In his book Grounds For Golf, Geoff Shackelford once compared great golf courses to epic films. For example, he called Pine Valley The Godfather and he called National Golf Links of America Citizen Kane.
The analogy has merit. To continue the exploration, it’s clear that Mike Strantz’s tour de force at Tobacco Road is clearly akin to Quentin Tarantino’s celebrated, polarizing, avante garde neo-classic Pulp Fiction. After all – Tobacco Road is celebrated, polarizing, avante garde and neo-classic.
Part Pine Valley (and therefore World Woods) 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. It’s easy to see how players find Tobacco Road the most atmospheric and enjoyable four miles of potential eagles or triple bogeys ever designed.
But like Pulp Fiction’s divided initial reception – where it won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes film festival but lost every U.S. Academy Award except one to the more accessible Forrest Gump starring the “safe” Tom Hanks – the road to recognition and respect for Tobacco Road has been as bumpy as the great rumpled course itself. As Strantz correctly anticipated, the course divided some in the golf community and triggered controversy and frustration along with well-deserved acclaim.
ON THE COURSE
Strantz gives out a break at the par threes at Tobacco Road. None of them is longer than 178 yards from the regulation tees and 194 yards from the tips and the majority average merely 150 yards from the regular tees and 170 yards from the tips. Mid to short irons are a welcome relief. Nevertheless, Strantz found a fascinating way to add an ingenious strategic design characteristic to these short holes. The sixth is a perfect example. Instead of runway tees or tees merely staggered by distance, Strantz built five different teeing grounds scattered laterally. The green, which features three distinct tiers, appears very wide but shallow from some tee boxes, but sits deep and narrow from the others. Therefore from one set of tees, the hole tests accuracy and from the other tees, tests distance control.
Like Pulp Fiction, many knew The Road was destined for greatness right from its opening, even in the face of vocal opposition. Just as Pulp Fiction stirred bitter controversy at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with its black humor, unabashed violence, deviant sexual exploration, and promotion of various aspects of criminality. so too did Tobacco Road stir controversy with its fearless courage in demanding blind and semi-blind shots to devilishly positioned greens. Nevertheless, Pulp Fiction’s riveting, poignant dialogue and virtuoso acting performances transcend its colorful subject matter. The movie made the careers of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson. So too do the strategy and artistry and other worldly, eye-popping visuals elevate The Road to legendary status in our game. With every hole playing like a crucial chapter in a book you can’t put down, The Road’s whole is greater than the sum of its mighty parts.
NOw, I’m also very happy to report I’ll be returning to the media tent at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot to cover the Open for Cybergolf. Look for my Open preview piece soon.