by Tim Gavrich
Tot Hill Farm Golf Club in Asheboro, NC, was the brainchild of Mike Strantz, whose life and career as a renowned golf architect were cut short by cancer in 2005 at age 50. Tot Hill exemplifies Strantz’s unique vision that turned his golf courses into artistic, as well as challenging, exercises. With some of the most dramatic elevation changes and undulations anywhere, Tot Hill Farm will stick in the memories of those who play it as much as does Strantz’s even more talked-about Tobacco Road.
Open to the public since 2000, Tot Hill Farm is affordable ($69 at peak times of the year) owing in part to its distance from the nearest city of consequence, Greensboro, which is about an hour away. A round at Tot Hill Farm is a journey through dense forest, over streams, and around ponds before venturing into open fields over the last three holes. Rocks ranging in size from modest stones to huge boulders abound at Tot Hill, causing shots hit off-line to carom in directions both fortunate and disastrous.
The approach at Tot Hill Farm's 10th hole.
A round at Tot Hill Farm begins high atop a hill beside the clubhouse. As the player peers down into the chasm-like first fairway, it is clear that this is no ordinary golf course. The serpentine hole heaves and unfurls, the last 10 yards sloping down sharply to the front edge of the green. A ball that lands short and on the down slope will likely careen to the back of the green, establishing the golf course’s theme of strange bounces for slightly misplayed shots.
That is not to say that all the bounces or rolls at Tot Hill Farm are bad. In fact, many holes contain gathering features that will forgive squirrelly shots. The par 5 8th hole, for example, features a green with
A good front nine evolves into a dramatic back nine, with three of the golf course’s five par 3s as well as its two most photographed holes, the 10th and the 12th. The former is a picturesque, downhill par 4 where a bold drive over a rock-wall-rimmed hill can yield a short pitch to the green. However, with the green perched above the fairway and a steep fall-away over the back, the approach is fraught with danger. The 12th is another dramatic downhill par 4 whose second shot plays over a rock-rimmed pond to a peninsula green. Once again, a huge backstop long and right can be put to good use to maneuver the ball close to the hole without the hazard coming into play. Seeing a ball trundle more than 30 feet down the hill, inching ever closer to the hole, is a huge thrill for anyone who can pull it off, adding to the “fun factor” of the course.
The final six holes feature two par 3s of less than 145 yards from the back tees at the 13th and 15th. Such short one-shotters are reminiscent of other Strantz courses, providing a change of pace from longer, more difficult holes. These holes should be taken seriously, however, since the stony hazards that surround the greens of the short holes at Tot Hill Farm may catapult a misplayed ball into oblivion. Nonetheless, a well-struck short iron should leave a reasonable birdie chance.
Oddly, the golf course at Tot Hill Farm ends rather mildly. The final two holes, while challenging in their own right, occupy the least interesting terrain on the course. They provide the chance for some late-round damage control, especially the 469-yard par 5 18th, but they are short on the visual drama of the first 16 holes. Some golfers may bemoan that their sigh of relief comes two holes early – at the 17th rather than the 19th – but Tot Hill Farm taken as a whole will hold any golfer’s interest through multiple rounds.
There is a modest real estate component to Tot Hill Farm for those who are drawn to the golf course and the Asheboro area. Homes are in view from many holes on the back nine but, fortunately, they are both pleasing to the eye and far from the field of play.
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From the tee on the 3rd at Tot Hill Farm.