EDITORIAL: ‘The Road’s’ top 50 honor is good for all Lee County

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The eyes of the golf world will be increasingly focused down the road between now and the playing of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open golf tournaments next June in an unprecedented back-to-back arrangement of national championships at Pinehurst’s legendary No. 2 course.

But focus will also no doubt fall on a layout up the road, at “The Road,” Tobacco Road — right here in our own Lee County.

Tobacco Road Golf Course, much like the Temple Theatre and Deep River Sporting Clays, is no stranger to accolades. It’s listed annually in multiple surveys of golfers and golf publications as one of the best places to play the game. And like those other two gems of Lee County, Tobacco Road is most often best appreciated by those who live outside our immediate area.

But a unique group — golf course architects and designers from around the world — have given Tobacco Road (and by extension, the rest of us in Lee County) something new to crow about: the course was included on the list of the Top 100 golf courses in the world in the July issue of “Golf Course Architecture” magazine, a British publication.

The layout, designed by the late genius Mike Strantz and opened in 1998, was #50 on the list.

What that means is that, in the opinion of the best and the brightest designers of golf courses around the world, Tobacco Road’s unique layout — on a former quarry in the southern part of Lee County, not far off U.S. 1 — is among the very best of the very best. By ranking it 50th on the list, the voting designers placed Tobacco Road ahead of some legendary settings of former major championships, including British Open sites Royal Liverpool and Prestwick. And it ranked just behind U.S. Open sites Bethpage Black in New York and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Pinehurst No. 2? It ranked 15th, but since only 41 of the 100 courses listed are located in the United States, Tobacco Road certainly has plenty of bragging rights.

Co-owners Mark Stewart and Tony Woodell and their families have done an amazing job with the course, plus given Lee County a unique place in the realm of the various places which call themselves “the home of golf.” Lee County also is home to Sanford Municipal Golf Course, with original design by Donald Ross (the designer of Pinehurst No. 2), and Carolina Trace’s two courses were originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., another of the most famous names in course design.

Tobacco Road’s honor is yet another eagle feather in Lee County’s cap.