Sandhills Pours Double Dose of “Strantz Kool-Aid”

Sandhills Pours Double Dose

By Lee Pace


They came from across the Eastern states and even the Midwest on a crisp morning in October 2023, these aficionados of the golf course artistry of Mike Strantz.
The venue was Tot Hill Farm, the course outside Asheboro, North Carolina, cobbled a quarter of a century earlier from the foothills of the Uwharrie National Forest and just reopened after an ownership change and major renovation. The occasion was the Iron Maverick, a golf outing for nearly 100 golfers drinking the Strantz Kool-Aid that have been periodically staged over the years at the seven Strantz courses in the Carolinas and Virginia.

“Everybody out here will tell you they are Mike Strantz’s biggest fan,” said Brett McNamara, who grew up in Rochester, New York, where there are six Donald Ross-designed courses. “Donald Ross was golf architecture to me. Then I came to Tot Hill when it opened 20 years ago, and it was, ‘Whoa, this is so far removed from what I grew up with.’ I had played a lot of golf courses, but I was flabbergasted here.”

Landon Owen has played hundreds of golf courses around the nation, and some of them are fancier and boast bigger reputations than Tot Hill. But this one is his favorite.
“Mike Strantz is one of those guys, if you could have anyone in history at your dinner table, he’d be there,” Owen said. “He was just an artist in the true sense. He rode around on horseback with a sketchpad and drew his golf courses, just a very Renaissance kind of guy.”

Strantz was a former golf course maintenance worker in Toledo, Ohio, who caught on with Tom Fazio’s design team in the late 1970s. Strantz worked a decade with Fazio and then set off on his own from his base outside Charleston, South Carolina, where he had moved to help Fazio on his acclaimed Wild Dunes design of the early 1980s. Strantz designed eight courses, working them one at a time and setting up camp for a year or more at each site. He was a rising star in the industry before his life was cut short by cancer in 2005. He was only 50 years old.
His résumé: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, 1994; Royal New Kent, Providence Forge, Virginia, 1996; Stonehouse, Toano, Virginia, 1996; True Blue Golf Club, Pawleys Island, 1998; Tobacco Road, Sanford, North Carolina, 1998; Tot Hill Farm, Asheboro, 2000; Bulls Bay, Awendaw, South Carolina, 2002; and Monterey Peninsula Country Club Shore Course, Pebble Beach, California, 2004.

The Sandhills area is blessed that it has two of those eight – if not in Moore County itself at least on the outskirts and positioned conveniently just off major routes into Pinehurst and Southern Pines.
Tobacco Road opened in 1998 and is just over 20 miles to the northeast of Pinehurst and draws golf groups traveling from the north through Raleigh and Durham, wowing them with the craggy edges, blind shots and dramatic ups and downs whittled from the site of an old sand quarry.

And 45 miles to the northwest is Tot Hill Farm, which opened in 2000 on a rocky site with an ever-present creek running through the course and an 1800s farmhouse converted into a clubhouse and golf shop. It’s perfectly positioned for the first round or the last round of Sandhills golf trips for those from Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Charlotte and beyond.
Tobacco Road and Tot Hill provide the golf package community of the Sandhills two options for Strantz courses to add to offerings of Donald Ross, the Maples family, Fazio, Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gil Hanse, among others.

“‘Sensory overload’ is a phrase you hear often where Strantz courses are concerned,” said Greg Wood, the operations manager at Tot Hill. “Mike was at the height of his career when he was here, just coming off the accolades for Tobacco Road and before he did Bulls Bay.”

Strantz named his design firm Maverick Golf Design for excellent reasons. He rode a horse around the property and made intricate sketches of every hole, then turned the drawings over to his shapers – and he shaped many holes and features himself. He would be covered in dirt after working the equipment all day or in paint after marking the lines of the various layers of the course – fairways, fescue rough, love grass, areas to be left in their natural sandy state.

“His golf courses were very strong; they were very artistic and had a lot of flair in terms of elevation and steep slopes,” Fazio said. “All of them are very memorable, just as Mike himself was very memorable. It’s a shame we lost him so soon.”

Lee Pace is a freelance golf writer who has written about Sandhills area golf for four decades and is the author of club histories about Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Forest Creek.

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