Golf’s Greatest Reveals

A round of golf usually includes some memorable moments—a birdie at your nemesis hole; a sensational sunset; a good laugh with playing partners. Or, perhaps, an incredible and unexpected view that stops you in your tracks.

An article about the best reveals in golf could be a dangerous thing, though. Common to the most exceptional is the element of surprise but, after reading a thousand words on what to expect and where, how surprised could you be?

pebble beach
The 8th hole at Pebble Beach overlooking Carmel Bay (photo courtesy Pebble Beach Resorts)

Take the 8th hole at Pebble Beach. Besides the fact we’re mentioning it here, you’ve probably seen it hundreds of times on TV during U.S. Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am telecasts and would therefore have some inkling of what to expect before playing it. You’d know that after ascending the rise following the tee shot, you’d see the approach across the cliffs with Carmel Bay 70 feet below.

“But it’s still incredible,” says golf course architect Jay Blasi. “And no matter how many times you play it, your heart still skips a beat each time you crest the hill and see the view across the chasm.”

Scott Macpherson, a designer from New Zealand, agrees, saying that great reveals can trigger “a powerful sensory experience” even if you know it’s coming. “At Pebble Beach, you know you’re being taken to the clifftop and will see the Pacific,” he adds, “but golfers always have an overwhelming reaction to it.”

Just as blind shots are only blind once, it’s probably true reveals can only be revealing once. As Blasi and Macpherson imply, however, who cares, really?

They may not have been before, but even first-time visitors to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon have a very clear picture of what to expect. They’ve likely seen hundreds of images and heard a thousand testimonies. There will be sand dunes, and wind, and the ocean. They know that…but they still go.

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Pacific Dunes, 4th hole (photo courtesy Bandon Dunes Golf Resort)

The opening two holes on the original Bandon Dunes course lean east when the water is west, and, while you walk straight towards it at the 3rd, you finish on a green a long way short.

You sense something might be brewing at the 4th, however. Hitting from the 410-yard tee, you smack a drive and go in search of your ball. For 200 yards or so, low-lying bushes, clumps of tall fescue, and dunes obscure your view of the water. But you can hear it. When you reach the end of the ridge between you and the ocean and turn half-right, you’re suddenly hit with a view so stunning you pause to take it all in. The adrenalin rush may be tempered a little if you’re playing the hole for the fifth time, but it still happens.

“I chose not to show you the ocean until the second shot,” says the course’s designer, David McLay Kidd. “When the course opened, there was far more vegetation down the right so you couldn’t really hear the breakers. There’s been some clearing since, so now you have a good idea what’s coming but you don’t see it until you round the bend. And it’s always an awesome sight. It still works.”

A few hundred yards to the north is another of Bandon’s awesome reveals. As you head toward the 4th tee on the Tom Doak-designed Pacific Dunes, the ocean moves front and center, and it’s utterly overpowering.

Doak says he doesn’t think about reveals a lot, but certainly was aware of that one when routing the course. He adds that he’s actually gotten quite good at them, and has learned how to take advantage when the opportunity arises. “I wouldn’t consciously build a bland hole to get to a great reveal,” he says, “but if I find a great spot, I’ll try to figure out the best way to get there. Great holes beat great reveals for me.”

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Cruden Bay, 4th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Ocean panoramas are obviously characteristic of many of the world’s best reveals, but that’s not to say they can’t happen inland or even among coastal dunes, too. Any blind hole, be it beside an ocean, up a mountain, or in a park, offers a potentially great reveal as you pass the obstacle short of the desired landing area and see where your ball ended up. Seeing the outcome of your tee shot on the Dell Hole (5th) at Lahinch in Ireland is an exciting reveal, as is discovering whether your ball found the green on the Alps (17th) at Prestwick in Scotland after clearing the dune in front or if the Sahara Bunker, between the dune and green, swallowed it up.

“Walking the 16th fairway at TPC Sawgrass, looking right, and getting your first glimpse of the island green at the 17th is a great reveal, too,” says LINKS contributor Geoff Shackelford, who includes the journeys from the 2nd green to 3rd tee at Royal Dornoch and 3rd green to 4th tee at Cruden Bay in Scotland among his favorites. The climb to the 16th tee at California’s Rustic Canyon, which he co-designed alongside Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, is also special, he adds. “Looking south, you can see pretty much the whole of the property from up there.”

Another great inland reveal worthy of a mention comes as you walk onto the 4th tee at Banff Springs in Canada and gaze upon Stanley Thompson’s gorgeous “Devil’s Cauldron” par three with the imposing Mount Rundle towering above. “You don’t get a glimpse from the 3rd green as trees hide it,” says Canadian architect Riley Johns. “But then you break through a small thicket and the cauldron, green, bunkers, and mountain reveal themselves in epic fashion. Stan masterfully used the conceal and reveal technique which adds to the hole’s memorability and drama.”

Those fortunate enough to have played Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula will know that none of the holes mentioned here can match the extraordinary reveal you get walking through the cypress trees and onto the tee of Alister MacKenzie and Marion Hollins’s magnificent par-three 16th. Very few people are privileged to make that walk, however, so, for most of us, the others will just have to do.

No problem. I’m sure we’ll survive.

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Banff Springs, 4th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

PANEL SELECTIONS

We asked a dozen architects, authors, podcasters, photographers, and well-known golf travelers for their favorite reveals. A few holes came up multiple times, including those mentioned above, and because the response was so overwhelming we’re limiting them to one more each.

Tron Carter—Podcast Personality
Pasatiempo Golf Course, 16th hole (Santa Cruz, Calif.): “After a blind tee shot, the amazing bunker between the barranca and elevated green comes into view. That’s a good one.”

Mike Clayton—Architect
Royal Melbourne (West), 4th hole (Melbourne, Australia): “After three pretty flat holes, the tee shot at the 4th is uphill and blind. But you walk over the hill and get the view of one of the country’s best long second shots.”

Rob Collins—Architect
Pinehurst No. 2, 17th & 18th holes (Pinehurst, N.C.): “The view from the tee of the final hole with the clubhouse in the background is one of my favorites in the game.”

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Old Course at St. Andrews, 17th green (photo by Kevin Murray)

Robert Crosby—Author/Historian
Old Course at St. Andrews, 17th hole (St. Andrews, Scotland): “The first time you round the bend at the hotel and see the Road Bunker and shallow green to your right and the R&A clubhouse and town to the left is absolutely thrilling.”

Jim Hartsell—Author
Askernish Golf Club, 11th hole (Askernish, Scotland): “Arriving at the green and looking out over the Atlantic is an amazing moment.”

Bradley Klein—Writer/Architecture Consultant
Bully Pulpit Golf Course, 16th hole (Medora, N.D.): “The walk from the 15th to the 16th reveals the full drama of the Black Hills.”

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Tobacco Road, 1st hole (photo by Al Lunsford)

Thad Layton—Architect
Tobacco Road Golf Club, 1st hole (Sanford, N.C.): “Walking onto the first tee is pretty special.”

Connor Lewis—LINKS Contributor and Founder of the Society of Golf Historians
Prestwick Golf Club, 5th hole (Prestwick, Scotland): “The story goes, forecaddies positioned over the dune between the tee box and green at this par three would occasionally put a golfer’s ball in the hole. When the golfer crested the dune and eventually discovered he’d ‘holed’ his tee shot, he’d be overjoyed and give his caddie a gift which the caddie would then share with his accomplice.”

Rick Moe—Golf Traveler/X Personality
Bandon Trails, 14th hole (Bandon, Ore.): “The trek up the hill from the 13th green is exhausting, but worth every step as you get that amazing view of the Pacific.”

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Bandon Trails, 14th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Kevin Murray—Photographer
Capitol Hill (Judge), 1st hole (Prattville, Ala.): “The hole drops 200 feet with the lake on the right. Stunning.”

Stephen Proctor—Author
“The view from the top of Gullane Hill (Scotland) is absolutely magical—a panorama that includes all the courses of East Lothian and even the misty outline of the Forth Bridge in the distance.”

Michael Wolf—Author/Player Manager
Noordwijske Golfclub, 8th hole (Noordwijk, Netherlands): “After five holes in the trees, it’s great to emerge back into the dunes.”

What is your favorite golf course reveal? Describe it to us in the comment section.

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