Get ready to golf big or go home when you visit North Carolina’s Tobacco Road Golf Club. Truly, if you’re not ready to commit your best game to a challenging and exciting – yes, exciting – round of golf, just keep your clubs in your bag, grab a sweet tea, beer or cigar and enjoy the aroma of the southern pines and view from Tobacco Road’s serene clubhouse veranda. However, if you’re ready to rock your best game, tee it up, and let the fun begin!
Designed by the late Mike Strantz, Tobacco Road is an amazing 18-hole track. On some holes you’ll ask yourself if it’s real or fantasy, crazy or genius. Yet conquer the daunting visuals and vast waste areas, and you will feel like you’ve golfed one of the most fun-to-play courses you’ve ever encountered.
Opened in 1998, Tobacco Road was named 10th among Golf Digest‘s 50 Toughest Courses in America in 2007 and was among its Top 100 Public Courses in America in 2009. It was was listed as one of the Top 100 “Places to Play” in America by Golf Magazine in 2010, and in 2013, it was recognized as 50th among the world’s best golf courses by Golf Course Architecture Magazine.
Located in Sanford, N.C., Tobacco Road is built upon an abandoned sand quarry and tobacco farm. As a result, it’s rugged, dramatic and uniquely beautiful. There are no sand bunkers at Tobacco Road; instead there are massive sandy ‘waste areas’ where you can get in plenty of trouble, ground your club without penalty and accumulate too many strokes. Stay focused and you’ll escape easily and just love the thrill of the shot.
“The course is visually intimidating, and some holes, like No. 16, which defines the golf course, are impossible looking. If you’re psyched out, you’re in for a long day,” said Joe Gay, Sanford native and Tobacco Road’s director of golf. “But its bark is a lot worse than its bite,” he said, noting there often are some broad generous fairways beyond the forced carries or alongside the trouble areas. Playing at a length of 6,532 yards from the championship ‘Ripper’ tees, Tobacco Road’s 150 slope rating is said to be second in the Carolinas to the famed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Our visit to Tobacco Road was on a beautiful fall day and was a spontaneous adventure. Visiting our U.S Army son who was stationed at Fort Bragg, I hadn’t planned on golfing at all. So with tennis shoes instead of my golf shoes (not smart!) and rented clubs, my husband, son and I set out to play 9 holes – and what a great nine they were!
Course ranger, Mike Laudate, was delightful. Fun, funny and encouraging, he gave us a first-tee pep talk, sharing some good-to-know course knowledge and playing tips, and then watched our first shots. We fortunately ran into him again after our second-hole tee shots, when literally, without a course map, we weren’t sure where we were headed. From then on, we were on our own.
At Tobacco Road, each hole is an adventure. As Gay said, the course has 18 ‘signature’ holes. For me, the large waste areas were a challenge and somewhat discouraging. On the par 4, 5th hole, I had to backtrack to access mynext shot because my lie was about 25 feet in the sandy waste and separated from the fairway by a good three-feet drop at the edge. Too high to step in or cart into, I had to head back about 20 yards to drive into the waste area, hit my ball, turn around to exit and head to my next shot. Ultimately, it was distracting and a bit annoying as the guys had avoided the trouble by hitting right, to the fairway, and were feeling slowed by my sideshow.
The No. 6, par 3, somewhat epitomizes the feel of Tobacco Road. Ranging in length from 148 yards at the farthest tee to 107 yards from the forward-most spot, it requires a carry over a beautiful and vast waste area of sands, grasses and scrub vegetation to an elevated green. Equally dramatic is the 9th hole, a 415-yard, par 4 that ambles gracefully down and back up to a steeply elevated green guarded by sand waste areas on the right that tower far above your head and incorporate wood steps to climb the hill to the green.
Although we didn’t play the back nine, we took the opportunity to drive through it, observing other players along the way. The par 4, 12th impressed us as broadly spectacular and we loved the par 5, 13th with its working gristmill across the way, behind the thick scrub-guarded green. We stopped and chatted with a group playing the gentle, yet challenging par 3, 14th, which offers the only water on the course. With its pond, cottage (halfway) house and target green, it’s literally a ‘sea of tranquility’ amid the wilds of the back nine.
In addition, the Tobacco Road Clubhouse is inviting and characteristically “North Carolina.” Nestled in the soft and breezy southern pines, its log farmhouse-style construction is accented by an open pit fireplace and large outdoor porches. It has a nice snack bar, and of course, has fine cigars for sale.
The course tee markers also add to Tobacco Road’s back country theme, and include (in order of toughest job) the championship ‘rippers,’ used to till hard soil for cultivation, the ‘discs,’ used to further break up soil; the ‘plows,’ used to create planting rows for tobacco; and the forward tee ‘cultivators,’ used as the final soil prep before planting tobacco. An upscale course, 18-hole greens fees with cart and taxes range from $49 weekdays/$59 weekends December through February to $107 weekdays/$134 weekends in the mid-March through early May peak season.
To be fair, Tobacco Road is best played twice – once to get acquainted and express all your ‘oohs, aahs’ and ‘OMGs or WTFs’, and a second time to see what you can do with it. Also, buying the yardage guide, or reviewing it in advance online, along with the tongue-in-cheek online flyover tour, would be wise, as none of the tee signs have hole maps, nor does the scorecard, and there are blind holes.
Whatever you do, if you’re in the Southern Pines and Pinehurst areas of North Carolina, you’ll want to make Tobacco Road part of your golf agenda — just for the adrenalin rush, if nothing else. For more information, visit www.tobaccoroadgolf.com or call, (877) 284-3762.