When you go to the Tobacco Road website, you see a beautiful, sunrise picture of the par 3 8th green, the fairway of the par 4 9th hole in the background, and the following quote:
When talking about my favorite golf courses, I always tell people that the only feature that I need to see to be a fan of the course is that I have to be able to remember every hole individually after playing the course once. I need novelty, distinction, uniqueness, some other synonym of those words, and I don’t care at all if the course follows the rules of other courses.
Tobacco Road nails all of my requirements, and if I had to choose one course I’d play the rest of my short life, it would be Tobacco Road.
“It’s a beautiful course and even though I haven’t seen all 18 holes of many courses I could tell it was unique. I also liked ringing the bells when you left the fairway”
– My sister Sara, when asked her initial thought of Tobacco Road
“I figured you were writing a review but did not plan to be quoted ha”
– My sister Sara, when asked if she knew I was going to use her quote in the review.
“i REALLY did not expect you to use my second gchat hahah”
– My sister Sara, messaging me on gchat, after looking over the post and seeing her quotes.
I’m not sure when I heard of Tobacco Road for the first time, either way, when my sister and brother-in-law flew down to NC for a 3 day weekend to play golf back in February, I told them to head to Tobacco Road to check it out, and frankly knew how much they’d like it (and by they I mean both of them because my sister wasn’t playing, but she rode along in the cart). I also made sure to have them post a pic from the course, and obviously they went with the approach to the 13th green.
Fast forward a few months to the end of May when Mike and I (and couple caddie friends) were down in Pinehurst for the US Four Ball. Mike and I missed the match play cut, so we had an extra half a day before our flight back home, which meant that all four of us got a tee time at Tobacco Road mid morning, starting on the first tee.
I mentioned just above how an Instagram picture of the 13th hole approach shot is a frequently posted picture from the course. Another of the three main pictures is the view from the first tee to the fairway. Hills with shrubs for lost balls on both sides just before the landing area make it slightly intimidating, but they are also something that you’ll rarely see. Now, I’m lucky that I can hit drivers pretty far, far enough that from the back tees I can get so far over the hills that the fairway widens up enough. For those who don’t hit it as far, don’t worry, the fairway is still decently wide.
You’ll find this view nowhere else. On to descriptions of course features!
Semi Bucket Greens
Moving about 300 yards from the first tee to a 220 yard approach shot, the first green is a great example of the semi-bowl greens that are common to Tobacco Road. From the pic below, you can see the slope from the left side of the green over to the right. Looking at the bunkers on the right, you can see the slope to the back left of the green, and the slope from the back left to front right. A green that’s a valley.
It’s a very common feature of Tobacco Road (and exactly opposite of Pinehurst numero dos), and slopey greens make you need to know where to land the ball if you’re looking for a tap in birdie.
In my case, after a well hit driver off the tee and over the left hill (which is where to aim since the opening of the semi-bucket green is the left side), I hit a cutter 4 iron that fed down to the hole a decent amount from where it landed to 30 feet away, and I ended up 2 putting for a birdie.
These semi-bucket greens do make the course easier, but difficulty is not at all what I’m looking for when picking a course to play over and over and over, and neither is a feature that can help lower your score. The thought of landing areas and the excitement of seeing the ball roll to the hole, combined with the uncommonality of this feature, is the experience I want.
Doglegs where you choose how much to cut off, aka Loop Holes
If people start talking about this type of architecture as a Loop Hole, I’m getting credit for inventing the term.
When playing Tobacco Road, one of the main things you’ll see here are holes with giant, waste-area-bunkers between the tees and the greens, and a giant fairway that wraps around the entire thing.
The two features of this type of hole are 1) not a lost ball type of hazard, and 2) A crap ton of fairway away from the valley and further from the green.
Playing courses with hazards in play that make a golf ball drown, cactus desert that make a golf ball pierced, or super dense fescue that make a golf ball lost in a prairie like those on the Oregon Trail, are incredibly annoying to play. I understand penalizing bad shots, even on a non-tournament course, but don’t make me always play on a course where I’m just relieved that I didn’t lose a ball the entire round.
A course with a bad type of semi-circle penalty and with the opposite of the safe fairway away from the fairway is Bay Hill. Both the 3rd and 11th holes there wrap left around a lake, with rough and bunkers on the right side. A miss to the right probably results in a layup because the ball is sunken in the thick bermuda rough. Sure that hole works for a tournament, but can you imagine having to play those holes all the time? Relief that you didn’t lose a ball on the hole, rather than excitement of the possibility of birdie.
That’s the case here at Tobacco Road. There’s something like a half shot penalty if you dump it in the sand valley (shoutout to the best new course in Wisconsin!), but you’re not going to lose your ball when it lands in the sand. If there was a lake instead of a waste bunker, I’d never try to cut off any part of the yardage. Just bail out to the right so I wouldn’t lose a golf ball. And if it’s a non-ideal shot that barely crosses the water, I’ll be relieved rather than excited.
And also, not only are those bunkers a half shot penalty, but every bunker on the course is a “waste area” the starter will tell you on the (beautiful) first tee that all the bunkers out there are waste areas! No rakes, carts are allowed to drive through all of them, but practice swings are allowed and suggested.
On to the second feature of these types of holes. There is a lot of room if you’re playing it safe, or hit a bad shot, to the opposite side of the bunker and longer into the green. Similar to many other courses, such as Streamsong Blue, you’ll have a penalty which makes you hit a longer shot into the green, but you’re not going to lose that nugget, and you’re still going to have the chance hit the green.
This is a pic from the 5th hole here, a 333 yard par 4 where you’re able to go as far right as you want. Or, if you hit it far enough, rip a butter cutter driver that lands on the green, rolls about 5 yards over the green where fringe is located, and two putt for another birdie.
Moving to the start of the back nine for a moment, pictured below is the second shot on the par 5 11th hole. From where I am, you can barely see part of that bunker because of how low below the fairway it is. To the left of that cart path in the pic, there’s still a bunch of room and safety to not get close to getting sandy. The side of the tree you see there is a stand alone tree that gives sort of an aiming point from the tee.
There are more examples of this type of design on the course, ones that I was stupid to not take documentary pictures of. The 4th hole, another par 5 around a desert bunker is another. So is number 10, with a downhill tee shot that wraps to the right around a bunker.
In these reviews, I keep talking about how courses with very similar holes are boring to play. Even with many examples of this type of tee shot, I still can remember each hole specifically and the variance of the bunkers. That makes these holes unique.
Greens with multiple levels
And when I say tons of greens with multiple levels, I mean holes have greens so big and so large that it can be considered a hole that has 3 small greens combined into one! Which, if you didn’t know when I told you before, is great to have for the amount of variety.
This is the 7th green, with a wide fairway you’ll hit from an elevated tee. This green has three different sections (a common number as you’ll see). The pin for us was on front left, and the other two greens are back middle, and the other middle right (over that giant sand area). Suddenly turns the hole into one that has three different greens. Interesting note about the front left pin is that even with a back slope that can let your ball roll back down to the hole, it’s really difficult to get it close for birdie if you’re on the right side of the fairway since the front part of the green kicks the approach shots to the back.
How about the next hole, the par 3 8th?
If you squint your eyes, you’ll see another three sections of the green, somewhat similar to the 7th green, but this has different places where you need to make sure you miss your shot. If I haven’t said it enough before, knowing where you can miss a shot on a hole is part of the most important ways think during your round.
Because of the different levels of the greens, as well as the number of different tees, means you can be playing different holes each time you play the course. If the pin is on a different level, you’ll know the difference.
Moving forward, something you’ll see (not not see! Joke.) on Tobacco Road is the blind approach shots. And let’s start with the 9th hole, a par 5.
Again, you’ll see there’s a bunch of space on this hole for your tee shot on the 427 yard par 4. This view is from the left, the side that Andy was on, which makes for a high shot over the trees, but the green was angled this way. To the right where I was, I had nothing in the way, and was able to land it slightly to the left of the back pin and have it roll back to center of the green. And the only way to see the pin closely is to squint your eyes here and see the top of the flag in the pic.
And just to show how high and blind the shot is, here’s the bunker and steps you need to walk up to get to the green.
Next Two Instagram Holes
Moving on to the 13th and 14th holes, the most often instagrammed views. Most importantly, in my opinion, they show the uniqueness of the course. Very few holes like the 13th exist in the world. A par 5 with a wide fairway off the tee with dense forest past if you hit your tee shot too long. The second shot is through a narrow section of dense trees on both the right and left side. And the approach shot, (shown from over 200 yards away in the pic below) is slightly uphill to a short and stout green where the left portions of the green are guarded by hills.
I feel like a complete dope for not taking a picture of the entire 13th green by standing up on the new 14th tee box. There are three sections on a horizontal green. But luckily, on the Tobacco Road instagram account, they have a bunch of beautiful pics showing the 13th green!
On to the 14th hole, a downhill par three with a pond to the right of the green. Sound familiar from other descriptions par 3s? There are tons of holes out there with that description, but this one takes the cake.
There are two parts of the green here, the small green in the front left, and the difficult small green in the back right.
The pin location for us was on the front left portion, and in the end it wasn’t that long of a shot. I remember having a pitching wedge into the green and missed the 20 footer for birdie. In that pic above however, took this picture standing next to the new teebox created that’s 214 yards to the back pin, and 194 to the center of the green. (Make sure to follow the superintendent on instagram for awesome course pics as well.) So when I imagine the back tees on this teebox to the back right portion of the green, I imagine missing to the safe left, or dunking it in the water on the right. Or maybe my butter cutter will fly perfectly. If I’m at Tobacco Road sometime in the future, I’ll call ahead and make sure the 14th is set up like that.
The final holes
I’ve talked about the features of the course already, so I figure I’ll toss in pictures from the remaining 4 holes.
Starting with the approach shot on 15, though I really wish I had the look of the tee shot as well because it’s a perfect example of needing to choose what club and where to aim off the tee.
Next is the look from the edge of 16 green when walking up from the cart path. This view doesn’t show the two level green where you need to be on the correct level. And again, I wish I took a pic of the look from the tee where everyone gets nervous for picking the right club and aim point to keep it in play.
Next is the look from the tee on the par 3 17th, with two sections that create two different types of holes depending on the pin location.
And finally, a few pics that describe the 18th hole.
Why it’s my favorite course is somewhat hard for me to explain, and even realize in my own head. I’ve talked about the main features I saw from the course, but I’m not sure I should just rely on those to describe how great the course is. After sitting here for a half hour trying to figure out what to say, I’ve at least come up with some idea.
It isn’t just because I played well. I ended up shooting 68 with two bogeys coming from 2 three putts from the wrong sections of the greens. But I’ll take into account that the day before we played Pinehurst #2 with the most difficult greens to hit which makes every course seem easier.
It isn’t just because of the beautiful weather we had that day, which I’m sure you can see from all the pictures posted here.
It isn’t just because of the great condition of the course with fantastically kept fairways and greens.
It isn’t just because of the lack of lost ball hazards that for the most part let you not lose the ball you teed off with.
In the end, it falls back to what the course’s website says about the course. Something I value in all golf courses, something I value in all parts of life.