Tobacco Road redux

     The more I think about and write about my round last Sunday at Tobacco Road, Mike Strantz's signature design in Sanford, NC, the more I am beginning to understand that there is more to the course than meets the eye.  What meets the eye is a relentless expanse of waste bunkers and huge greens and swirling fairways that are intimidating to all but the bravest ball strikers among us.  What doesn't meet the eye, besides the handful of totally hidden greens, is that Tobacco Road just isn't as tough as it looks.
    I left off yesterday at hole #4.  Here is a rundown on the rest of the front nine.


The safest route at the short par 4 5th at Tobacco Road is a fairway wood up the right side (to the right of the edge of the photo above), leaving a short iron or wedge to the green.  Long hitters might take a poke at the green, but missing it and the tongue of fairway in front could take away any birdie possibility.

    At 322 yards from the men's tees (333 from the tips), the 5th is one of those short par 4s that tempt big hitters to go for the green.  Between tee and green stretches more than 200 yards of no man's land, but a swath of about 30 yards of fairway jutting into the sand in front of the green makes an attempt a reasonable gamble with a driver.  Fairway to the right is generous until about 115 yards from the green; from there the landing area narrows significantly, as it should, inside 100 yards.  A pin at the front of the smallish, false-fronted green provides the greatest challenge since a long approach shot means a downhill curling putt and short of the pin could mean a bunker shot over a steep lip.  The 5th is an easy par and reasonable birdie if you resist temptation off the tee.
    The par 3 6th is all sand, tees and green, a total hit or miss affair.  You won't find a par 3 with more teeing options, nine of them ranging from 117 yards from the left up to 160 from the far right.  The green, which is shaped somewhat

You won't find a teeing area with more options than the 6th at Tobacco Road.

like a svelte Caspar the Friendly Ghost, runs left to right.  It is 120 feet at its deepest point, but it looks more like 20 feet from the viewpoint of the tee box.  First timers will be totally confused about how much room there is on the green, although the helpful yardage book (just $4) provides distances to four landing points from all nine tee boxes.  We were fortunate the pin was somewhere in Caspar's head area, the most generous position from my tee box at 125 yards out.
    The 7th is about as straightforward as Tobacco Road gets.  A par 4 at 400 yards, the blind tee shot needs to carry 200 yards to run down the hill to an area inside 150 yards to the green.  About 80 yards of wetlands separate the fairway from the tri-cornered green that, of course, is totally surrounded by sand.  I met my Waterloo at this hole, not because I was in the marsh but because I pushed my approach into the waste area to the right of the green and tried to get too cute with a high blast over the steep bunker.  I left it short, the ball rolled back to my feet, and before I knew it I made one of my three double bogies of the day, a disappointment since anything worse than par at #7 is dispiriting.
    The arcing green at #8 is a big challenge if the pin position is right rear, which of course it was last Sunday, in
The width of the 9th green is about the size of Betty Boop's waist.

a bowl that measured just 52 feet from front edge to back (the entire green depth is a robust 130 feet).   The two-tiered green is steep, and the arc -- with a bunker inside its curve -- makes a putt impossible from the front right to the rear right.  There is plenty of fairway just in front of the green, and a pitch from there to anywhere but that back pin position makes a one-putt par a reasonable possibility.
    The longish par 4 415-yard 9th would be a proud finisher on most courses, but at Tobacco Road, it is just another intimidating hole.  A drive of 200 yards minimum is a must to not only fly a narrow neck of fairway wedged between waste areas, but also to leave a reasonable approach to an otherworldly green whose depth measures 38 yards and whose width is about the size of Betty Boop's waist (relatively speaking).  The approach is straight uphill to the elevated green, and figuring out whether it is an extra club or two clubs is critical to being within 30 feet of the pin.  The drive to the right side of the fairway may require skill, but for first timers, a lot of luck is mixed into a successful approach shot.
    Look for more on Tobacco Road in this space in coming days.  If you have played it, I sure would be interested in your own take on this unusual golf course.  Please use the "comments" function below...


The par 3 6th can be played in any number of ways, all challenging, depending on tee placement.


The par 4 7th is a relatively "normal" hole, but the green is surrounded by fearsome waste bunkers.


The tee ball on the 8th, the third par 3 on the front nine, must carry all the way to a back pin position or else you risk a 60 foot putt that must negotiate multiple levels.


The par 4 9th hole demands a well placed tee shot...


...and a perfect club selection in order to get the ball anywhere near the hole on the elevated and almost totally blind green.


If you miss the green, this (above) is what awaits you. 

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