Tobacco Road Golf listed among world's best links
In a region renowned for its golfing legends and championship courses, one Lee County course resonated with golfing architects recently while earning an international accolade.
Tobacco Road Golf, located in southern Lee County at 442 Tobacco Road, was named the No. 50 course in "Golf Course Architecture's" July issue — naming the Top 100 Golf Courses in the world as determined by golf course architects and designers.
The honor, according to Tobacco Road's PGA Director of Golf Joe Gay, was extremely flattering.
"I actually grew up here, and to have a world-renowned golf course in Sanford is incredible," he said. "As a citizen, I am very proud to have the golf course located here, and to be a part of it makes it all that more fun."
The course opened in the fall of 1998 after being designed by the late Mike Strantz, who was named one of the Top 10 Greatest Golf Architects of All Time by "Golfweek." Strantz, Gay said, was known for his attention to detail.
"He only built one golf course a year," Gay said. "When you got him, you got his full attention. … He felt like he had a lot to work with. We're formally an abandoned sand quarry that allowed for several neat features [to be incorporated] into his design."
As a public course, Tobacco Road focuses on one thing and doing it well, Gay said.
"We are all about golf," he said. "It's not about tennis, a social club or pool. It's about providing the best golf experience we can."
Brandon Johnson of the Arnold Palmer Design Company, one of the architects surveyed, called Tobacco Road “the most fresh and unique twist or interpretation of golf course design I have ever experienced. I love how the reinterpreted aesthetic vision balances sound strategic principles with new or daring ways to play the course and holds this truly remarkable vision together.”
Johnson also called Tobacco Road “incredibly fun to play” and “truly a masterpiece.”
Tony Woodell, one of the course's co-owners, said the award was an immense honor.
"It's tremendous for our area," he said. "People come from all over the world to play here, and it does shine a light on Lee County."
Course Co-Owner Mark Stewart said he was grateful to be recognized by the world's experts and ranked among the elite golf courses around the world.
"It's a testament to our staff and, of course, the designer Mike Strantz," Stewart said.
Robin Hiseman, of European Golf Design, ranked Tobacco Road as his number one choice in the survey because "it was the course that transformed what I understood to be possible with golf architecture."
"There are several very creative contemporary golf architects recognized on my list, whose egos really don't need stroking," Hiseman wrote in "Golf Course Architecture." "Creative and imaginative they may be, but Mike Strantz was all that and a genius to boot. He had the nerve and commitment to try things that others would never dare to."
Tobacco Road, Hiseman said, was Strantz's masterpiece and added that the course was "the most entertaining and inspirational course I have ever played."
Pinehurst No. 2, which will host the Men and Women's U.S. Open next summer, was ranked at No. 15 in the countdown.
The top-rated course was The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, listed as the number-one course by 23 percent of the golf course architects polled.
Tobacco Road ranked just behind former U.S. Open sites Bethpage Black (New York; #46) and Whistling Straits (Wisconsin; #47), and ahead of former British Open sites Royal Liverpool (Merseyside, England; #58) and Prestwisk (Scotland; #59)