Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Thoughts on Tobacco Road

approach to #16

Round One

The first hole is a good example of what lies ahead. The tee shot is intimidating and the blind carry over the dune in the second landing area is enough to make the knuckles white. After watching my playing partner 4 putt the reverse redan green. I wondered what we were in for. The course is high on the intimidation scale, with a lot of similar character to Pine Valley. There is lots of room, but don’t you dare miss!

My general impression was that the course was far more playable than I expected, and that after the opening three the course really got going. There was far more room off the tee than expected, but often that was not clear because of his use of deception and intentional blindness. Yes Mike intentionally created many blind tee shots. When I say intentionally, it is because he shaped the entire site. The shaping at the course is some of the best in golf, there is no question that Mike Stranz is an artist.

The joy of the course is the optional routes. He often provides an overly aggressive route with huge reward, and a lay-up option for a much safer and well, boring option. He is certainly a master of enticement, because you can’t help but try the shot that is most daring. His architecture sucks you into his strategy - and into areas of greater punishment. This is excellent gamesmanship on his part.

The bunkering and detailing have few peers in golf, and really the greatest contention lies in the blindness and the greens. The blindness did not bother me, with all but a few shots being perfectly obvious, despite not being able to see the fairway. The greens were the most surprising feature. They are some of the boldest greens I have seen. Some are magnificent and others are too far over the top even for my taste for wild greens. There were situations where you had no possible way of getting from one tier to another.

Overall, I would say this is a must play for anyone who loves golf, and in particular for anyone involved in golf architecture. Mike Stranz swung for the fences all day and hit a home run in my books.

approach to the blind punchbowl at #13

Round Two

I intentionally arranged two rounds because I was worried about having a rash judgment about the course. The return visit had an interesting effect. Knowing where to go and what the risk was made playing a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable. I found the course manageable, fair and quite thrilling to play. Much of the intimidation was gone, and now the risk lay in over-reaching my abilities. He was still sucking me into taking way too many chances. I couldn’t see to help it, some routes draw you like a siren to the rocks.

The other effect it had was in helping me see a few things with out the initial “wow factor” blindness. The super wide greens (150 yards!) struck me as a feature that offered nothing but a chain of small greens and a horrible aesthetic. I did not get this idea. I did not like the idea. The second hole, 3rd tee and 11th tee is shoehorned in and creates one of the strangest and most dangerous situations I have seen. Some holes, like the 7th fairway. Were too over-shaped but in general it is damned good

I did decide on the second time through I liked most of the super wild greens and that different pins made a substantial difference to the enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole round, taking big chances (swinging for the fences), playing aggressive when I could. I played a lot of Ross courses that I enjoyed over the week, but I still think that Mike’s course is the one I would want to play “next.”


Matt said...

Thanks for the pics and comments Ian. Quite the devilish-looking design...

I've only been to North Carolina one time and didn't get the chance to play Tobacco Road (played Tanglewood a couple of times which likely pales in comparison).

I'll have to make it a must play on my next trip down.

Erik @ The Sand Trap said...

Yes, Tanglewood pales in comparison.

I didn't care for Tobacco Road much. It's "circus golf" to me.

Evan said...

I played Tobacco Road a few years ago on consecutive years. Overall, I thought there were some very interesting holes, some holes that were fine until you got to the green, and other holes that didn't make a lot of sense altogether. Visaully, it's one of the most striking courses that you'll ever play that is not overlooking a large body of water or set amongst the mountains. That being said, it is a very enjoyable course if you get friendly pin positions. I guess that could be said at most courses, but at Tobacco Road you could get into some positions on the green that would pretty much make it impossible to get the ball near the hole. My opinion is that it is a course to be seen, but not at prime time price.

Ian Andrew said...

I find I learn more from a risk taker like Mike than I do from a good solid and safe architect like Tom Fazio. I would rather see something much more risky in its architecture.


dave k said...

Sounds like an interesting place Ian. Do you think it would be a course that the "novelty" would wear off after a few more rounds and it would become less interesting after you figured out the "tricks"?

Ian Andrew said...


I think it has so many pin positions to figure out that it will always be fun. I think the element that wears off is the amount of fear. I think the course slope of 150 is too high, although that would be accurate for the first play. For toughness the course does not match Pine Valley.


dave k said...

Thanks for the reply Ian. So many course, so little time.


I love it, its one of the wonders of the golfing world. Like Black Mesa, it takes you on a Jungian journey into your psyche using golf as a metaphor.


Buck said...

I love Tobacco Road. Most of my golf rounds have been on nice but traditional layouts, but TR is now one of my all time favorites. Not only are there multiple pin placements, but multiple tee positions as well. I think the par 3 #6 has almost a dozen tee possibilities that change from day to day, allowing for the ability to make it a completely different hole.

The only hole I don't particularly care for is #13, due to the "pit" setup of the green. Unless you are in perfect position, it makes for the most difficult approach shot I have ever played.