Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Golf
Mike Strantz: Maverick Golf Courses
Maverick architect Mike Strantz created a pair of the most memorable, as well as controversial, designs in North Carolina’s rich golf course portfolio. His Tobacco Road Golf Club layout in Sanford and Tot Hill Farm Golf Club course outside of Asheboro have been critically acclaimed – and constructively criticized – with equal fervor.
Golfers living in the state, or just passing through on a visit, are remiss if they do not partake of at least one of these Strantz originals. There is guaranteed to be no shortage of post-round discussion on the experience. Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farm must be appreciated for their uniqueness and aesthetic beauty because they are not destinations for record low rounds. In fact, they can be unforgiving on a bad day. Strantz liked to incorporate blind shots. He offered golfers a multitude of options on how to play a hole, but built in stiff penalties if the path to the cup was not chosen wisely. As evidence, a national golf publication recently selected Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farms, respectively, as the 10th and 7th "Hardest Golf Courses in America".
Strantz’s creative flair, unfortunately, was cut short by cancer with his untimely death in 2005 at the age of 50. His body of work is not extensive. In fact, his personal designs numbered less than 10. But, like a shooting star, he blazed a memorable path that continues to burn in the minds of any golfer who has navigated at least 18 holes of his ingenious creations.
Strantz, an Ohio native, was a disciple of turn-of-the-20th-century architect Alister Mackenzie. Both liked to play mind games. Both wanted golfers to think the holes they designed were harder to play than they really were through the use of visual intimidation. For instance, No. 16 at Tobacco Road appears to be a relatively tame 326-yard par-4 hole. It plays to a severe dog left to the left, however, and the landing area on the tee shot is uphill and out of sight. The approach shot is to a seemingly innocuous green that savagely defends itself with two tiers and a false front that spits back all but the best placed short irons.
Tobacco Road Golf Course, carved out of an abandoned sand quarry, has warmed to its strenuous reputation. Its website advertises the course as Breathtaking. Exhilarating. Heart-Pounding Golf! The course prides itself on having once been described as “golf’s rock and roll thrill ride.”
With his walrus-like moustache, long mane of dark locks and penchant for unconventional layouts, it was no surprise that Strantz named his company Maverick Golf Course Design.
“My goal is to give golfers the opportunity to experience such exhilaration on each and every hole by creating dramatic and imaginative designs,” Strantz was once quoted. “When a course does not force players to think, the game becomes dull and monotonous – a walk in a well-landscaped park.”
Strantz learned his craft from Tom Fazio, another individualist when it comes creating golf holes. Strantz launched out on his own in the middle 1990s and earned rave reviews for his designs that also included Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue, Bulls Bay and Stonehouse in other states.
All of his courses at one time were listed among Golf Digest’s "Top 100 Modern Courses". Strantz himself was chosen as one of The "Top 10 Greatest Golf Architects of All Time" by Golfweek even though his total numbers of designs were severely limited by his passing at a relatively young age.
North Carolina can consider itself fortunate that a pair of Strantz’s most notable and challenging masterpieces grace its landscape.
By Patrick Jones
By Patrick Jones
added: December 19, 2008
updated: January 2, 2009