An Opening Hole: Tobacco Road Golf Club

In which first holes are examined. Today’s is Tobacco Road Golf Club’s 558-yard opener.

Tobacco Road Golf Club is perhaps the crown jewel in the late Mike Stranz’s design portfolio. Located in Sanford, NC, the course is a strategic masterpiece with some of the most ideal golf service in the country. Roughly half an hour drive from the Pinehurst area, Tobacco Road gets much golf vacation traffic in addition to local play. Tobacco Road will see a lot of press in subsequent posts and discussions here and the opener is a worthy feature for this series. 

Hole Description

The dramatic features obscure much of the hole from first look. The guardian mounds covered with Lovegrass dominate the view. The peek of fairway through the mounds suggest the hole turns to the left. The narrow pass is achievable with a modest 180-yard shot, and once through, the fairway expands to a comfort forty yard corridor at 230-yards from the tee. A well-struck, longer tee shot will trundle through the fairway if not played toward the left side. A distance of similar length from the tee to the first pinch point must be overcome to carry a second more modest ridge. However, the first-time golfer is left to guess as to what lay beyond. A cut in this ridge serves as a guide setting up the approach to a back-to-front pitched putting green heavily guarded on the right side by three bunkers. Plenty of fairway cut left of the hole allows for aggressive play.

The putting green itself allows for some margin of error and will funnel shots landing in the approach toward the hole. Two simple putts will find the bottom of the hole on most days.

The second ridge in as many shots (hopefully!)
The putting green – finally!

Strategy and Tactical

Strategy in golf rarely diverts from a series of well-known and accepted rules. As discussed in an earlier post, many so-called strategic features simply emphasize or change the tactical requirements of executing the shot. It is for this reason that these hole profiles include the word “tactical” in the heading. Very few singular holes meld the concepts of tactics and strategy like the first at Tobacco Road. Each strategic choice opens up several tactical decisions. The proper execution of which leads to more strategic choices. While this is a common thread of every hole, the hazards present on this hole demand a great divergence between these strategies.

Divergent strategy is achieved by placing the first pinch point 180-yards from the tee and the next one another 200-yards slightly to the left. The features creating the pinch points and the hazards complementing the pinch points create the strategic decisions instead of complementing the strategy already present. The golfer must first choose to take on the pinch point from the tee and attempt to reach the fairway beyond or lay well back with an opening tee shot of 160-170 yards. For most golfers, this places club selection between a mid-iron and a 3wood/Driver. Choosing the latter forces the line off the tee further left because the fairway ends right of center.

The putting green is reachable in two shots for the golfer that is able to get beyond all the visual intimidation. A 240-yard tee shot will land in a fairway forty yards wide and only 170-yards from the second ridge. From here, carrying a shot 200 yards and favoring the left side (just left of the cut in the second ridge) will cause the ball to trundle down the slope toward the putting green.

The lay-up route is similarly straight-forward. Bunting a mid-iron short of the first pinch point leaves the golfer with a slightly longer second shot than the first. From here, a shot traveling 180-yards leaves a completely blind, but reasonable, 150-yard shot into the green. The second ridge, with more sand than Lovegrass, presents a more tempting target to attempt from any distance than the first ridge. Though the lay-up leaves a 230+ carry for the second ridge, it’s not out of the question for a boldly struck fairway wood.

Regardless of the strategy employed, the putting green favors shots from the left side, and every effort should be made to attack from this angle. The bunkers defending the putting green at the right, while presenting a relatively benign hazard, should never really enter into the equation after solving the first two problems presented by the hole.

Concluding Remarks

A good friend likes to discuss a golfer’s emotions as they encounter a golf course. For many, the first hole is filled with anticipation for the round ahead with any real “work” saved for subsequent holes. This ethos regards the first hole as a tune up with gentle problems from the golfer to overcome. On paper, and after a few plays, the first hole at Tobacco Road fits nicely into this category of opener. However, Mike Stranz managed to inject moments of sheer terror and excitement into actually gentle opener, so much so that a 160-yard lay-up on an opening 550-yard hole can feel exhilarating! This hole is both truly unique and superb for this reason alone.

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