Review: Tobacco Road Golf Club

Information:

  • Sanford, North Carolina
  • Public
  • Mike Strantz (1998)
  • 52nd Public in the US (Golf Digest)

On a weekend trip to North Carolina, we kicked it off at Tobacco Road Golf Club. I had heard a lot about ‘The Road,’ with numerous conflicting opinions on this Mike Strantz golf course. Some love it, with claims of a ‘world top 100,’ while some hate it. One thing was for sure: it’s a must play to make up your own opinion.


The opening hole at Tobacco Road sets the stage for a wacky, weird round of golf. 558 yards, this par 5 plays through two massive dunes.

While it looks like a tough tee shot, there’s ample amounts of room right to blast driver. Just don’t hit it left.

While I am a fan of the tee shot, I do not enjoy the hole after this. The second shot is sandwiched by two bunker complexes that you can either hit over or lay back. Either way, you’ll have a blind shot again. Two blind landing areas for me is a bit much for my taste buds.

From there, the green complex slopes hard away from the player and to the right. Bailing out left can be dangerous, even though it’s likely the play as right can be difficult.

The 2nd hole is a shorter par 4 at 392 yards. It’s recommended that you pull something less than driver and hit it just to the right of the tree straight away.

The second green is carved into the landscape with a depression area short. You shouldn’t be thinking short: anything long will come back a bit off the back slope.

The third is a little wonky, walking back from the second green to play the third. The green on the third is some 60 yards long (!).

You can see some of the wild contouring in the green below.

The 4th is a massive dogleg left par 4 at 535 yards. Keeping the tee shot to the left gives you the chance at getting home in two.

The hole wraps around a massive bunker complex all down the inside corner. It should be noted that there’s no actual ‘bunkers’ at Tobacco Road. Rather, they’re all waste areas that you can ground your club in.

I quite enjoy this green complex. It falls away from the player and pretty hard to the left. This is an enjoyable hole.

The 5th is an uphill 333 yard par 4. Waste area all down the left awaits, and it’s bet to keep it close to the left side to have a better look and angle into the green.

The green, perched up on the hill, has a huge false front that you don’t want to miss short. Take a club or a club and a half uphill—it’s deceiving.

The 6th is a short par 3 at 148 yards. To a shallow green, you have to be on your game to hit this green.

Here’s a better look at the green complex:

Transitioning down the hill, the 7th plays to a big fairway. At 411 yards, get up and grip it.

From the fairway, it’s a wonderful downhill shot to a very undulated green dissected by a ridge. A swampy, natural hazard is short, as well as the huge bunker short right.

At 178 yards, the 8th is a mid length par 3 a tad downhill.

To another shallow green that wraps around the bunker short right akin to a boomerang green, it’s a difficult mid iron.

The 9th at 427 yards plays as a long par 4 because it’s so uphill. The best play is up the left as it’ll bounce down.

To a long, narrow green bunched into the side of a hill, the only thing you can’t do is miss right.

Making the turn, the 10th is a massive fairway moving to the right. Tobacco Road is all about managing big misses, so if you need to miss right—just don’t.

The fun part of Tobacco Road is while visually tough, there’s quite a bit of room out here. Often, you’re encouraged to swing at it pretty hard. The 10th, a 441 yard par 4, certainly encourages a big ball after the turn!

I am a big fan of this green complex. Situated behind a massive waste area, a bunker left and two massive bunkers cut into a sand dune, it’s beautiful and lots of fun.

The 11th is a great par 5. 531 yards, it’s more than reachable at the right tee boxes, and swinging hard to the right, it tends to play less than the yardage.

Turning the corner, you’re met with a view of maybe the biggest bunker in the world. I’ve yet to see PGA West, or any of them at The Bad Bay at Scottsdale National (I’m sure Asia has a couple wild ones too), but if they’re bigger than this—wow!

You can get a sense of scale below.

The 419 yard par 4, 12th makes sense on paper. A dogleg left, I like the fact that you have to hit it to the outside corner to get a good angle at the green angled to the left.

However, I think the green contouring ruins this strategy, which doesn’t encourage a play to the right. No matter which side you play to, the green contouring is so severe you’d have to get lucky to get close to the flag.

The 13th has a cult following, but I am in the camp that thinks it’s a pretty awful golf hole. The tee shot, bending way to the right, can be played over the corner on the right with a big tee ball. For the weak minded, bailing out to the left with less than driver is a good play.

From there, you turn up the hill with a few bunkers (understatement of the year) waiting for your ball.

At 573 yards, it’s a three shot hole. Even cutting the corner, you’d have to be insane to go for this green complex in two. Here’s the approach from wedge territory.

The green complex is shallow yet again, crunched in between the front bunkering and a back sand dune. I am not sure what Strantz obsession with shallow greens is, but I’m not a fan of as many as there is at ‘The Road.’

The 14th is a picturesque par 3 playing down the hill. At 194 yards, it is a difficult one shotter.

In pictures, it looks quite narrow, but there’s a surprising amount of room. I’d never want to see a back pin though!

I think Tobacco Road runs into a bit of routing issues here, as you walk past the last three holes to get to 15. In reality, it’s not an awful walk, just shy of 300 yards, but for me, it detracts a bit off of the routing component.

The 15th is certainly a funky hole at 365 yards par 4. Swinging to the right, I don’t think it’s driver, but maybe a 3 wood or long iron.

You can cut the corner to the right here pretty good, so don’t be afraid to aim right.

A fairway bunker cut into the middle of the hole, I’m certain this is only in play for those who pull driver and get really aggressive.

This green complex is really weird. Shallow and sunken into the land, I would be quite a fan of this if there hasn’t been 5 previous really shallow green complexes.

The 16th is another wacky golf hole, with no real idea where to hit it. It’s short, at 326 yards, so pull a club that isn’t too long to hit it through the fairway.

After finding the fairway, the hole turns 90 degrees to the left & up the hill. With a wedge, it’s a fun shot to hit.

The 17th is another short 3 at 142 yards. Working back down the hill, it’s a shallow green, albeit very wide, split by a ridge. I imagine if you played 3 rounds here, you may scare an ace once or twice!

You then walk backwards towards the 18th tee for the 432 yard par 4 closer. A weirdly routed last three holes, however, it’s worth it. The 18th hole is the best here.

The tee shot actually reminded be quite a bit of Merion’s East 18th tee shot, which instead of over a sand quarry like Tobacco Road, plays over a rock quarry.

Back to Tobacco Road! The approach shot plays between two bunkers.

As you walk up, you realize these bunkers aren’t actually greenside, but back a bit. They provide some fun visual challenge. Surrounding the green is nothing but run offs.

I am not a huge fan of the three ridge/tier green complexes, but I let this one slide. It’s different than the rest of the greens, and provides a nice closing hole.


Am I the biggest fan of Tobacco Road? No. But that doesn’t change the fact that its still a lot of fun to play, and unlike anything I’ve seen. While I wouldn’t vouch for it to be on any top 100 list, I’d say everyone should see it once. It’s wacky, wild and fun, and while not my architectural style that I prefer, I would potentially add it if I was back in the area just to get a second glimpse.

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