D is for Dell (blind par threes)
What’s the original blind par three? Considering the many courses that have come and gone among the many rolling dunes of Britain, it’s near impossible to guess. There is one, however, that stands more prominent in the lore of golf, and many have since held it as the standard for blind one-shotters. Interestingly, it’s not among the many rolling dunes of Britain, but rather those of Ireland: The Dell at Lahinch.
Lahinch Golf Club Old course 5th hole - image courtesy of Lahinch Golf Club
This hole, laid out by Old Tom Morris during 1892, makes its goal obvious (if not the target of one’s tee shot). Granted, a white stone is now placed atop the fronting, 30-foot dune to mark the pin placement for the day, but this was not necessarily always the case. Players launch their ball 155 yards in the general direction, hoping to find it on the two-tiered green (high left and low right) when they arrive at the other side. The worst result will be to end atop or even on the far side of the fronting dune, as the thick cut won’t allow a short ball to follow gravity. True, the player will need extra club to carry the hill, but Old Tom showed his knack for meteorology: The North Atlantic wind results in shots that descend much steeper than they ascend.
Despite the debate over the fairness of blind shots, The Dell survived renovations from Alister MacKenzie, the same man who eventually removed Royal St George’s notorious Maiden from the map. There are very few examples to suggest that “Dell” itself is a template, but it does set a standard for holes that wish to be compared to it.
The Dell may be Old Tom’s most noteworthy instance of a blind par three, but it was far from his first. He first tried the act at Prestwick, nearly 40 years earlier. The famous “Himalayas” hole has a more straightforward green than at Lahinch, simply angled upward from front-to-back. Two factors do make a difference, however: the length (currently 230 yards from the back) and the bunkers. Six pots line the edge of the green, but five of them make the left of the hole the worst miss. Some suggest blind bunkers are an insult to strategic golf, but Morris used the concept several times at Prestwick. In fact, C.B. Macdonald enjoyed the No. 17 “Alps” hole so much that he brought the template home to the National Golf Links of America. If Macdonald — the ultimate strategist — can appreciate it, why shouldn’t we?
Prestwick Golf Club 5th hole - image courtesy of Prestwick Golf Club
Very soon after Lahinch, Old Tom moved on to Cruden Bay, where No. 15 “Blin’ Dunt” plays exactly like it sounds (we think), 195 yards across the side of a hill where a large green awaits. A friendly slope off the fairway apron will kick shots forward toward the green, but by no means play this hole short.
Cruden Bay Golf Club 15th tee box
Old Tom was not the only architect to enjoy the occasional blind par three. Laidlaw Purves laid out the since-deceased Maiden hole, and Willie Park Jr. also created a few. Most notable is Shiskine’s “Crows Nest,” an 120-yard shot that seems to travel straight up (and over) to cross a dune that doubles back across the line of approach, before finally settling on a putting surface high above the tee. Players must also combat the breathtaking scenery of the Isle of Arran, with the Firth of Clyde left and a rock bluff rising beyond the green.
Shiskine Golf & Tennis Club 10th hole - image courtesy of Shiskine Golf & Tennis Club
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your opinion), blind shorts have largely fallen out of favor with modern architects, either because of the potential for injury (not everyone is familiar to listen for a bell) or simply because players don’t like the old-fashioned luck occasionally required at old-fashioned links. A few bold individuals have tried, however. Steve Durkee, upon renovation of the Dorset Field Club, strategically placed the No. 12 tee box to alleviate the safety problem. The player can stand to the left of the box and see the green (and, more importantly, whether anyone is on it). They can then step back to the actual tee area, where the hill on the right now blocks the view to the 145-yard target.
Dorset Field Club 12th hole "Goats Loose" - image courtesy of Dorset Field Club
One last in-memoriam for an attempt to make a true Dell recreation: At its opening, Erin Hills featured a near-clone of the legendary hole. Cleverly, they left three tee boxes to the right so weaker players could play the green longways, removing the blind element. Better players could challenge its true intent from the leftward tees. Unfortunately, many professional players also dislike the idea of blindness, and the hole was removed as a sacrifice for landing the 2017 U.S. Open.
We noted there are few details that definitively make The Dell a template hole... so of course we have still found reasons to exclude a few par threes from this list.
Willie Park Jr. has another blind par three of almost equal renown to “Crows Nest.” No. 10 at Temple Golf Club plays a whopping 243 yards... so it is helpful the player doesn’t need to cross any significant slope. The blindness is provided by a sunken green, set in a deep hollow. The land slopes down in a punchbowl formation to usher blind shots to the putting surface. Dell-style par threes depend on distance and directional management, without assistance from natural landforms. That the hole is named “Punchbowl” confirms our suspicion that it’s intended to play much more like that template, and less like a Dell.
Temple Golf Club 10th hole "Punchbowl" - image courtesy of Temple Golf Club
Continuing on this theme, we follow Park to the United States for yet another not-quite “Dell.” The No. 8 hole at Maidstone is one of the most famous on Long Island, yet it plays nothing like its original intent. After Park had left his mark, a storm shifted a dune and made the 150-yard hole blind. Members later elected to bulldoze the dune, but made the odd decision to handle it themselves (we assume these Long Islanders had cash to spare). The remaining wreckage of the dune leaves half the green blind, but more so due to scrub brush than hill. It’s an iconic look, but the visible portion of the green takes it out of contention for “Dell” comparisons.
The Maidstone Club 8th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
Using this logic that the entire green must be invisible from the tee, we can rule out greens such as No. 8 at Tom Doak’s Heathland Course at the Legends Resort. Front-left pin placements will be blind due to the sandy rise at the front of the uphill green, but otherwise players will be able to spot the pin on this uphill, 150-yard shot. We don’t doubt at all, however, that Doak is among the most likely architects to propose a blind par three green if an owner gave him a green light.