Tobacco Road - North Carolina - USA

Tobacco Road Golf Club,
442 Tobacco Road,
Sanford,
North Carolina (NC) 27332,
USA


  • +1 877 284 3762

  • Golf Club Website

  • 30 minutes from the Village of Pinehurst

  • Welcome - conact in advance

Architect Mike Strantz started out as a member of Tom Fazio’s construction crew before setting up his own company at the end of the 1980s. Known for his daring and unconventional style, Strantz loved to push the design boundaries and the nine solo projects that he completed before his untimely death in 2005 bear testament to his adventurous golfing philosophies.

Pine Valley on steroids” is how Tobacco Road is billed. Cut through an old sand quarry on land once cultivated by tobacco farmers, it’s also been described as “golf’s rock and roll thrill ride,” where the architect moved a fair amount of earth to shape the roller coaster fairways and form the dramatic greensites. Due to all the risk taking by the architect, if ever there was a course built to put the fun back into the game then this is it.

Notable holes include the 525-yard 4th (where the fairway veers sharply left around a massive sandy waste area), the 531-yard 11th (which swings to the right, around a 40 foot deep sand pit), the 194-yard 14th (played to a kidney-shaped lakeside green that slopes down to the water) and the 432-yard closer, requiring a long, testing tee shot out of the quarry to a blind fairway landing area.

All eighteen greens at Tobacco Road were converted from bent grass to Bermuda during the summer of 2014, a process that took just over two months to complete.

The following article was written by lawyer and sports writer Jay Flemma and is an edited extract from Volume Four of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at fswing@bigpond.net.au

In his book Grounds for Golf (2003), Geoff Shackleford compared great golf courses to epic films. The analogy has merit. For example, he called Pine Valley “The Godfather” and he called National Links of America “Citizen Kane”. To continue the exploration, it’s clear Mike Strantz’s tour de force at Tobacco Road is akin to Quentin Tarantino’s celebrated, polarising, avante garde neo-classic, “Pulp Fiction”.

Combining his profound gift for designing great strategic holes with his limitless palette for artistic flair, Strantz wove wide, yet elusive fairways and well-protected greens amid heaving, expansive waste areas and hurly-burly North Carolina sand hills. The results are awe-inspiring. Part Pine Valley for its vast sandy waste areas and part Prestwick for its numerous blind drives and approaches, the result is a dazzling and powerful synergy flawlessly executed to produce a course rich in risk-reward options on a breathtaking canvas.

Years of target golf on parkland-style layouts and the acceptance of ‘stick the pin’ designs as the norm has led some to opine that many of Tobacco Road’s ancient design concepts – blind shots and shots threaded through towering rough-covered dunes – were anachronistic or contrived. Moreover, the course consistently requires shaped shots, a smooth, trusty swing to deal with the intimidating green settings and, most of all, patience bordering on the robotic.

Far too often, blind shots are seen as a nuisance and unusual looking designs are quickly dismissed as gimmicky. Some unimaginative and disgruntled players unfairly brand “The Road” with such a stigma. As the design elements they dismiss so high-handedly are derived from some of the most storied courses in the world, these detractors are wrong. Nobody has a problem with the blind shots at Prestwick or Lahinch, but import them to the United States and a designer better have earplugs or a bulletproof ego.

The difficulty of the course is derived from three factors. Firstly, nobody was better than Strantz at creating optical illusion, and nowhere do his optical illusions invoke more trepidation, confusion, or frustration in golfers than at Tobacco Road. Some of the holes look claustrophobic from the tee (but) fears from the tee are misplaced: the fairways are actually quite wide. The optical illusions lead to uncertainty and uncertainty frequently becomes fear. The fear-factor is the second and overriding factor in the course’s difficulty. Nervous, uncertain swings lead to disastrous results. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you must play the right set of tees for your skill level. Players who insist on playing a set of tees beyond their skill level will fail to reach doglegs or forced carries off the tee.

Sadly, we lost Mike Strantz (1955-2005) to oral cancer far too soon, in the height of his ascension. Like “Pulp Fiction” many knew “The Road” was destined for greatness right from its opening, even in the face of vocal opposition. Just as “Pulp Fiction” stirred bitter controversy at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so too did Tobacco Road stir controversy with its fearless courage in demanding blind or semi-blind shots to devilishly positioned greens. Strantz turned convention on its ear and seemingly said: look how much further we can reach when we suspend expectations and take some chances. Only now are we beginning to appreciate just how visionary he was.

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Reviews for Tobacco Road

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Description: "Pine Valley on steroids" is how Tobacco Road Golf Club is billed. Cut through an old sand quarry, it’s certainly a unique Mike Strantz creation. Rating: 8.3 out of 10 Reviews: 31
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Dave Stebbins

This is one of my 3-4 favorite courses I’ve ever played.

“It’s like looking at a great golf course through a fun-house mirror.” I can’t remember who I read that said that, but truer words have never been spoken. This breaks up the monotony of playing the traditional parkland courses (tree lined fairways, up and back hole-routing, etc.), and adds some spice & creativity to your life. If you’re a fan of only traditional golf layouts and closed-minded to anything different, this is not the place for you. But if you like holes that will etch themselves into your memory forever bc of the creative nature of their design, this is heaven.

For the sake of full honesty, despite my love for this course, if I’m pressed to point out any blemishes on TR’s resume it’s that it was once a hidden gem (incredibly well-manicured, less expensive, and fairly easy to get a Tee time), but a number of years ago, they linked themselves to the “Pinehurst Golf-getaway promotions (don’t get me wrong, it’s a great business move) and is now catering to SO many golfers that there’s way more divots and imperfections than there used to be on the course.

That being said, the creative layout alone, keeps me coming back… which is a good thing, because this is a course that gets easier, and more fun in some ways, the more you play it. What constitute a number of blind shots on your first go-round (#1, #2, #7, #15, #16, #18 for sure) become fun challenges to remember your aiming points, pick the right club, and execute your shot.

And now I have the added bonus of going down there and getting to play with first-timers every once in a while and relive that “this is so much fun and crazy” first-timer experience.

August 19, 2022
9 / 10
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Billy Morris

The most visually intimidating courses in my opinion. The canyons and undulations of the holes truly test your shot making and mental toughness. Lots of blind shots, so definitely recommend buying the yardage book in the clubhouse. Be prepared for possibly a long round - this is not a "hidden" gem anymore. The course has been very busy every time I have been.

August 16, 2022
9 / 10
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Jon Williams

Unique layout with lots of elevation changes. Excellent condition course yet surprisingly basic range & clubhouse. Challenging but favorable layout for scoring, if you avoid the vast amount of waste bunkers.

August 15, 2022
8 / 10
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Monte McDougal

Tobacco Road is certainly a unique course. I personally enjoyed the course, though it could be a bit much for some.

July 14, 2022
8 / 10
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Walter J.

For many years, Tobacco Road seemed to behighly polarizing. However, it seems like a positive consensus is forming around TR. I for one have loved it from the first time I have played. It was the first course I played many years ago which exploded the tired, staid conventions which typified many of the courses I grew up playing. It is a visual feast and always loads of fun. Bless Mike Strantz for upping the fun quotient in golf before it was safe to do so. I think his influence will be shown to be greater than acknowledged during his life or for years after. I can’t help but think that TR at least indirectly paved the way for the fantastic work to liberate Pinehurst No 2, Pine Needles and Mid Pines from their slumber at the hands of C&C and KF, respectively.

June 02, 2022
8 / 10
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Brian Moran

It's been a year since I played Tobacco Road, yet I still often think about many of the shots presented that day. It's a course that sparks a variety of emotional opinions, those of either love or hatred with no in between. It's truly unconventional, and unlike any course I've ever played. But it's an emphasis of what fun golf is with wild greens, heroic shots and interesting features.

And sure, you can find yourself in a bunker twenty feet below the green surface, but rather than complaining about it being unfair and ruining your day, think about how cool of a shot that is simply due to its absence from any other place in the world. Therefore, the course denies the opinion that a fun day is reflected in one's score. Sure, we all can get overjoyed if we're trending under par or upset with a bad break, but that shouldn't be a comment on enjoyment. Golf is a hobby, not a chore, and experiencing the extremities like Tobacco Road is essential. So if you try to drive the green on five and end up in the massive waste area, or get ejected by the massive slopes on the 16th green, don't curse the late Mike Strantz, appreciate how the shots you're experiencing differ from the cookie cutter nature mediocre golf presents.

May 23, 2022
8 / 10
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Steven Kennedy

For some, Tobacco Road is a polarizing course design, especially when juxtaposed to its neighbors in the Carolina sandhills that offer a more minimalist display. While I typically favor the latter, I truly believe Tobacco Road is an architecturally significant golf course, in addition to being an exhilarating course to play.

When you go to Tobacco Road, do yourself a favor and throw away any preconceived notion of what a golf course should be or look like. If you approach the course with an open mind, I think you will walk away with a lasting, positive impression just as I did. You’ll also likely be able to recall each and every hole you play, even weeks and months after playing it, which is the mark of a truly special course, in my opinion.

I admit, many of the design features are extreme in nature, but the course offers exceptional variety and risk-reward opportunities and “hero shots” to really help push your imagination and will as you play the course. The course has some intimidating features and hazards, but even when you find yourself in a “definitely can’t miss it there” area as I did numerous times throughout the round, I still had more of an opportunity to recover than I thought (though, of course, there are still areas out there like any other course where you are appropriately penalized for a wayward shot). Some holes look truly unimaginably difficult, but then they play a bit easier than you think and there is an abundance of scoring opportunities out there if you do execute your plan and hit the right shot.

In terms of memorable holes, Tobacco Road has one of the best opening hole tee shots in the US, a par that plays through what looks like a narrow canyon from the tee but actually provides a player of decent length with plenty of room in the landing area. A stretch of holes that really sticks with me is 3 through 9.

The green on the short par 3 third hole is long and narrow with incredible undulation. Despite being an 9 iron or PW for most, it can still be a challenging putt on this green (or difficult up and down if you miss).

The par 5 fourth hole is a sweeping right to left dogleg with a huge sand hazard that lines the entire left fairway, preventing a player of any length of cutting the corner in any spot on the hole. The fairway also drops down sharply to the green for the last ~20-30 yards, allowing a player to hit their approach shot in a variety of different ways to feed the ball towards the hole, or if the pin is upfront, demand the player to attack with a high wedge.

On the following hole, the par 4 fifth, the player is then asked to hit back uphill from tee to green and presented with an option: attempt to cut the corner and fly a great hazard of a bunker spinkled with small dunes with high grass, or lay up to the right with a long iron or hybrid and hit a wedge into the green sloped back to front with a steep false front.

The par 3 sixth is a flat, short par 3 but with a very wide tee box and a wide but fairly narrow green, allowing this hole to play very differently day-to-day depending on where the tee and pin is placed, and one needs to hit a short iron over another hazard littered with high grass dunes.

The 7th is a downhill par 4, but if you drive it more than 290-300 yards and get roll, you find a hazard, but if not, you have a short wedge into an undulating green.

The downhill par 3 eighth is another birdie opportunity, but if you miss the green left and are in the rough, you may have a downhill lie as you trip to flop a chip onto a green that slopes away from you, making it difficult to recover.

The ninth is an incredible par 4 to finish the front with probably the most photographed bunker on the course, a very deep hazard that flanks a somewhat narrow green that runs requires righthanders to hit a soft and high cut with their approach to get close (but cut too much, and your ball will be 10-12 feet below the hole in the bunker).

The back is not short of interesting holes either, especially the par 5 13th hole with a shallow but wide green that sits inside a dune and is protected in the front by a deep bunker – another popular photograph that you have likely seen before you play the course.

The fifteenth and sixteenth are both short par 4s that you likely need to play twice, or have a caddie or yardage book with you, to know how to attack. The fifteenth has a split fairway that presents the player with two options: left shortens your approach to a shallow green, but you might not have as good of a view of the pin as you would if you were to go right, where your approach will be longer but still a wedge (likely a full wedge, allowing you to better use spin). The sixteenth is a sharp dogleg left with a steep uphill approach shot. The tee shot is very deceiving and makes you think that you need to lay up before the hole turns left and short of some extremely natural looking rough and waste area surrounding two bunkers that jet out from the right into the fairway, but behind that area (~250 yards from the tee) is a landing area that is much more receptive than how it looks from the tee. Your approach then plays an extra 2 clubs uphill with a false front that can send poorly hit (or not enough club) approach shots 50+ yards back down the hill. The green is narrow, and so long as you hit enough club, is forgiving if you miss slightly right and will funnel balls back to the green.

The par 3 seventeenth is a downhill short iron, and again, the tee box is wide and the green is shallow but wide, offering a variety of tee and pin placements. A pin on the left side of the green offers a generous birdie opportunity.

The eighteenth is a solid finisher. The tee shot looks intimidating as you carry a depressed waste area that later climbs back up a steep slope to the fairway, which is slightly higher than where you stand on the tee box, but it is not a long carry to clear and get to the fairway. The fairway is wide in the landing area and both sides of rough gently help balls get closer to or into the fairway. I played the “disc” tees (one tee in front of the “ripper” tips) and the long sets of fairway bunkers that flank both sides were not in play off of the tee but they cut into the fairway at the dog leg and make the approach shot look more challenging than it is, though the green does have a bit of a false front and also slopes off to the left. I actually liked this finisher, as it offered some visually intimidating features but felt closer to a more natural golf hole and a good chance at par after a roller coaster set of holes. It was not your typical “long and uphill par 4 finisher” type of hole, which is perfectly fine after the variety of hole you already played.

I prefer more minimalist, natural golf courses, but I still think Tobacco Road should be celebrated for it’s bold and original design, even when taken to the extreme in some places. One of the better courses in the US for match play, and a course that will give you a bountiful number of opportunities for rewarding shots. What’s not to like about that?

December 28, 2021
9 / 10
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Ryan Alpino

Even more than a year later I can remember every hole vividly. This course has some of the most extreme features you can imagine, the scale of slopes, bunkers, everything is like nothing I've ever seen before. The features are meant to be more visually intimidating than penal, and even from the back tees it is very playable. I can see why the course is off-putting to some people, but I thought it was excellent.

April 13, 2021
8 / 10
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Ryder Hayes

Tobacco Road is a Mike Stranz design in the sandhills of North Carolina. It is a short drive up the road from Pinehurst and is definitely a must-play if you're in the area. At just over 6500 yards most reasonably good golfers could play the tips. It's the opposite and a good compliment to courses in the area like Pinehurst No. 2 that are minimalist designs that naturally flow through the land. Stranz uses extreme man-made land features to create a golf experience unlike anything else I've played.

The atmosphere around the course and quaint clubhouse is peaceful but buzzing. I played with my dad in the first tee time of the day just after sunrise in June of 2020 and I would recommend anyone else to also play early in the morning. This was the first course we played on our trip to the Pinehurst area and we both had high expectations. To be honest, I did not think my expectations would be met after seeing pictures and videos of the course all over social media, but they were easily surpassed.

Holes of note:

(#1 Par 5 558 Yards) - The first tee is a daunting first shot visually but is relatively simple if you don't let the 40-foot tall man-made dunes lining the fairway intimidate you. It plays as a medium length par 5 that can definitely be reached by a longer hitter in two. The second shot is almost completely blind to the wide green. I played it as a three shotter and laid up about 40 yards short of the pin and of course made a sloppy bogey to start my day. The first hole perfectly encapsulates the Mike Stranz and Tobacco Road experience. Visual intimidation with plenty of room to miss in reality.

(#5 Par 4 333 Yards) - The fifth is a great risk-reward drivable par 4. To drive the green, a player must carry the ball at least 270 yards over a large waste area that screams out bogey. The ball has to carry about 250-260 in the air to carry the waste area but anything short of the green will funnel back down into a collection area. The safe and smarter option is to hit a mid to long iron out right to a much wider landing zone and then have a wedge or short iron for your approach shot.

(#7 Par 4 411 Yards) - This is my personal favorite hole on the course which is almost definitely not a common answer on this track. This is a long, dramatic par 4 that plays much shorter than the yardage due to every wide and downhill fairway. On the tee, the golfer can see the back of the green peeking over the horizon of the drop-off fairway. The aiming point is the large oak tree that sits behind the 7th green. As soon as the golfer starts walking towards their approach shot they will be met with a stunning reveal of the sightline from near 7 tee to 9 green. The approach shot on 7 is a very fun one due to the very dramatic undulations of the green including the largest false front I have ever seen.

(#13 Par 5 573 Yards) - This is the signature hole at Tobacco Road and for good reason. After a somewhat difficult dogleg right tee shot the golfer faces the most unique feature on the course. The 13th green sits in a nook behind and surrounded by 10-25 foot dunes. The golfer can not see the pin despite its height of well over 10 feet unless the pin is on the far right portion of the green. Most will have to lay up to a wedge in but going for it in two is definitely possible. Taking on the dunes surrounding the green is thrilling and maybe the most unique shot I've ever personally played.

(#14 Par 3 194 Yards) - This is another hole that slaps you in the face immediately after coming off the 13th green. It's nearly 200 yards to the middle of this long, narrow green guarded by a pond but plays a couple of clubs less due to the elevation drop from tee to green. You better hit your tee shot on this hole well or you will never see your ball again.

(#16 Par 4 326 Yards) - This may be the most fun par 4 on the course. The golfer is presented with a totally blind tee shot off the tee to a landing zone at about 210-235 yards. It is possible to drive the green for the bombers out there but you would have to draw a drive perfectly over 300 yards. The hole turns 90 degrees to the right after the long iron or fairway wood tee shot. The golfer is then faced with an uphill short approach to a green with an almost impossible false front. Anything that lands on the front of the green will roll back down the hill 40 yards below the green in the fairway. Taking an extra club on the approach is definitely wise on this shot. This green can create some circus-like moments, and I'm confident it has made some unfortunate souls very angry.

This was definitely not the best course my dad and I played on our trip from a pure golf perspective but I believe it was both of our personal favorites. Pinehurst No. 2 and Pinehurst No. 4 are both better from a pure golf standpoint but Tobacco Road packs more thrilling and visually pleasing punches than any other course I have ever played. This course is well worth anyone's time if they are on a trip to the Pinehurst area or live anywhere within 5 hours. I would recommend that everyone plays this course at least once in their life due to the pure visuals MIke Stranz produced at Tobacco Road.

January 19, 2021
7 / 10
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Colin Braithwaite

Tobacco Road is a polarizing course and experience. Not long but it is relentless. Most people on this site love it. The intrigue starts with the tee shot on the par 5 first. There are large sand dunes on either side of the fairway about 200 yards out that look like, well let’s just say aim for the cleavage or slightly right of center. The 2nd shot is also blind and has to clear a waste and gunch area and should set up a wedge to a two tiered green protected by three deep bunkers. The 2nd is a birdie oppty, favor the left off the tee. You will carry a waste area and there is a BAB on the right side of the fairway. The raised green has a front middle bunker, front right and one left. The 3rd is a short island green par three that is surrounded by sand. The green is long with a ridge going right to left. If you are lucky the pin will be front in a collection bowl. The 4th is a reachable par five dogleg left. You will need to determine what your appetite is, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and struggled to make par out of the waste bunker. The 5th is a classic risk reward hole with the green perched above the waste bunker on the left side. The smart play is lay up right and have a flip wedge. After my epic fail on 4 I figured I was due to nut my drive. Déjà vu all over again, evidently, I am getting better at saving par out of waste bunkers. The short par 3 6th has an extremely long and slim green. The tee options are spread out over a 100 degree arc, so the hole plays and looks completely different daily. The 7th is a long par four on the front, downhill and blind. You will have a long approach over a cross gunch hazard to a green surrounded by four bunkers. The 8th is a good par three. Downhill with the green shaped as a upside L with a bunker inside right. The front is lower, so if the pin is front left you will have a backstop. The 9th is the longest par four on the front, dogleg left, with an elevated green. The number one handicap hole.

The 10th is demanding intimidating downhill dogleg right. There is a large waste area on the right side. The 11th is a difficult par five dogleg right. Waste bunkers all the way down the right and an extraordinarily deep greenside bunker right and a two tier green. The 12th is a sharp dogleg left. If you cannot hit a draw layup bunkers on both sides of the elbow. The 13th is a double dogleg par 5. From an elevated tee you must carry gunch and a wase bunker. You can cut some of the corner off and you can also drive it thru the fairway. For your second shot you have a narrow gap. Now for the blind approach. I was just over 100 yards out and we could not see the pin. The green is narrow elevated and in a ravine. Ultimately, I walked almost 50% of the way to the green to ultimately identify the pin tucked way left. This whole is where Tobacco Road jumped the shark. The14th is the longest and I think the best par 3. Water carry to a redan green with a collection of bunkers. The 15th has a quasi-blind tee shot and the hole is shaped like an inverse S with another blind approach. There is more room right off the tee than it appears. There is a large waste bunker in the middle of the fairway and the green is well protected and bisected by a ridge in the middle running back to front. The 16th is a short dogleg left and a good birdie oppty. The approach is blind and uphill, take an extra club. If you are short it may roll all the way down to the bottom. This has a deep green with a dead elephant in the middle. The 17th is the shortest hole with a very long narrow green. This is a 180 degree variation on 6, with the multiple tee boxes, depending where the pin is the hole will play significantly different. Regardless, it is all carry over a waste bunker and the green may be 100 yards end to end. The finishing hole has another blind tee shot over a waste area to an expansive fairway. The long approach is tight to a partially obscured green.

Interesting course. I encourage everyone to play it at least once. Reviews tend to be polarizing. I will not be returning.

October 09, 2020
5 / 10
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T P Dean
October 09, 2020

Good description of the course Colin, but I’m not really sure from your review why you weren’t particularly keen on it. Would you be able to expand on your lack of enthusiasm for the place as I’ve always had Tobacco Road as a course I’d hope to visit one day. Tom.

David Oliver
October 10, 2020

just consider the 3rd sentence of the review. The overwhelming sentiment is positive which is correct because it is an exceptional golfing experience played out on a visually stunning course. Make the trip to Tobacco Road, even if you hate it, you will remember it

Colin Braithwaite
October 17, 2020

I agree with David. You should definitely play it and make up your own mind.

Stephen S
December 17, 2020

I don't remember the approach shot on 16 being blind unless you call not being able to see base of the pin blind.

Jeff Kissel
December 19, 2020

The approach on 16 might be blind if you don't make it into the second portion of the fairway, but that would require either a really poor tee shot or a layup with a mid-iron - and questioning one's sanity.