50 Words or Less
Located in Sanford, North Carolina, Tobacco Road is a golf course that isn’t afraid to take it to eleven. A big, wild layout with loads of opportunities to hit memorable shots. Huge replay value.
When I took my first trip to Pinehurst, my good friend and golf travel expert Mitch Laurence [follow him HERE] asked me, “Did you play Tobacco Road?” I hadn’t planned to leave the resort, so I answered in the negative. His disappointment practically reached through my phone’s screen, so on my most recent trip to North Carolina, I made it a point to visit. While I absolutely love Pinehurst, this a side trip that I’d recommend to any golfer who loves big, imaginative course design. Thanks, Mitch.
The practice facilities at Tobacco Road are solid. The wooden bag stands actually fit the feel of the place rather than feeling artificially cutesy. At least two foursomes can fit on the driving range, and there’s no limit to how far you can hit it.
A practice putting green can be found near the first tee, and it does an excellent job approximating what you’ll see on the course. It’s big enough to practice your lag putting, and it gives you the chance to get a feel for the big breaks you’ll encounter.
Customer Service & Amenities
The vibe of Tobacco Road gets communicated the minute you pull onto the property, in part through the clubhouse. It has a warm, rustic feel that emits hospitality but also a certain “love it or leave” vibe. The customer service is excellent, and everyone we interacted with was friendly, but this place also knows that it’s really good and doesn’t need to go overboard.
Inside the clubhouse, there’s a snack shop, a well-stocked pro shop, and an area for lounging after your round. You can also grab one of the rocking chairs on the porches to watch golfers tee off or finish their rounds.
Beauty & Scenery
Tobacco Road is a big, wild, beautiful golf course. If you hate residential golf and prefer your courses carved out of the wilderness, this may be your new favorite spot.
While the condition of the fairways, greens, and tee boxes are pristine, Tobacco Road feels like a course where they leave as much of the wild as possible. You can see it above in the native grass growing around the bunkers. That also comes through in the angles and oscillations that feel natural and rugged, never contrived.
The other thing that must be mentioned is the scale of this place. It’s a course that feels enormous. The mounds make you feel insignificant. Though many of the greens are large, they’re dwarfed by giant stretches of sand. This scale adds to the untamed feel of Tobacco Road.
While we’re discussing scale, it should be noted that the flyover animations on the website do this course no justice. They’re very well done, but the minute you step onto the first tee box, you’ll realize that they prepared you about as well as playing Punch Out would prepare you for fighting Mike Tyson.
I also want to mention the tee and hole markers. They’re all old school farming and earth moving tools, and they add to the course’s unique personality.
As you can see in my photos, it was raining the day that I played Tobacco Road, so thanks to Martha Hudson of Tobacco Road Golf Club for providing the professional photos seen here.
When I picked up the scorecard at Tobacco Road, my eyes were immediately drawn to the range of yardages. At par 71, the course can stretch to over 6,500 yards or go as low as 4,300. I love a course that lets the shorter hitters play. It’s also worth noting that, given the extreme elevations on the course, the yardages on the card do not tell nearly the whole story.
Moving from the scorecard to the tee box, the theme at Tobacco Road is shots that are not as challenging as they look. The picture above is a great example: the forced carry up and over a wall looks terrifying, but it’s not actually that long (if you pick the right tees) and it’s wide open beyond that narrow mouth. All that said, getting past the visual challenge is easier said than done.
One part of the aforementioned visual challenge is that you won’t always see the full picture from the tee box. That can take the form of blind shots, mounds that obscure parts of the fairway, or on the memorable #13, a line that you have to know in advance. You’ve got to be able to commit to your shot and trust your driver rather than steering the ball.
Overall, the tee shots at Tobacco Road feel big and adventurous without being brutally hard. It’s a combination that’s more focused on fun that “defending par.”
Getting off the tee and into the fairway is probably the easiest part of your round at Tobacco Road. Your approach is where the real challenge begins. The difficulty in the approach game begins under your feet. Take a look above to see an example of how the fairways swell and fall, making flat, even lies a rarity.
The vast expanses of sand provide the next layer of challenge, though not for the reason you think. Hitting your drive into them isn’t ideal, but a local rule allows for improved lies, so the sand itself isn’t that hazardous. What makes the sand, in concert with the native grass and bushes, so tough is that it can destroy your depth perception. We’re all used to what 150 yards of fairway looks like, but when it’s 150 yards of waste area, we’re not only nervous about getting over it, we also second guess the number.
Finally, there are the elevation changes, angles and obscured views. There are not many shots at Tobacco Road that don’t involve some amount of elevation change. That alone will require adjustments and create doubt.
The doubt will grow when you add in a healthy dose of blind shots and uncomfortable angles. Above, you see a fairly long approach. This wouldn’t be a gimme under any circumstances, but also consider that you can’t see how much fairway there is to the right or how much green is available, plus you’re playing over sand and from an unusual position. It’s fully devious.
In summary, the approach shots at Tobacco Road are going to challenge both your physical and mental game. Being a good ball striker isn’t enough; you need to be able to fully commit to every shot.
Greens & Surrounds
The variety of green shapes and sizes may be greater at Tobacco Road than at any course I’ve ever played. Looking at the green map on the cart, you’ll see depths ranging from 14 to 60 yards. There are skinny greens, fat greens, horseshoes, circles, and barbells. And we haven’t even mentioned the contours! While designer Mike Strantz was certainly not afraid of some big movement in the greens (see above), it’s not all rollercoaster putts, either. This is a course that is constantly throwing something different at you on the greens.
Among the larger greens, you’ll find that most are segmented into tiers or divided by a ridge. This forces you to either be precise with your approach game or a very adept lag putter. The green speeds at Tobacco Road were quick but fair when I played which put a premium on both speed control and careful reads.
Tobacco Road was a sand quarry before it was a golf course, so bunkers are large and plentiful around the greens. Once again, there’s a lot of variety: you can get some benign lies but you can also find some brutally tall lips.
Finally, I love this collection area. It would be a nice feature if it was shaved all the way from the green to the bunker, but we’ve seen that before. Here, the thick rough at the collar has a chance of stopping your ball…but is it really doing you a favor? You could draw a nasty lie and have to hack it out with little green to work with. If you do end up in the short grass, you need to suck it up and hit your best flop shot to try to save par. Unique, tough, and fun. Tobacco Road in a nutshell.
The picture above may not tell you what the holes at Tobacco Road are like, but I don’t think there’s a better encapsulation of the vibe. This place screams, “Let’s get our there, hit some shots, and have a good time.”
This sign is another good signal of what Tobacco Road is like. It’s not a prescriptive course, but there are definitely holes where, “Just bomb it out there somewhere” isn’t optimal. Each time around, you’re going to pick up a couple more nuggets of local knowledge that will allow you to score a bit better.
Finally, I’ll note that if you have an issue with blind shots, this course probably isn’t for you. I don’t love blind shots, but what makes Tobacco Road fun is that the blind shots don’t typically come with stiff penalties, so they’re a bit of a free roll.
#1 – Par 5 – 558 Yards
This is one of the most fitting opening holes I’ve ever played. The drive is intimidating due to the two giant mounds, but it’s not too demanding if you can get out of your own way. Your second shot will be at least partially blind, then you’ll hit a scoring club into a big rollicking green. Welcome to Tobacco Road.
#7 – Par 4 – 411 Yards
Number seven starts with a blind tee shot to one of the wildest fairways you’ll ever see. It ripples down to a marshy hazard in massive stair steps that can add enormous distance to your drive. From there, you have a fairly short approach with a forced carry to a green segmented by dramatic undulations.
#13 – Par 5 – 573 Yards
This is a three shot par 5 unless you know the secret line over the trees. Muster your courage and blast a drive over the trees on the right to the unseen landing area. From there, you can have a go at the narrow, heavily protected green.
#16 – Par 4 – 326 Yards
On the card, this looks like a short par 4 that you can almost drive. In reality, you hit a blind long iron or hybrid over a large berm before turning left for an uphill approach to a two-tiered green. If the pin is in the front and your approach puts you on the upper tier, concede the hole and move on.
Architect Mike Strantz said that it was his goal to test “a player’s eye, determination, and wits” and Tobacco Road does that and more. This is a course that’s immense fun to play, and one that you’re going to want to go around more than once. If you find yourself in North Carolina, make the trip to Tobacco Road.