SANFORD, N.C. ' Its that time of year, when every golfer in the frozen north is picking my brain for travel tips for warm weather golf. One of the big questions is where to play in the Pinehurst area. After all, Golftown, USA is almost as packed as Myrtle Beach when it comes to golf courses.
Nevertheless, just as Bandon Dunes knocked Pebble Beach off its lofty perch as Americas greatest seaside golf venue, so too has mighty Pinehurst resort seen a serious challenge to its decades long rule over golf in the North Carolina sandhills region. Tobacco Road, designed by the late, great Mike Strantz, has become a must play, if not the first play when traveling to North Carolina for a golf vacation.
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 sand mounds. The results are awe-inspiring. Part Pine Valley (and therefore World Woods (Pine Barrens, infra.) and for its vast sandy waste areas and part Prestwick for its numerous blind drives and approaches, the result is a dazzling and unique synergy flawlessly executed to produce a course rich in risk reward options on a breathtaking canvas. Many players consider Tobacco Road to be the most atmospheric and enjoyable four miles of potential triple bogeys ever designed.
The difficulty of the course is derived directly from the fact that ' unless youve been to Ireland or Scotland ' youve never seen anything like it. Nobody is better than Strantz at optical illusion and nowhere do his optical illusions invoke more trepidation, confusion or frustration in a player than at Tobacco Road. Holes look cloak-and-dagger claustrophobic from the tee. Since some tee shots are blind, players (particularly first-time visitors), are uncertain exactly where to place their shot. (Always remember ' when teeing off on a Strantz hole, go over the mound in front of you, Strantz fairways are behind the mound).
Nervous, uncertain swings lead to disastrous results and wayward tee shots stand no chance of offering players a chance to play to the greens in regulation. Golf scores can turn to bowling scores in the span of just a few holes. More than any other course in the country, Tobacco Road demands patience and restraint bordering on the robotic.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, play the right set of tees for your skill level. This is the easiest problem a player can remedy. Par is 71, not 72 so the 6300 yard tees play closer to 6600. Players who insist on playing a set of tees beyond their skill level will fail to reach the knee of doglegs, may not be able to negotiate the forced carries off the tee, and definitely will have longer clubs from much more difficult angles on approaches.
The course is located only a half hour northeast of Pinehurst, yet despite its proximity to such a renowned and revered golf destination, Tobacco Road has built a devout following among golf connoisseurs as one of the most creative, exciting and enjoyable tracks in the country. How can it compete under such seemingly long odds? Easy - affordability and ingenious design. It is also a quintessential match play course as fortunes of the round change from shot to shot, exactly what any truly great course evokes - and the road features such options and potential swings on each and every hole. With every hole not only not memorable, but indelible in its artistry and world-class in its shot values, Tobacco Road, along with Bandon Dunes (infra.) and Black Mesa (infra.) (which Tobacco Road inspired), is the most important course to open in this country since Sawgrass and is one of the richest golf experiences in the entire World.
Tobacco Road is easily one of the most intimidating courses youll ever set eyes on, but playability-wise it is actually quite easy. The look paralyzes your brain on overload ' hence your swing tightens. But once you play it a few times youll get your comfort zone. That is what the great courses are all about, they make you think. And when you pull off that impossible shot, youll remember it forever. Thats what Mike wants. Where else can you get a thrill like that? - Forrest Fezler, Mike Strantz design partner and former tour pro.
Take a video tour of Tobacco Road
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 260 nationally ranked public golf courses in 39 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan.
Tobacco Road challenges all golfers
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.