Day Trip: Tobacco Road Golf Club

The first hole at Tobacco Road Golf Club, designed by Mike Strantz. (Photo Courtesy of Tobacco Road Golf Club)

Where: Tobacco Road Golf Club, Sanford, N.C.

The Skinny: Tobacco Road was designed by the late Mike Strantz, who was not only a golf course architect but an artist and a visionary. Strantz might be best known for his designs at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue in Pawley’s Island, S.C., but his work at Tobacco Road is nothing short of remarkable.

The land on which Tobacco Road sits was once used for raising tobacco but later became a sand quarry. Through Strantz’s vivid imagination, Tobacco Road became an artistic creation. The land heaves and swells and fairways are bordered by sandy waste areas and native grasses. The player also needs a good imagination to play Tobacco Road, as visually, the course demands that you choose a shot and commit to it. Strantz said that he wanted to test “a player’s eye, determination, and wits.”

Tobacco Road was Strantz’s fifth solo design and opened in 1998. Strantz worked for Tom Fazio as an on-site designer before venturing out on his own. He studied the writings and philosophy of Dr. Alister Mackenzie and put many of Mackenzie’s design characteristics into his own. Caledonia was his first solo design.

Strantz died in 2005 after a fight with cancer. He was 50.

Says Golf Club Atlas: “Mike Strantz stood out as an architect capable of building something different and exciting – sometimes shockingly so. ‘I have never seen anything like this before’ is the standard cliché after playing your first Strantz course.” That’s exactly what you will say after playing Tobacco Road.

The Tab: Monday through Thursday, greens fees are $100 per player and $130 Friday through Sunday.

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Bridgestone’s Tour B offers something for everyone

Bridgestone Golf has revamped its popular premium golf ball line. Beginning Oct. 2, the company will introduce the Tour B series with four different models, depending on the individual player’s needs. The Tour B replaces the company’s long-running B330 series.

Bridgestone is noted for its ball fitting process and has a database of more than 3 million in-person and online ball fittings that it used in the development of the new Tour B models. They used this data to determine how specific characteristics would benefit different players.

The Tour B X and XS are for the low-handicap player who is seeking enhanced feel. Due to a softer urethane cover, the X and XS give the better player more spin and control around the green.

But that’s not all, says the company. The X and XS deliver more distance because Bridgestone’s signature 330 Dual Dimple design has been improved and enhanced. The X is for the player looking for more accuracy and the XS is for increased distance.

The RX and RXS are for low-to-mid handicap players and have a different Dual Dimple design, with 338 dimples. The RX will deliver more accuracy, the company says and the RXS is for players looking for better feel.

According to the company, Bridgestone owns more than 1,000 golf ball patents and has more than 900 engineers worldwide.

“The secret to our success is in the data, as we rely on our database of millions of swings to understand how golfers of all skill levels are hitting the ball,” says Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf marketing manager.  “We then start to build out player personas based on trends and collaborate with third party golf industry data sources to further fine-tune each persona bucket.

“Once we have established exact needs of different players we determine which of our proprietary technologies can help them rise above the competition.”


Mike Purkey: Why the City Amateur is important to Charlotte

Xan Law (left) and Braxton McLennan, the executive director of the Charlotte City Amateur. This year’s tournament was played in honor of Law, who died last December. (Photo Courtesy of Braxton McClennan)

The day was over and Braxton McClennan had finally taken a moment to slow down. The Charlotte City Amateur had concluded, the historic trophy was presented to young Will Stewart and the crowd that had come to celebrate Charlotte golf had begun to disperse.

McClennan took a deep breath with something cold to drink in his hand. McClennan is the executive director of the City Am and another successful event was in the books. It is 10 years since McClennan and others saved the City Am from what looked like a certain death.

In 2007, there was no City Am for the first time since 1958, when the tournament began. Some of Charlotte’s top golfers thought that was no less than a crime. A committee was put together and it included former champions Todd Smith, Robby Kirby, Chip Hunter, John Fitch, Robby Kirby, Nolan Mills and others.

One of the others was Xan Law, who won the City Am in 1969. Law died last December of cancer at age 75. He was a force on the committee and this year’s championship was dedicated to Law. Tournament officials wore shirts with an “X” embroidered on the sleeve in Law’s honor.

Law led the charge to recruit the best clubs in town to host the event. Other committee members were skeptical. But Law reached out to Charlotte Country Club and Quail Hollow Club and others and asked them to participate. And they did.

Each year, the tournament is spread out, with one round each at three different clubs. This year, Cedarwood Country Club hosted the first round, the second round was at Carmel Country Club’s North Course and Quail Hollow hosted the final round. That reduces each club’s commitment, making it easier to say yes when the City Am comes calling.

The City Am is not the biggest golf event in Charlotte, but it might be the most important. The heartbeat of the game in any city is the players. They support the daily fee courses and private clubs. They buy the golf balls and equipment. They rally behind charitable causes that use golf as a vehicle to raise money. They buy the tickets to the Wells Fargo Championship and the PGA Championship.

The City Am identifies the best player in Mecklenburg County for the year. But the tournament contributes much more.

“It’s important to Charlotte because it brings the community together,” McClennan said. “It brings people who love the game together. It builds such wonderful relationships with the people you meet in this tournament. It’s such a great community centered in the game of golf.”

And the championship is democratic with 205 players entered this year from all walks of life, from public courses and private clubs, from juniors to seniors. All hoping to be part of the deep and rich history of Charlotte golf.

Former City Am champions include Smith, who was a former ACC champion, former U.S. Amateur finalist David Strawn, former PGA Tour players Terry Mauney and Skip Dunaway, the storied Leon Crump, and six-time champion Joe Jaspers.

And in 1958, the first year of the event, a young Charlotte News sportswriter named Ron Green finished second to Bill Williamson. The City Am trophy now bears the name of Ron Green Sr., who contributed more than anyone can imagine to golf in Charlotte and who was in attendance on Sunday at Quail Hollow, mostly watching his grandson, Jake McGlone, finish tied for ninth in the championship.

For the longest time, the top players didn’t compete in the City Am for a number of reasons, which included the venues and problems with pace of play. But that’s all been solved.

“It feels good to have the best players in Charlotte come up and tell you this is the tournament they put on their calendar first, before any other event,” McClennan said.

And now, 10 years on, McClennan and the committee spend long hours creating a championship worthy of the city it represents.

“I do it because I care,” McClennan said. “I love Charlotte and I care. It’s a labor of love.”

McConnell COO: Private clubs alive and well

Providence Country Club has undergone $1.3 million in renovations after having been bought by Raleigh-based McConnell Golf. (Photo Courtesy of McConnell Golf)

“I have to disappoint you,” said Christian Anastasiadis. “We haven’t picked an architect yet.”

We were calling to get an update on the renovations at Providence Country Club, which was bought by McConnell Golf in early 2016. John McConnell, the CEO of the Raleigh-based private club group, had promised that the golf course would be redesigned by an architect with a recognizable name.

“There are three (McConnell) has in mind,” said Anastasiadis, who is the chief operating officer at McConnell Golf, without revealing any names. “Two of the three have been to the facility and the third has not yet visited.”

What Anastasiadis could tell us is that $1.3 million of renovations to the clubhouse are about to be completed. The fitness center and golf shop locations were reversed and as a result, the fitness center doubled in size and the golf shop has been completely renovated. Private trainers are available and there is a playhouse activity center for children and teens. “It has truly become a family center,” Anastasiadis said.

McConnell Golf now owns 12 private clubs in the Carolinas and Tennessee and if you’re a member of one, you are a member of all 12. Anastasiadis suggests there is a rejuvenation of interest in private clubs, particularly among younger people.

“Millennials love private clubs,” he said. “They love clubs, period. They want to be a part of a community, to be part of a group. The private club industry has an opportunity to capture that.

“We are building clubs of the future and we have to create the culture from the inside out. When clubs make changes, very few people outside the board members and staff members know why they are making those changes. We are telling people why we are there. We believe in being involved in the community.

“When you tell them why, you will create such enthusiasm they want to be part of it. You will attract people who believe what you believe.”

Anastasiadis says there is a significant uptick in membership at Providence Country Club for all those reasons.

“You can’t just tell people you have a great golf course,” he says. “That’s not enough. There are a lot of great golf courses. And attracting people to golf has to change. We need six-hole loops or three-hole loops so that people can come after work and play a few holes.

“If you build sustainable golf courses, this is a message that will start to impress.”


Day Trip: Mount Mitchell Golf Club

Mount Mitchell Golf Club is not only fun to play but is known for its scenery, sitting in the shadow of Mount Mitchell. (Photo Courtesy of Mount Mitchell Golf Club)

Where: Mount Mitchell Golf Club, Burnsville, N.C.

The Skinny: Located in the shadow of Mount Mitchell – at 6,683 feet, the largest peak in the Eastern U.S. – Mount Mitchell Golf Club sits in the valley of the South Toe River, which for the most part makes it a flat golf course. There is some elevation change on the back nine and only a few holes make it feel like a mountain golf course. That is, until you take in the scenery, which can cause you to pay less attention to your golf.

The course is player friendly but not downright easy. The back tees measure 6,495 yards and the course is about 3,000 feet above sea level, so the ball flies farther. But when you get to a three-hole stretch on the back nine, you’ll find some challenge. The 12th is a 530-yard par-5, the 13th is a par-4 of 430 yards and the 14th is the No. 1 handicap hole, a 450-yard par-4.

But the key word for Mount Mitchell Golf Club is “fun.” Everyone who plays has a good time and the course is almost always in superior condition. And the weather is nearly perfect. According to the club, Mount Mitchell is where “springtime spends the summer.” Mount Mitchell Golf Club opens in April and closes during the month of November.

The Tab: Monday through Thursday, greens fees are $49 for visitors and $44 for guests of the property’s townhouses, rental homes and other lodging. Friday through Sunday, it’s $65 for visitors and $55 for guests. There is a $44 senior rate for Monday through Thursday.

Diversions: Hawtree’s Grill and Pub is open Monday through Saturday for both fine dining and casual fare. For fishermen, the South Toe River has been established as a trophy trout fishing destination. The river is brimming with brown trout and rainbow trout.

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Game improvement: New entry in Titleist’s AP irons

Titleist’s 718 AP family, including the new AP3, is built for more forgiveness and distance. (Photo Courtesy of Acushnet Company)

For years, Titleist golf equipment was thought of as strictly for the better player. But with the introduction of the AP series – which stands for Advanced Performance – the company started to appeal to a broader constituency.

Now, every level of player can benefit from Titleist’s new 718 AP offerings.

The AP1 has been Titleist’s game improvement iron and the 718 AP1 raises that concept to a new level. The AP1 is built for maximum distance and forgiveness, according to the company, and makes it easier for golfers to get the ball in the air and stop quickly on the green.

It does so by designing each iron individually with hollow body long irons along with undercut cavity mid and short irons. The company says it is the best combination for distance and trajectory.

Titleist’s AP2 irons have been a staple for many PGA Tour players and low-handicap amateurs ever since they were first introduced in 2010. Its forged feel and tour-preferred profile and blade length appeals to the better player.

The 718 version is an upgrade. Although it’s a cavity-back iron, the 718 AP2 has a thinner forged body and a thinner steel face insert that increases launch and ball speed. High density tungsten is placed in the heel and tow of the long and mid irons increase forgiveness, while still keeping the same look at address.

The new entry into the AP family is the 718 AP3, which the company calls the “players distance iron.” It’s a hollow blade design with high-speed face technology, taking the best from the AP1 and AP2.

The hollow blade construction with a thin face creates a high launch condition and greater distance. The AP3 has a high moment of inertia through placing tungsten low and in the toe of the long and mid irons, creating more distance on off-center hits. Best of all, it has a look at address of a players iron.

The new AP irons will be in stores beginning Sept. 29. But starting Sept. 1, golfers can register to attend a free trial and fitting event at hundreds of locations across the country. For more, go to​.