golf.

Most golfers immediately dismiss the blind shot for having no place in the game. But I caution you on being so hasty, considering some of the most famous blind holes. The Road Hole at St. Andrew’s, the 8th at Pebble Beach (a hole Jack Nicklaus called the best par four in golf), and the stunning 9th at Royal County Down are three of the finest holes in golf and yet each has a blind shot. One of my favorite courses in the world, Royal County Down, has more blinds shots than any other great course I know. While the course is dismissed by some, others revel in a course that is barely touched by the hand of man. I think that people can ignore a blind shots when the following shot is of such high caliber that it more than makes up for the original blind tee shot. Where the debate becomes far more interesting is the blind approach.

Again there are wonderful examples to chose from; The Himilayas and Alps hole at Pretwick, MacDonald’s Alps and Punchbowl holes at The National Golf Links of America, The punchbowl hole at Cruden Bay. The approach shots are indeed blind yet they offer some of the best golf in the world.

Tobacco Road - 18th Tee Shot is blind over the pit
The last style of “blind” hole is where a player is asked to play for position to get a clear view into the hole, and if they miss the shot to the wrong side they are left with a blind approach due to the topography. Many holes such as the 3rd at Muirfield, and the 13th at Royal County Down are fine examples. When I researched the lost holes at St. George’s, I found out both the 4th and 15th were holes of this very character. In older writings they were described as the finest holes on the course, and yet they fell victim to an architect who did not understand their merits

There is still room for a blind shot, it adds variety and interest to a round, and may help a transition across difficult ground without destroying the natural character of the land. It also offers architects another psychological tool to make a great player uncomfortable. Even blocking the green site from view, but leaving the flag visible has an impact on the how comfortable a player is over a shot. Players have come to expect everything visible and clearly defined on each shot, and break in this pattern bothers them. As architects, we are always looking for a way to add tension in small doses throughout the round; the blind shot has the same impact as water, out of bounds or a forced carry. All four add additional tension, but only the blind shot works without the fear of penalty strokes. Pete Dye has built a series of short par fours requiring a blind wedge into a small target. The PGA players hated the original short 12th at TPC because of the blindness, and it was this dislike that he used to torment them on such a short and easy hole. Pete was a master at getting in the players minds.

The Scots will tell you that a hole is only blind once and that a player need only decide upon a line and hit the shot. But then again the Scots never worry about fairness; they just play the game as it comes.

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