Tot Hill Farm ROCKS Iron Maverick III! Reverse Routing Debuts at 2-Day Strantz Celebration
More than 170 Iron Mavericks converged at the meticulously restored Mike Strantz Gem in the Uwharrie Mountains of Central North Carolina
"When I was younger, I was hard to hold
Seem like I's always goin', whichever way the wind was blowin'
Now that travelin' feelin', It calls me back again
Callin' me Back Where It All Begins"
The Golf Crusade officially launched in Spring of 2018. In truth, we were already on the road to what Golf Crusade was, we just didn't know it yet. If we had to date it back to a starting point, we can pretty much point towards 2003 and the first time each of us played Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro, North Carolina.
It was a round of golf. Yet it wasn't. It was the idea of what a round of golf or a golf course COULD be. We each instantly became fans of it's architect, Mike Strantz.
Tragically, less than two years later, Mike was gone. His legend, however, was only beginning to grow.
Fast forward to 2019, the creation the @StrantzFantzClub and subsequently, the birth of our signature event, The Iron Maverick. Billed as equal parts Strantz Tribute, Golf Ironman and Fun, we strolled into Royal New Kent with nearly fifty guys in tow for a picture perfect fall day on Strantz's tribute to Irish Links golf.
Further ahead still, in 2021, this time with a sold out field of eighty-eight Strantz superfans, we feasted on the buffet of Lowcountry Strantz gems Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue and Bulls Bay. Incredible times were consumed. Yet, there was still more of the story to tell.
The four previous host courses for the Iron Maverick: (clockwise from top left) Royal New Kent, True Blue, Bulls Bay, Caledonia
Finally, after years of waiting for someone with the right vision to come along, Tot Hill Farm was getting its long overdue makeover in 2023.
The stars could not have aligned straighter - though they maybe could have done so a month earlier so we could have had more daylight!
The trilogy of Iron Mavericks wrapped up with a mighty crescendo this past October 23rd and 24th - selling out the first day in just over 30 seconds before popular demand REQUIRED we open up a second day. Within two minutes, day two had more commitments than could be filled. All told, more than 100 groups threw their names in the hat to try to secure a spot in Strantz's Farmland Funhouse.
All told, more than 170 players would fill out the two day event that we aren't quite sure how we're going to top.
How come? Great question!
Each day was to follow the same formula. Aside from (perhaps) trying to cram too much fun into the shorter days this time of year, we'd say, based on the response on social media during & after each day...
Each day began with a few bombs from the ridge that forms THF's driving range, a few chips on the Redan style practice green and some putts rolled on the putting green (with their fresh new Prizm Zoysia surfaces and surrounds).
Gone is the old double-wide pro shop trailer and replaced by a freshly restored 1800s farmhouse that sits only a few feet below the highest point on the entire property. Anyone who sets foot on this property hereto that doesn't feel transported to some other plane of existence simply being within eye-shot of the farmhouse & barns within the idyllic shaded plateau, just isn't doing it right.
Thankfully, we think everyone was on the correct plane at Iron Maverick III!
Once sunlight hit the golf course, so did the field for a shotgun start on the Mike Strantz Signature Course. We traversed the course on its freshly paved cart paths to try to get to meet everyone that came. Is it weird to go on a golf trip and not play golf at what is likely your favorite golf course? Yeah, a bit.
As weird as that may be, was it conversely just as awesome getting to see the smiles on everyone's faces? You bet!
As the temperatures warmed up, so too did the appetites! Thankfully, our new friends from Black Powder Smokehouse knocked it out of the park with their buffet setup! If you're ever in Jamestown or Asheboro, swing in and see them. Of course the meats are all great, but if you don't get try the Gouda Mac & Cheese, you're missing out on one of life's great creations!
Players also enjoyed a rotating selection of draft beer from the old Ford F100 turned beer truck! The famed Four Saints Brewing Company (right up the street from BPS's Asheboro location!) flowed like the salmon of Capistrano, if you know what we mean...
To ensure we completed the full golf menu we had planned, we bumped some games to the end of the day as daylight allowed. Day 1 wrapped up with our traditional day capper - the 'Firing Squad Finish'. Unfortunately, some of the field finished their PM round a little late or else this line of players would have stretched all the way around the famed cape hole (aka the 'Audacity' Strantzlate)!
READY - AIM - FIRE!!! Once the command is given, every player fires their best shot at the tucked pin to the far left of the stone-faced peninsula green! The results are equally entertaining and hilarious! We think this one set a record for most water-logged shots at one time! Our winner, Matt T, took home a framed art creation courtesy of Blind Squirrel Golf.
Meanwhile Day 2 saw the Iron Maverick Long Drive champion crowned. Our longest drive competition starts out like any other one you've played. Except, there are three chances to win on three different holes. Those winners took home a hat from The King Kollective, but also qualified to advance to the 'SMASH OFF' in front of all that wanted to watch!
In the end, Dalton Hummer took home the Louisville Slugger persimmon driver trophy after he bombed his final drive of three attempts from the barn at 18 green back down the fairway!
While we would have loved to have held both games both days, we just didn't have enough daylight. The sacrifice was necessary in order to complete the main entrée of the golf buffet.
If you had paid attention during the lead up to IM3, you were probably aware that we had cooked up a little something of our own for the afternoon course... A little creation we've been dreaming up for about the past five years.
THE IRON MAVERICK COURSE at TOT HILL FARM
In 2018, right after launching Golfcrusade.com, we took a golf trip to the Pinehurst area to play our 400th course together. There was one replay scheduled on that trip: Tobacco Road. BMAC had never played it and it had been nearly fifteen years since Dooner had been humbled by the Sandy Soils of Sanford.
Along with that round, TR had just released a new way to play the course called El Camino - a short, fun alternative way to play the front nine. You can read more about El Camino here.
Because we are gigantic golf nerds, we immediately started dreaming up different ways to play some of our favorite courses - first among them, naturally, was Tot Hill Farm.
One major problem (ok, maybe more than one) stood in our way: TREES. Some of the angles that we felt might make cool short holes were engulfed by trees (or lacked enough aerial space to make them realistic). It remained an idea, tweaked here and there over the years, but obviously never put into use.
Until, that is, word came of potential sale and a planned restoration - featuring the eventual removal of more than 1200 trees. Once we pitched the new management the idea and drove around the property to see if it was possible, we were given the green light to do it!
That idea is now real thing! The idea now goes by the moniker of The Iron Maverick Course at Tot Hill Farm.
It is a reverse routing, playing primarily backwards from the 18th green (hole 1) to 1 green (hole 21). If you are checking our arithmetic, you'll need to know that it also incorporates the 13th green twice (top and bottom tiers play from different directions) and the chipping and putting greens near the farmhouse. There's your twenty-one.
We read a few articles about the new Cabot Citrus Farms (former World Woods Resort in Florida), that their planned alternative course, 'The 21' would become the first twenty-one hole course in the US.
Better change that 'would be' to 'would have been'.
Is the IMC going to be played everyday the way that one will? No, it's just not possible (or safe). Will The Iron Maverick Course ever going to be used again? We sure hope so!
To (at least) give the idea a fighting chance, we created it's own set of tee markers - made with branding irons produced by Seabiscuit Metal Designs - along with its own professionally designed scorecard (courtesy of Impact Golf Marketing). We also created wayfinding signage to help navigate the property in the unnatural order you must do so.
As a token of our gratitude for allowing us to do this, we've gifted the tee markers, scorecards and signage to the club so that if they choose, it's theirs to do it again!
Mike Strantz designed his courses as living works of art. They were built to consumed by the eye in a 360 degree field of view in mind - looking as attractive in reverse from green to tee as it does forward. In that regard, we certainly think The Iron Maverick Course passed the eye test. You'll have to ask the rest of the IM3 players if it passed their test too!
Typically, you wouldn't get a detailed description of each hole from us. Since we were the one's who discovered the routing though, today is your lucky day... Here's the inside of the scorecard, followed by a description of what each hole looks like and a photo or nine of the course itself.
Fun Facts about the scorecard: as a nod to the backwards nature of the course, the Strantz on Horseback logo is pointed in the opposite direction from the same image used on the new THF scorecard. The same image is the predominate mark on the tee markers as well. You'll also notice the lack of par listed on the card. This was intentional since the majority of the holes are half par in nature (cheers to Ohoopee Match Club for that one!). Lastly, you'll find the hole number and the green it plays to to help you find your way around a bit easier.
#1 "Barn" - The journey begins from the ridge between 10 tee & High Meadow Drive, this short pitch and putt pulls its name from perhaps the most famous of all the @golfbarns at Tot Hill Farm.
#2 "Autobahn" - The longest hole on the course, Autobahn tees off from the barn next to 18 green and putts out on 17 green, 633 yards away. The first of a few 'Strantzlate' holes on the IMC Scorecard.
#3 "Dam" - the most forward tee on hole 17 plays back across the marsh to 16 green (with ruins of the old stone dam framing the hole). A true par three at 133 yards, don't hit it 130 or you're dropping three.
#4 "Chute" & #7 "Apollo" - both holes play in the 50-55 yard range, both play into the (top & bottom tiers of the) 13th green, but from different directions.
Chute, as its name suggests, plays up through one from the fringe of 16 green, over Betty McGee Creek to the top tier of 13 green. Apollo takes its name from the Strantzlate of the same name, given to a hole that resembles something more like the surface of the moon versus a green site. Don't go long in either place. (photo note: Chute played to middle tier due to what appeared to be gopher damage on the restored upper/third section. Can't make this stuff up!)
#5 "Cascade" - you may never hit a more memorable 55 yard tee shot. Why? It plays straight downhill from atop the restored waterfall behind the 15th green.
#6 "3 Putt Max" - a sign used to adorn this green (14) back in the early days - mandating a 3 Putt Max when the hole was cut in a certain position. Maybe the most difficult tee shot on the course as it must clear the rock wall facings of 15 tee.
#8 "Money" - this hole plays from the 13 tee back to 12 green, a tribute to the temporary routing used after the flood of 2003 that destroyed greens 11, 13 & 16.
#9 "Island" - another Strantzlate hole, this time playing into the 11th green from atop the ruins of the old dam on the bottom of 12 fairway. Won't find that opportunity many places (if any!)
#10 "Cave" - during construction, the crew called the area 10th green 'The Cave Hole' due to the tunnel constructed underneath it. This dastardly shot plays about C-note inward from 12 fairway to the bottom tier of 10 green.
#11 "Fishbowl" - As the regular 10th hole plays over the road from the tips, conversely, this hole plays up and over Tot Hill Farm Road to the lower part of 9 green, from which the hole takes its name.
#12 "The Gambler" - the start of a two-hole walking loop around the clubhouse. This one tees off just in front of the front porch, over the entry road and down to the chipping green. You might have the added difficulty of a gallery giving you advice (and grief if not followed). Site of one of the two holes-in-one at IM3!
#13 "Volcano" - teeing off from the driving range tee, get your number right or you risk hitting the hardened surfaces around the putting green summit (i.e. road and parking lot). Pause after holing your putt to enjoy the setting of amidst the farmhouse and barnyard. Pure bliss.
#14 "Backboard" - after the scenic drive over to 8 green, tee it up and use one of two backboards to try for an ace on this 80 yard shot!
#15 "Albatross" - one of the three longer half-par holes, fire away at 7 green from atop the highest point of the 8th hole. As its name suggests, this 288-yard hole is accessible for big hitters in a single swing (plays more like 265 with elevation drop). The creek punishes over eager big bird hunters!
#16 "Funnel" - The shortest hole on The Iron Maverick Course is by no means the easiest thanks to a diabolical pin placement on 6 green. Funnel your shot down by ground game or air, but there is no backboard to save you here. Take the off-road path through the woods from 7 fairway right to the tee!
#17 "Rhino" - tee it up from the 'Rhino Nose' bunkers in front of 6 green and fire back into the top tier of 5 green. Super serene setting for this spectacular shot. Notice the old IM2 tee markers in the photo. This was the first tee we placed when we visited in July to scout the tee locations!
#18 "Skipper" - Skip your tee shot out of the woods from the cart path (mat provided). Players have the entire green to work with, making a 2 an expected score for good short games. You'll need it with the big dog on deck.
#19 "Westminster" - In our Strantzlate series, a blue ribbon was awarded to the biggest (and baddest) dog(leg) in the park. This 476-yard monster tees off from adjacent 4 green and putts out on the back corner of the world class 3rd green. With the elevation drop, it becomes a half-par hole worthy of a Westminster Ribbon.
#20 "Holler" - approximately 100 yards stands between the tee (which is hidden between two boulders) and 2 green. Strategy varies greatly on shot selection thanks to the removal off 100s of trees around the green.
#21 "Three Sixty" - One of the holes that appeared thanks to tree removal between 1 green and 2 tee. The hole plays 69 yards, one more yard than observant players will notice listed on the sprinkler cover just left of the tee box (that notes the 68 yards playing backwards to 1 green as the video below shot in July '23 shows).
By the end of the weekend, we had celebrated (at great length) the return of a diamond in the rough that finally got its polish. We rejoiced over a pair of aces on the new Iron Maverick Course. The owners of those moments earned a personalized painting courtesy of Claire Nilan Art to capture the memory in a frame. We were honored that Claire joined us to play on Day 1 having been fans of her work for many years!
Speaking of artists and paintings, the talented Dave Baysden returned Tuesday after playing Monday to do a live painting in the 12th fairway. The process was a marvel to watch - enjoyed by nearly every participant - but the end result was nothing short of perfection.
We imagine it will soon find a place of honor in the restored farmhouse turned clubhouse - if it hasn't already! Who knows, maybe one day soon you'll be able to take home a print of that painting through the future THF online store or Dave's website (we'll let you know when that happens!).
We'd also like to thank some of the incredible collaborators who got into the field that reached out to lend their talents! Ryan Parsons worked his ass off on Day 1 while Ryan Barnett of Barntt Media helmed the lenses on Day 2. Both captured some incredible moments from the land and sky, while Zachary & Andy Pessagno - better known as the guys behind Chasing Fowl Photography - put together some incredible vignettes and video recaps that will be released in the coming weeks.
We even had bagpipes playing over a bourbon toast to close our the first night! For those that were there that heard the story that accompanied the tradition from the old country, its likely not one they'll soon forget.
Once we saw who was coming to play, we knew we had a chance to create in impact that would last far beyond a day or two of golf. Claire, Dave, the Ryans' (no relation) and the Pessagnos' (brothers) helped make that a reality! So too did guys like Kameron Kelly of The King Kollective and Jameson France from Blind Squirrel Golf. Those guys volunteered their time and talent to create some keepsakes for our Longest Drive SMASH OFF and Firing Squad Finish contests, respectively. Thank you all for your support!
We suggest you follow all these accounts on Instagram to see what they saw at Iron Maverick III as well as see some of the captivating content they all produce in their own ways!
Lastly, whether you were one of the more than 170 Iron Mavericks who played in it, one of the unlucky ones who didn't have their name called in the lottery or just followed along with curious intent, we thank you for pestering us to the point we had to do this again!
When people like the folks now running Tot Hill Farm start throwing around words like 'family' to those that were there, it makes it all worth it.
We've said it before, but we're not a business. The idea of us doing events has not been to turn some huge profit or make a career of this. It's just something we enjoy doing because we enjoy the community aspect of the sport. The mission of The Iron Maverick has been to bring people together to partake in something that is of equal parts fun, golf Ironman and tribute to the man who composed seven original works of art in the dirt. We hope our efforts lived up to this mission.
If this was our last Iron Maverick, we couldn't think of a better way to wrap up the story. If it isn't - and there are certainly a couple more chapters to tell in that book - then we'd be honored to run it back again in the future.
We also owe a huge debt to Tot Hill Farm's staff for their belief and trust (in a couple of golf dorks they had never met mind you) to go on this ride WITH us! Their partnership in creating this event and The Iron Maverick Course is something we'll always cherish. We may never get the chance to build a golf course, but discovering one at our favorite course might be even better!
We hope to see it in use again - and we promise we'll come back & actually PLAY next time!
We hope you'll continue to find our little hobby interesting enough to keep following along.
In the mean time, GO PLAY TOT HILL! Yeah, we're biased. But don't take our word for it...
Go see it for yourself.
It's back, Baby!!! And it's special.
Sincerely Fores, Dooner & BMAC
Your Golf Crusade
Enjoy more of the fun & a few of our favorite moments from Iron Maverick III