But Tobacco Road also has some of the worst holes that I’ve ever played. Several greens are extremely shallow (like 15-20 ft.) and very wide (in some cases 60-80 yards) with junk short and long. In addition to being, in my opinion, aesthetically ugly, these shots are almost impossible to play for higher handicap golfers. Even if part of the green is a bit deeper, if you successfully play to it, you’ll have a 70 or 80 ft. putt where you can’t go at the hole. If they go at the hole unsuccessfully, the next few shots are likely to be back-and-forth across the green from unforgiving hardpan sand (all of the course’s bunkers are waste bunkers). This, plus blindness and narrowness on the way to several greens (but usually not in the driving zone) makes Tobacco Road one of the hardest courses for high handicap golfers that I’ve seen.
Low handicap golfers, however, are likely to tear this place up. The landing areas for good drives are all very wide and you’ll be playing a short iron to all these wide, shallow greens. As long and the course isn’t wet or you pick your irons clean (even though it’s on pure sand, there are a lot of soggy catchment basins), the low handicapper should shoot well because the course isn’t very long. Especially given their proximity, I see this course as sort-of an anti-Pinehurst no.2; extremely hard for the high handicapper, but easy for the low handicapper. Lots of trouble in front, but usually less to the sides. Often no reasonable place for a high handicapper to miss and if there is, it usually isn’t somewhere in front of the green.
We find another of the course’s anti-Pinehurst no. 2—in fact anti-Donald Ross—aspects at the first hole: a long, difficult par 5 with potentially several blind shots. More a kick in the balls than a gentle handshake. And also a very good example of a hole that’s tough for high handicappers but not for low handicappers. It’s a pretty noteworthy drive—between two 40 ft. tall dunes. It’s only about 210 yards to get past the first dune on the right from near the tips. But if you only carry the ball 150 yards, you’re going to have to navigate the probably 20 ft. wide opening between them.
To be fair, when I played, the flag was on the left, which is probably the most confusing part of the green to hit to. If the flag is on the right, it might be a little bit more comprehensible, especially if you’re in the left side of the fairway. But—and I’m generally a huge defender of blind shots—there’s too much uncertainty in playing to any flag and nowhere to play safe. You can play to a more open area, but the next shot might be impossible.
I’d have been interested to play the left tee/right pin combination, which would have been an interesting semi-blind shot over a mound. But as we can see in the second picture, this area is probably too small and slopes away from the angle of play into junk. So I’m not sure that that iteration of the hole would work, although it would make the routing more coherent.
Now you might say ‘well, isn’t the fact that it’s unique in the world of golf justification enough? Just like there’s nothing like Pinehurst no. 2, doesn’t it count in favor of Tobacco Road that there’s nothing like Tobacco Road?’ But that supposes that you couldn’t keep the essential Tobacco Roadyness if you changed a few holes. I think that you could. The four par 5s wouldn’t change and those are the holes that most people remember for the better. I’m not saying that they should get rid of some of the bold green contours or the wild waste bunkers. But fewer wide, skinny greens and a more cohesive routing wouldn’t cost this course much of what people see as special. It’d be a little more like Caledonia, which I find to be a superior Strantz course, but it’d keep the wildness that rightly makes Tobacco Road a noteworthy course.