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Tobacco Road: “Strantz’s Little Acre”

Golf is a game of contradictions.  Hit down on the ball, and it goes up.  Hit right, and it hooks left.  Psychologically, the same tug-of-war goes on.  Some people view golf as a serene communion with nature, while others view it as warfare.  The new Tobacco Road Golf Club, located 20 miles north of golf-rich Pinehurst, brings out both ends of the emotional spectrum.  This course is the kinetic handiwork of Mike Strantz, who was arguably one of the hottest architects in America prior to his untimely death.  His wild, complex designs brought out the love-hate relationship lurking in most golfers.  Those seeking beauty are treated to a layout that appears to be sculpted on a grand scale out of the North Carolina Sandhills.  For combative types, this is unconventional warfare, appropriate considering its proximity to nearby Fort Bragg.

The layout is tucked away off the beaten track from Route 1, evoking the homespun tranquility of Mayberry, RFD.  You half expect to find Goober and Barney Fife on the first tee chorusing “Go-l-ly Andy,” while gazing upon the surreal setting.  Courses usually lock onto one hole as their “signature” hole.  Tobacco Road is a signature course, and like John Hancock, the flamboyant handwriting of Mike Strantz cannot be overlooked.

Strantz was an art major at the University of Miami in Ohio before switching schools and majors to earn a degree in turf management from Michigan State.  For a decade, he apprenticed under Tom Fazio, and while his expertise was in construction rather than design, eventually, the artist reemerged.

When Strantz got his first project, the heralded Caledonia Club in Myrtle Beach, his total dedication to detail became a habit he never broke.  Unlike most architects, he only tackled one project at a time.  Artists have fun with fantasy, illustrating imaginary courses in bizarre locales like the Grand Canyon the and Wall Street.  Strantz began his projects in somewhat the same manner, making beautiful sketches of what he envisioned as the finished product and then being on site most of the time to test how close reality can come to matching his imagination.  He used a lot of imagination at Tobacco Road.

Tobacco Road Strikingly Unique

Tobacco Road, in many places, is so strikingly unique and visually stunning that it seems unreal.  The first hole’s eerie twin peaks guarding both sides of a winding fairway immediately alert you to the fact that this isn’t a walk-in-the-park muni.  A Strantz walk is a tiptoe along the fine lines of being too wild, hard, or whatever.  But open your mind and senses, and you may rethink what golf can be about.  That’s what Strantz wanted.

Tobacco Road Golf Club
Tobacco Road Golf Club’s Twin Peaks guarding both sides of a winding fairway immediately alert you to the fact that this isn’t a walk-in-the-park muni.

Tobacco road isn’t a long course, but it packs a wallop.  From the back, tees, par plays to seventy-one at 6554 yards.  By the way, the slope is 150 from there, and the rating is 73.2 (Don’t even think about playing these “Ripper” tees unless you’re close to touring pro level and it’s a calm day).  Well, the slope at Pine Valley is also 150, so you better believe there are some challenges.  If you choose to use driver excessively, it’s only if you harbor strong masochistic tendencies.  Like a pirate navigating the deadly reefs of the Caribbean, to find treasure, you need to go through the charts at every turn.  Without the guidebook, the blind carries and intimidating visuals will eat you alive.

If after surviving a round, (and you can hate part of it, just so long as you also love part of it), the local knowledge you gain should make you desire a rematch.  Now you’re playing into Mike Strantz’s hands because he wants to challenge and frustrate you…and have you come back so each time you get a little wiser.  Beware, though, most of the greens are ENORMOUS, and while you might have one route figured out, another placement, 100 feet away, will mean a trip back to the drawing board.

This is also the first course I played, which used 10-foot flag sticks on a number of holes. Actually, at that height, they’re more like flag poles, and on a windy day, it might take your whole group to handle the sucker.  Fantasize you’re the Marines storming Iwo Jima, and you’ll be all right.  Why this high?  Because you’ll never see the target over some of the greenside mounds.  Suffice it to say; approach shots test your nerves.  But this is cool, and Strantz likes heroics.

He identifies somewhat with legendary Allistaire McKenzie.  “Just go play the course and don’t complain about it,” said Strantz.  You see, he didn’t seem to care if you shot seventy or a hundred-seventy.  He believed there was too much emphasis on score and that the true spirit of the game is found in match play.  But in this context, you face both your opponent and the course.  Every hole has its own unique challenge, and during the round, it will reveal all your weaknesses and force you to reach deep to find your strengths.

Whether you praise or profanitize the layout, if you’re a serious golfer, this is a golfing experience you owe to yourself.  You can visit the Tobacco Road website at tobaccoroadgolf.com., where you’ll be able to see more visuals of the course.

 

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