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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.