How can you improve upon greatness? Michael Jordan could put up a few more jumpers. Tiger could roll a few extra putts. Jeter could take extra BP. For people, improvement is always an option, regardless of performance.
So how does a golf course that draws its greatness on the fact that it is purposefully imperfect and challenging, make itself better without changing the rhythm of its heart? Well, the answer is... not much. But, you can refresh it and add a twist that gives a reason for people like us to come back (as if you need one to come back to this bad boy!).
It probably wasn't for all those reasons, but it sounds poetic, even if it isn't. That said, to celebrate Tobacco Road's 20th anniversary, it did bring a legend from its history to life in the form of an alternate Par-3 routing for the front nine, called El Camino.
The literal translation for those who don't "habla espanol", El Camino is Spanish for... (THE Camino? -R.I.P. Chris Farley), "The Road". Chevy tried to say it was that car/truck thing. Google says it means "the way" - so we'll combine the two and call it, "A New Way to Play The Road".
We can try to explain it all day long, but their website does a much better job...
"The original tee locations marked only by memory of the select few who knew the way. Staff members, and regulars to The Road, were among the first groups to define the routing for our newest installation, El Camino. The once hidden loop, El Camino, created for the experience is a short course compilation of innovative angles, the character of variety, and the call for execution was developed throughout our history. El Camino, now open for all players is a dynamic routing that embodies the spirit of Strantz, and is a true test of the one-shotter." -TobaccoRoad.Com
As the fates would have it, a few weeks before our trip we saw the unveiling of this new playing option. ...And since we booked our package through Tobacco Road Golf and Travel, we received a free promo for the previously hidden par-3 loop that we graciously accepted.
Since we were playing Tobacco Road on our getaway day, playing more than 18 was going to be a challenge. The El Camino routing combined with the Championship layout provided a perfect blend of awesome, new and nostalgia.
While we (and usually by we I mean I) tend to take a lot of pictures while we play, we have to be considerate of those around us on the course. Nothing is more annoying than someone dicking around on a course for no apparent reason. With that in mind, we played El Camino in an alternate shot format at the same time we played our own balls from the regular tees. This kept our twosome in harmony with the threesome in front of us and since there was no one behind us, you get to enjoy a preview of the 9 teeing locations for the new routing.
SCORECARD | YARDAGES
Not that we were asked - but there were a couple other places we'd have like to have seen a tee. One feasible, others maybe not due to them being beyond the hole (example/ playing back to the 7th green from the 8th tee). Really they're just great views of a great course.
Given free reign one day, we'd probably play these shots too!
HOLE 2 (from 11 Tee)
HOLE 5 (from near 90 degrees right of green)
HOLE 6 (from top of spoil mound in waste hazard)
HOLE 7 (from 8 Tee)
Moral of the story here is that the more time you can spend on this property, the more you will appreciate it. I remember being awestruck by it fifteen years ago. There aren't many courses that I would plan a trip around to play every single year, but this is one of them. It's that good. Adding variety like an El Camino only adds to the experience. In the future, perhaps they'd find the real estate to build a dedicated short course or par-3 loop in honor of Strantz and his unique style (Similar to the Tom Doak short course of A.W. Tillinghast greens at The Shawnee Inn up in PA).
Strantz deserved more time on this earth. We deserved to see more of his artwork painted on greens and fairways all over the world. It wasn't meant to be, but thanks to the fine folks that run this place, we're all lucky that this work will be preserved for as long as the game is played.
CRUSADER COURSE RATING: 4.5 STARS (only thing keeping it from 5 is the fact it isn't a dedicated and separate course)
El Camino Par-3 Course at Tobacco Road Golf Club Architect: Mike Strantz Website: https://tobaccoroadgolf.com/
Address: 442 Tobacco Road, Sanford, North Carolina 27332