The Courses

Carolina Trace | Quail Ridge | Sanford City Course | Tobacco Road 

Sanford’s youngest course known nationally for its difficulty, beauty

At just 25 years old, Tobacco Road is still something of the new kid on the block when it comes to golf in Lee County. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t earned its place.

Among the accolades the course has racked up in its two and a half decades of operation are recognitions from the likes of Golf Digest Magazine, who have had Tobacco Road ranked as high as 49th on its list of the best 100 courses in the nation. In that regard, even if Tobacco Road is Lee County’s newest golf course, it’s wasted no time becoming its most famous.

Martha Hudson is Tobacco Road’s general manager and has been there in some capacity since 2015.

“I’m sure a lot of people thought it was an insane idea — coming from construction and going into golf,” she said. “But they had a good plan, they made a great decision in the designer, and they opened at a great time. And not having any houses certainly makes operations better because you can focus on what you really do.”

Hudson said Tobacco Road — despite being far and away Lee County’s most well known course to those who live elsewhere — strikes a fairly even balance between visiting players and locals.

“Our highest tourist times are April into May, springtime, and then October into November,” she said. “That’s a huge golf trip time anyway. So in those times, I would say you’re probably looking at 70-30 (visitors versus locals). Across the year, it’s probably more like 50-50. But more and more since I’ve been here, our main customer base has really kind of changed, where we’re trending a lot younger. 

“A lot of younger people are really starting to come to the area, and they’re being very specific in where they want to have their golf experience. Which is great for us because we’re not having to worry about all the extras. We can really focus on our golf experience.”

Tobacco Road’s place in Lee County’s golf community might be on its face largely defined by its fame, but anyone with a passing familiarity with the game understands the course’s layout — it’s situated on a former sand quarry, and many of its features are built on topography that naturally makes for a challenging-to-say-the-least 18 holes – is what brings golfers from near and far.

“The thing I tell people about this golf course is you really have to focus on enjoying your day,” Hudson said. “It’s understanding the golf course, that it’s much more difficult than it appears. There’s a lot of visual stimulation, and that’s on purpose from the designer. But if you understand your capabilities as a player, you can achieve far better shots. And getting on the correct set of tees. 

“Where people can start their day off on the wrong foot is if they’re looking at total yardage. It doesn’t look that long, so they play from further back. And that becomes a challenge. One of (designer Mike Strantz’s) main philosophies was he wanted people to have fun. He wanted people to hit the big shot and make a bunch of birdies. But there are opportunities where if you don’t make a good decision, you can make a big number.”

Hudson said her personal best at Tobacco Road is even par, and the course record is 60 (that was prior to a change in the type of grass at the course that made things a little less forgiving — Hudson says the best score she’s seen since is a 62). Tobacco Road’s golf carts come equipped with GPS devices to help players understand the holes and what they’re unable to see due to the unique topography. 

But as golf’s demographics expand, some of the more rigid aspects some perceive to surround the game seem to be disappearing. Hudson pointed to changing perceptions around which tee boxes golfers use.

“I hear more people all the time saying they broke 100 for the first time,” she said. “That’s what is great. It’s just a matter of making sure you set yourself up correctly — I wouldn’t tell somebody that regularly shoots in the 90s that they need to play from the back tees. Play from the forward set so you can actually enjoy your day.”

Tobacco Road Golf Course averages about 37,000 rounds per year and is located at 442 Tobacco Road Lane in southern Lee County off U.S. 1. 

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A little more history: Tobacco Road Golf Club was built on land tended by the weather-worn hands of tobacco farmers, later shaped and moved through mining and sand excavation before finally being crafted and molded by an artist’s imagination and the revolutionary eye of the late Mike Strantz. When Tobacco Road was little more than a walking path through an expended sand quarry, Strantz said he “knew immediately it could be something not only spectacular, but also unique.”

Even in the golf-rich state of North Carolina, Sanford’s Tobacco Road golf course stands out. Ranked nationally for its difficulty, fun and beauty, the 25-year-old course averages roughly 37,000 rounds a year.

  • Opened: 1998
  • Architect: Mike Strantz
  • Holes: 18
  • Par: 71
  • Length: 6,532
  • Rating/Slope: 71.7/144
  • Cost: $125-$215
  • Ranks: #49 – Golf Digest Top 100 Public; #35 – Golf Magazine Top 100 You Can Play; #38 –  Breaking Eighty Top 100
  • Description: Architect Mike Strantz was a student of the Golden Age Architects whose turn of the century designs set the standards while contributing to the development of the principles of golf course architecture and design. The seamless incorporation of Golden Age ‘conventional features,’ like the elegant arc of a fairway set against the contrast of a sandy waste area, with the bolder design features most often seen on the British Isles, are where Strantz showcased his true artistic talent.” —

The Courses

Carolina Trace | Quail Ridge | Sanford City Course | Tobacco Road