This past weekend I played Tobacco Road Golf Course in Sanford, NC. Sanford is slightly north of the Pinehurst area. Tobacco Road was designed by the late Mike Strantz who has several highly regarded courses to his credit. It’s a shame he couldn’t stay with us longer to add more unique courses to his small course portfolio. Tobacco Road is target golf at its best and it is ranked as one of the most difficult courses in the USA.
It must be a 7300 yard behemoth of a course right? Absolutely not; it’s barely over 6500 yards from the tips. The slope from the championship tees tops out at 150. We dialed it back just a little (the second set of tees were pushed back pretty far that day, within a putt of the back set on most of the holes) to a slope of 141. The starter attempts to guide you to the "correct set of tees" based upon your handicap, but who pays attention to that?
Much to my surprise, many of the locals in the Pinehurst area did not speak so fondly of Tobacco Road. Many feel that the course is contrived, has too much sand and is too target oriented. Well, I have yet to play a round of golf anywhere that isn’t target oriented; it’s the name of the game. Contrived? Hmmmm, not really, maybe a few of the holes are, like number one, a 547 yard par five (Disc tees) where you have to literally smash the perfect tee shot and thread a needle in order to drive through two huge, man made, fescue infested sandhills.
Could there be a little more grass around the par 3 greens? Absolutely, but I never felt "punished" on these holes, even when missing the green. For the most part, there was ample room to land on all of the par fours and fives. Too much sand? Sure, but local rules state that nothing on the course is designated as a sand trap, everything with sand is a waste area and practice swings anywhere in the sand are in fact, allowed. We abused that rule as if it was going out of style. Furthermore, if your ball comes to rest in a tire track, footprint or animal track you are allowed relief. The greens rolled quite nicely, especially for early December and one never felt they were tricked up. Strantz defintely did a nice job as far as the putting surfaces are concerned.
Additionally, there is no out of bounds here, not anywhere on the course. It just doesn’t get much better than that. The layout, variety of holes and flow of this course was heavenly. By flow I mean the holes themselves, not the pace of play which can be a bit slow if the group in front of you is struggling.
In fact, I wish I had played the Talamore Resort Course prior to playing Tobacco Road because I felt that from a visual standpoint, Talamore just couldn’t compete after playing Tobacco Road. Please don’t misunderstand me, Talamore is a beautiful Rees Jones designed, classic Carolina Pines style of golf course, but it quite simply lacks the aesthetics that Strantz serves up to you in gobs at Tobacco Road.
According to Strantz on his Maverick Golf Design Website, "My goal is to give golfers the opportunity to experience such exhilaration on each and every hole by creating dramatic and imaginative designs. When a course does not force players to think, the game becomes dull and monotonous—a walk in a well-landscaped park." Tobacco Road is exactly just that, dramatic and imaginative. Tobacco Road could never be accused of being a monotonous walk in the park, that is a surety.
I know that the next time I visit North Carolina I’ll stop and play Tot Hill Farm (Asheboro, NC) on my way to Pinehurst. Strantz has two courses in Myrtle Beach, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue, both are securely locked in at the top of my list for courses to play the next time I venture down to Myrtle Beach.
If you choose to play Tobacco Road during your next trip to the North Carolina Sandhills, schedule it as your last round and don’t forget your sand wedge!
Tobacco Road course ratings: