Tobacco Road Golf Club
North Carolina, United States of America

Eleventh hole, 540 yards; This gambling three shotter that swings right is somewhat a mirror-image to the fourth but  more daunting as it bends around a 25 foot deep (!) sand pit. Unlike water at the famous thirteenth at The Dunes in Myrtle Beach, a sand pit offers a chance of recovery and becomes more flirtatious. Thus, the better player can give the green a go in two but still salvage par if he comes up short in the pit. Meanwhile, the hole is thrilling for the weaker players who can successfully bumble along the fairway that wraps around the fearsome hazard. No golfer likes to be pandered to and this hole shows how Strantz allows all golfers a genuine sense of accomplishment by avoiding an intimidating hazard.

Yet another one-off, thrilling approach shot to a 1/2 par hole.

Yet another one-off, thrilling approach shot to a 1/2 par hole.

The flight of steps to the right is best appreciated from a distance!

The flight of steps to the right is best appreciated from a distance!

Thirteenth hole, 575 yards; Critics of Tobacco Road sniff at the number of long, shallow greens and/or the number of blind shots. The thirteenth has both and joins the first and sixteenth among the most polarizing holes. Yet, the hillock that obscures 80% of the green and the sunken bath tub in which Strantz built the narrow green were always there! Minimalists should rave about this green placed in a natural dell. It is celebrated at Lahinch – and part of Irish lore. Tobacco Road has been open for nearly twenty years and the owners have witnessed a gradual warming to this hole by Americans.

The zigzag thirteenth begins with another attractive diagonal carry off the tee ...

The zigzag thirteenth begins with another attractive diagonal carry off the tee …

... and ends with a green a mere 19 yards deep, requiring a crisply struck approach with height.

… and ends with a green a mere 19 yards deep, requiring a crisply struck approach with height.

Fourteenth hole, 180 yards; The fourteenth confirms Strantz an artist who appreciates strategic play. The narrow, angled green pinched in its middle, the bunkers flowing into the water, the lake and the shack behind the green all conspire to create a postcard-perfect composition. However, the left to right slope of the green (toward the lake)  makes the hole so darned difficult that anything played away from the lake to the left leaves an almost impossible up-and- down. This exacting hole requires the surest iron shot of the day.

Even with rain coming down, the beauty - and challenge - of the downhill one shot fourteenth is evident.

Even with rain coming down, the beauty – and challenge – of the downhill one shot fourteenth is evident.

A 'safe' miss to the left of the green leaves a difficult recovery yet ...

A ‘safe’ miss to the left of the green leaves a difficult recovery yet …

... there isn't much room for error right either!

… there isn’t much room for error right either!

 Fifteenth hole, 365 yards; It’s very revealing that owner Mark Stewart oscillates between this and the ninth for his favorite hole. Because both require an abundance of local knowledge to reveal their charms and strategy, many first time visitors place either or both toward the bottom.

Standing on this tee, you receive absolutely no guidance from Mike Strantz.

Standing on this tee, you receive absolutely no guidance from Mike Strantz.

 

220 yards ahead, in typical Tobacco Road fashion, more (though not all!) is revealed.

220 yards ahead, in typical Tobacco Road fashion, more (though not all!) is revealed.

This 70 yard long mound, left behind from the mining days, runs perpendicular from the right edge of the green toward the golfer.

This 70 yard long mound, left behind from the mining days, runs perpendicular from the right edge of the green toward the golfer.

The wide, shallow, heavily undulating green offers a myriad of hole locations.

The wide, shallow, heavily undulating green offers a myriad of hole locations.

Sixteenth hole, 325 yards; Give Strantz credit: Tobacco Road stirs emotion. A few golfers throw their hands up, never to return but Adam Lawrence’s wonderful European magazine Golf Course Architecture asked a host of golf course architects to select their favorite designs and Tobacco Road made that world top 100 list. Much more puzzling, Tobacco Road was ranked 10th on the Golf Digest list of the country’s toughest courses in 2007 (67th in 2011). Say what??!! We are talking about a 6,500 yard course that plays to wide fairways and where water is in play at one hole. Half par holes to the low side abound, including the first, fourth, fifth, eleventh, thirteenth, seventeenth and here at the drivable sixteenth. Half par holes to the hard side are only the ninth and eighteenth. So, to the author, the course clearly provides scoring opportunities and is geared toward fun. Having said that, you stand on this tee, clueless where to go – and agree with Golf Digest! As the shortest two shotter on the course this hole is – and should be – well defended. The tee ball calls for a blow with a three wood over a mound covered in thick grass to the unseen fairway.

As seen from behind, the two tiered green requires a deft approach shot. Many sad three putt bogeys have resulted from shots that spin back to the lower tier when, alas, the hole is not there. Exacting golf is crammed into this little brute, which is especially appropriate given that it falls late in the round.

As seen from behind, the two tiered green requires a deft approach shot. Many sad three putt bogeys have resulted from shots that spin back to the lower tier when, alas, the hole is not there. Exacting golf is crammed into this little brute, which is especially appropriate given that it falls late in the round.

Seventeenth hole, 140 yards; The author remains unsure about this hole but every time he plays it, someone in the group does something spectacular. At first glance, another sixty yard wide, shallow green seems a bit of deja-vu. Yet the back-to-front bowled green produces a lot of slow motion balls rolling across the putting surface. Sometimes it’s rolling toward the hole but often it’s meandering farther away. An elevated tee gives the golfer a very clear report as to the direction and merit of his shot.

The seventeenth green is nearly as wide as half the length of the hole! Highly irregular to be sure but it does utilize the space nicely.

The seventeenth green is nearly as wide as half the length of the hole! Highly irregular to be sure but it does utilize the space nicely.

As Strantz explained to the owners, a hole should be like a piece of carved wood and appear attractive from all angles. As seen from behind the green, Strantz delivered.

As Strantz explained to the owners, a hole should be like a piece of carved wood and appear attractive from all angles. As seen from behind the green, Strantz delivered.

Eighteenth hole, 430 yards; After a series of relatively short (though hardly easy) holes, the tee at the Home hole immediately brings to mind the bruising finisher at Merion, where a lengthy carry is needed to reach the fairway on the other side of a quarry. The approach is nearly as intimidating, played through a cut in the hillside, where deep bunkers 30 yards short of the green hide the real trouble: sharp eight-foot drop-offs into closely-mown areas on each side of the raised green. With onlookers on the clubhouse porch nearby, the ticklish chip becomes harder.

The formidable 18th tee shot requires a 200 yard carry from the back markers to clear the quarry.

 

The course ends as it began - with a bang!

The course ends as it began – with a bang!

In his all too short career, Strantz gained a reputation for melding a host of appealing, conventional shots with unconventional dramatics. Mike Strantz’s fifth course combines appealing aspects of his earlier works: the scale and drama of Royal New Kent and the cunning and charm of Caledonia. To the author, he got the best mix at Tobacco Road. The watery finish at Royal New Kent seems like drama created for drama’s sake at the expense of good golf. There are no such out-of-character missteps here where the best qualities of the abandoned sand quarry remain front and center throughout the round. Tobacco Road is not about length; everything is within reach. Rather, it is about fun and keeping your wits about you as you play past intimidating hazards in an environment undiluted by housing. This is a highly original course created with less than half the budget of name architects and their ten million dollar projects. Tobacco Road is pure golf that open-minded golfers find irresistible.

Let the concluding words be Strantz’s as he wrote of Pete Dye in his June, 2000 Feature Interview:

Pete took what was becoming a trend toward cookie cutter sameness in ‘modern’ golf course architecture and turned it on its ear by pushing it to the very edge. To me, when Pete separated himself from the pack in the 70’s, it was like a breath of fresh air. He forced people to start looking at golf course design with a whole new perspective. He believed in what he was doing and persevered despite a firestorm of criticism and controversy. His work was so bold and so different, that I think people failed to grasp the basic fundamentals of design philosophy it contained. I think that Pete is probably the best in the business at setting up the angles and diagonals of play. Go play any of his courses and you’ll see what I mean when you look at them in that context.

We know who else that describes.

Tobacco Road gets the author's vote for most attractive course in his home state of North Carolina.

Tobacco Road gets the author’s vote for most attractive course in his home state of North Carolina.

The End