Sight Unseen: The best blind shots in links golf

Blind shots are one of the greatest joys – or treacheries – in links golf, depending upon your opinion.

It took a couple trips overseas playing links golf in the Great Britain and Ireland before I got comfortable playing them. I've stopped complaining. I've learned to embrace them. They’re what make links golf fun and interesting and different.

Almost every links course I’ve played has at least one blind shot, a drive over a ridge or a green tucked completely behind a dune. Climbing these obstacles and finding out where your ball ended up is such a rush.

There are so many blind shots on links in GB&I that I consulted more than a dozen tour operators, architects, golf pros and golf writers to find some of the best. My research, coupled with a few of their responses, have inspired this story, an eclectic collection of some of the most famous, wildest and weirdest holes and unheralded links courses with blind shots in the GB&I. I’ll be doing a follow-up story with more blind holes, so don’t feel neglected if your favorite isn’t included.

Most famous blind holes

Introduction: There are a few others we could add to this list, but I’ve saved them for other categories.

No. 5 on the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, Ireland

Comment: The white rock on the dune is the only clue where to aim on the beloved ‘Dell hole’, a 154-yard par 3 with a hidden green sandwiched between high dunes. According to club lore, caddies once ran elaborate hole-in-one scams to guarantee better tips.

No. 17 on the Old course at St. Andrews, Scotland

Comment: The obstacles that make the ‘Road Hole’ blind are the fault of modern man encroaching upon this difficult 495-yard par 4. Players bravely aim over a corner of the Old Course Hotel to hit the fairway that doglegs right. With the infamous “Road Hole” bunker on the left and an ancient stone wall to the right of the angular green, making par should be celebrated like you’ve just won The Open.

No. 17 on the Old course at Prestwick Golf Club, Scotland

The second shot to the blind 17th green must carry huge dunes called the "Alps" on the Old Course at Prestwick Golf Club in East Ayrshire, Scotland.

Comment: You’ll never forget the first time you crest the dune blocking the green of the 394-yard, par-4 “Alps”, the course’s original second hole dating to 1851. The gaping Sahara bunker (pictured) swallows all misses short of the green. The hit-and-hope uphill tee shot over a dune on the par-3 fifth hole called "Himalayas" could easily be featured here, too.

No. 14 at Cruden Bay Golf Club, Scotland

Comment: A blind approach on this 431-yard par 4 along the coast plays to one of the most unique green sites in golf. A sunken, long and narrow green sits at the bottom of a “bathtub” well below the fairway with walls on all four sides. Often times, the best shots hit the slope in front running down to the flag.

Best reveals on blind holes

Introduction: The fun of playing a blind shot is seeing what’s on the other side. These ‘reveals’ will blow you away.

Comment: Hitting the blind drive on “Dunrobin”, a 434-yard par 4, is unnerving, although the reward is pretty sweet: A view of the Dornoch Fifth from high above as the fairway sweeps steeply downhill to the green. No. 17, a 417-yard par 4 called “Valley”, offers redemption on another blind drive if you screw this one up.

No. 9 at Dunbar Golf Club, Scotland

Comment: The rising fairway obscures what lies beyond on this 532-yard par 5 called “Longbanks” – a view of the Barns Ness Lighthouse and the Firth of Forth (if you can ignore the industrial equipment beyond the green).

No. 14 on the West Links at North Berwick, Scotland

Comment: This charming links has a few other blind shots, but this is the most memorable. The hole’s name “Perfection” apply describes the view of the Firth of Forth and the offshore Bass Rock once golfers climb up the fairway ridge to the green, marked by a white aiming post.

No. 9 at Royal County Down Golf Club, Northern Ireland

Comment: Only a white rock reveals the line to the fairway over a high dune on this famous 483-yard par 4. Beyond the dune, the fairway unfurls below, although your eyes are drawn to the spire of the Slieve Donard Hotel and the Mountains of Morne towering overhead. It’s simply sublime.

No. 11 at Tain Golf Club, Scotland

A climb up a steep mound reveals the 11th green on the "Alps" hole at Tain Golf Club.

Comment: From the tee of “Alps”, a 380-yard par 4, golfers can’t see the green, which is barricaded in front by a pair of giant dunes. After hitting a blind approach, golfers come face to face with the Dornoch Firth (pictured above) for the first and only time during the round. Just pray your ball didn’t find the out-of-bounds markers near the water in back.

Comment: This 420-yard par 4 ranks as the men’s no. 1 handicap but fret not. Even double bogeys don’t feel so bad once once you crest the hill after a blind uphill tee shot at a marker post. A visual bombshell reveals a postcard scene of a green with the Sheephaven Bay and Muckish Mountain in the background.

Blind holes at The Open

Introduction:: Beyond a few blind shots on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the 10 links currently in The Open rota actually lack a representative sum of blind shots compared to other links courses. The pros sure are spoiled, aren’t they?

Comment: This hole isn’t entirely blind, so I almost didn’t include it. To anybody who has played this 495-yard par 4, you don’t dare mess with ‘Himalayas’, the 40-foot-tall bunker carved from a high dune right of the fairway. The hole is so tough it played as a par 5 for The Open in 2003 won by Ben Curtis.

No. 9 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, England

The par-4 9th hole at Royal Birkdale Golf Club features a blind tee shot.

Comment: This 411-yard par 4 (pictured below) requires a blind drive to the most rumpled fairway on the course. Prior to the 2017 Open, players were considering a route down the 10th fairway until the R&A installed a local rule deeming this strategy out-of-bounds.

No. 17 on the Dunluce at Royal Portrush Golf Club, Northern Ireland

Comment: The former 15th hole is called “Purgatory”, where its fairway falls off of a ridge, dropping to the green. It tends to kicks balls into the left rough. A tall black-and-white pole behind the green provides an aiming point.

Comment: A blind tee shot reveals none of the trouble ahead on this short 358-yard par 4, notably the bunkers strewn about like discarded toys. Perhaps its blindness caused the wild drive Seve Ballesteros hit into the car park right of the fairway at The Open in 1979. A dramatic birdie from such a troublesome spot won the crafty Spaniard the claret jug.

No. 8 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, England

Comment: The tee shot on this 433-yard par 4 called “Briars” is essentially the only blind shot on the links called “Hoylake”. It must carry 190 yards over the out-of-bounds hedge and avoid a couple fairway bunkers up the right side.

Comment: The 515-yard par 5 called “Spectacles” – named for the pair of glasses-shaped bunkers that stare you down and block the view of the double green – has seen its share of championship glory. In 1968, Gary Player hit one of the greatest shots of his career, a three-wood setting up eagle in his march to a claret jug. Tom Watson chipped in for eagle in a playoff to win The Open in 1975.

No. 11 on Muirfield, Scotland

Comment: A completely blind shot over a ridge – the only blind shot on the course - reveals a wide fairway of a 389-yard par 4. It’s a gentle blind shot by links standards, proving why many players consider Muirfield to be the fairest of all the links in the Open rota.

Solving pace of pace issues on blind holes

Introduction: The biggest problem these holes present is players never know when a blind area is clear. There are a number of tricks links courses use to keep the pace of play running along smoothly and safely for all golfers. For example:

No. 4 on the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, Ireland

Comment: Lahinch uses manpower to protect golfers walking up the 18th hole. A flagman sits atop "Klondyke Hill", signaling when golfers playing No. 4 can hit their second (or third) shot over a wall of dunes on the wildly unique “Klondyke” hole, a 475-yard par 5 that crosses the line of play with the 18th fairway. Only a historic links with a pedigree involving Old Tom Morris and Dr. Alister Mackenzie would allow such madness.

No. 13 at Enniscrone Golf Club, Ireland

Comment: This 350-yard par 4, named “The Burrows”, actually has its own traffic light, a new technology called "Fore-Warned" to the right of the fairway that flashes green when it’s safe to hit. It’s actually an easier blind shot than the blind drive on no. 12, a tricky par 4 named “Cnoc na gCorp”. The play is over the white stone in the middle of the fairway, which usually sets up a wedge/short iron into the green tucked to well below to the right.

No. 6 at Lundin Golf Club, Scotland

Comment: Players climb up a viewing tower (pictured) to make sure it’s safe to hit a blind tee shot on this short 331-yard par 4 called “Spectacles”. It plays similar to the shot of the same name at Carnoustie, flying over a pair of bunkers cut into the dunes. Beware of the out of bounds along a road down the right side.

No. 3 and no. 7 at Machrihanish Golf Club, Scotland

Comment: The most common signal it’s safe to play on is the ringing of a bell. When groups are moving on from a blind area, they ring a bell, sending a message to the group behind to play on. Both of these blind par 4s use one – near the fairway on the 373-yard third called “Islay” and near the green on the 476-yard seventh hole called “Bruach More”. Interestingly, bells are not in use for the blind tee shots over marker posts at no. 6 and no. 9 at Machrihanish. A number of other overseas links (no. 15 at Cruden Bay, for example) and parkland courses use bells to keep traffic flowing.

No. 1 at Golf House Club, Elie, Scotland

Comment: One of the coolest opening tee shots in golf comes on the infamous “periscope” hole on this somewhat obscure links. A 10-meter-tall submarine periscope, salvaged from the HMS Excalibur in 1966, allows the person manning the Starters’ Office to peer beyond the hill to see if the coast is clear on this 420-yard par 4. Elie isn’t the only links with a blind first tee shot (see the Welshpool Golf Club in Wales).

No. 3 at Cruden Bay Golf Club, Scotland

Comment: Cruden Bay has installed a "traffic light" near the tee box of the reachable par 4. It tells golfers when the blind green is clear and where the pin is.

Links with the most blind holes

Introduction: If you loathe blind shots, these are the links to avoid. If you love blind and quirky fun as I do, book a tee time immediately.

Comment: This 6,641-yard links dating to 1892 – with later contributions by Dr Alister MacKenzie and Willie Park – offers plenty of blind action, the tee shots at no. 3 and 4 and the approach shots to the first, seventh and 14th green. Some consider it among the best values in links golf in the UK. It has two bells to keep things moving.

Comment: This past host of the Scottish Open is replete with blind shots. The blind tee shot over a hill toward colored markers at the par-4 10th hole (your aiming line depends upon what tee you play) kicks off a rousing stretch of blind shots in extreme linksland (the 13th hole is named “Blind”).

Comment: This quirky links is a bit polarizing. Some loves its features – incredible views, castle ruins along a fairway and electric wire fences to keep the cows/sheep/wild horses off the greens. Others can’t get over how awkward some of the holes feel, especially the controversial par-5 17th hole, one of the many with a tricky blind shot or two.

It's a blind shot to the 10th green at Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club in Scotland.

Comment: Some of the blind shots on Mach Dunes, a David McLay Kidd effort isolated on the Mull of Kintyre peninsula, have been softened over the years. There are still four or five strong ones, just like at the nearby Macrihanish Golf Club. No. 10 is pictured above. The most fun has to be the blind tee shot on the drivable par-4 fourth hole, which is 307 yards from the tips but only 247 yards from the whites. The green is tucked into dunes, which funnel shots onto the putting surface to give up its fair share of eagles.

Royal County Down Golf Club, Northern Ireland

Comment: No other course in the world has more blind shots over aiming rocks and guidance posts than this famous links. The ninth hole profiled above is one of five blind tee shots in the first 11 holes (all on par 4s). A few approaches early in the round are hidden, too.

Comment: While its sister links, Ballybunion Old, is the more famous links, playing the Cashen is a wilder ride through more heaving dunes. It’s another course that golfers tend to love or hate, depending up how they feel about blind shots.

Comment: This unheralded links by James Braid in the southwest of England only stretches to 6,296 yards. The dunes are so unrelenting that there are no fewer than seven blind drives and other approaches to hidden greens. To some first-timers, it can feel like playing golf in the dark.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Sight Unseen: The best blind shots in links golf