Golf Course Architect Review Far off in the barely chartered backwaters of western central Florida – yes, you read that correctly, western central Florida – there is a thirty-six hole golfing oasis. World Woods Golf Club feels as though it is in the middle of nowhere. Tampa is roughly 60 minutes away. Orlando and Gainesville are about two hours distant. The two-lane roads that connect Brooksville with the rest of the world seem more and more remote the further you drive. This seclusion is what offers World Woods its charm, for hidden in this thinly-traveled recess is one of the world’s greatest and most well rounded facilities, headlined by two marvelous and inexpensive Florida golf courses, both ranked in the top fifty public tracks in the country.
And what courses they are! Pine Barrens is internationally celebrated not just as a faithful tribute to the venerable New Jersey classic Pine Valley, but has proven since its inception in 1990 to be a design which has captured the hearts and imaginations of the golfing cogniscenti and stands on its own as a modern classic. No weak sister, the companion course Rolling Oaks has a warm, inviting charm as it meanders through meadows and farmland. Both are stern tests with world-class shot values and both are beautiful in their own, differing ways. Famed golf writer Brian McCallen of golf magazine perhaps best described the dichotomy by calling Pine Barrens a “fiery red-head” and Rolling Oaks a “permed brunette.” Best of all, World Woods may be the best kept secret in the country. Few have it on their travel radar screen and even fewer make the out-of-the-way trek to play it, but make no mistake, the most knowledgeable and savvy golf travelers will not miss a chance to play. Trading stories of rounds at the world’s great courses is part of the après golf here and players will find courses from all over the world have been collected by the clientele who also add World Woods to whatever other jet-setting golf adventures they have experienced. Connoisseurs who have played such places as Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes, Koolau, Old Head or even South Africa or New Zealand all agree – World Woods is world class.
Neither course at World Woods will overwhelm you with breathtaking vistas, purple mountains majesty, fruited plains or spacious skies. The holes themselves are the artistry. Particularly at Pine Barrens, architect Tom Fazio took otherwise lackluster surroundings - brush and sandy scrub - and crafted a Florida golf course that is an archetypal masterpiece of golf architecture. A faithful tribute to his home course, the epic Pine Valley, each hole is aesthetically beautiful, yet eminently playable. While several holes appear intimidating from the tee with their vast sandy waste areas, the fairways are wide and welcoming. Risk reward options abound. The approach shots, however, require precision in order to make par and the greens are extremely large and undulating. The adventure on any given hole is not over upon reaching the putting surface as the greens speed is usually somewhere between “parquet floor” and “asphalt” on the stimpometer.
In typical Fazio fashion “easy bogey, hard par” is the order of the day. While the waste bunkers that line the fairways are not excessively difficult, yawning chasms await misplayed iron shots and, occasionally, gigantic, deep waste areas such as on holes four and fifteen make up the lions share of the challenge. Best of all, with the woodland areas clear of debris and due to the prevalence of the waste areas, novices will stand a strong chance of finishing their round without losing a single golf ball.
Most importantly, World Woods gave birth to a whole new school of “scrub and pines” golf course architecture. Courses with the same look and feel have sprouted in New Jersey, Nebraska, Florida, and the Carolinas just to name a few. One wonders when Las Vegas will be next.
ON THE COURSE
Length is not an issue at World Woods as average players can choose the Back tees (6,458 yards, Rating 71.6, Slope 134) over the Middle tees (6,032 yards, Rating 69.8, Slope 129) and not feel overmatched. Ladies or beginners will find few (if any) forced carries from the Forward tees (5,301 yards, Rating 70.9, Slope 119.) Experts can find plenty of challenge from the pronounced angles and forced carries offered by the Tournament tees (6,902 yards, Rating 73.7, Slope 140).
After two straightforward par fours, the par three third offers the only water hazard on the course. The green is severely pitched back to front and right to left, so fade shots can catch the slope and feed the ball to front left pin locations. Nevertheless, do not be above the hole as the slick green falls away toward the water hazard and poorly struck putts may roll off the green into the drink.
World Woods inimitable style then showcases itself at the eye-popping and terrific risk reward, par-5 fourth. At roughly 500 yards, the challenge is not length, but the abyss of sandy waste and scrub extending eighty feet below fairway and green level. The waste area begins at the tee box, extends all the way down the right side of the fairway and guards the front and right of the green. Short hitters or conservative players have plenty of room to the left to reach in three. Not to be outdone by its more intimidating predecessor, the fifth is one of the best par fours on the course. Straight uphill all the way, a firmly struck drive and a crisply hit semi blind mid to long iron are required to get home in regulation. Beware the deep and narrow bunker guarding the right side of the fairway and the nearby overhanging trees as an up-and-down is unlikely.
Scoring is best done early as birdie opportunities are at a premium from the eighth hole forward. Accuracy on the approaches becomes the order of the day. The eighth green sits precariously perched on a deep waste are which meanders well back into the fairway. The twelfth, a monstrous 457 yard dog-leg par 4, features a second shot severely uphill and all carry over another mammoth bunker to reach in regulation. It also features the most severely pitched green with no less than three distinct tiers and a false front on the right. Poorly putted balls may find their way back down the fairway twenty yards or more resulting in an ignominious walk of shame for the player.
The finish is both stirring and challenging. The par 5 fourteenth doglegs sharply left as it finishes at a green set in a natural dell. A deep waste area guards the left and right side for the player’s second shot. The fifteenth is a classic Fazio risk-reward par four. At a mere 315 yards – and slightly downhill – the green nearly screams to be driven. However, players must carry another intimidating waste area. Severe mounds also pepper the fairway short of the green making pitching tricky. There is plenty of room left for a fairway metal or long iron, leaving only a wedge left for an approach for more conservative players.
The 203 yard par three sixteenth is gorgeous, with tee boxes etched out of the side of the hill, a waste area extending from tee to green and a putting surface which slopes severely to the left. Many players play the carom of the hill to the left of the green and let the natural lay of the land feed the ball to the hole. Finally, eighteen is a design Fazio seems to like for a finish, a long uphill dogleg left par four of 450 yards. Since the opening of World Woods, Fazio has designed similar closing holes, most notably and appropriately at Pine Hill, his New Jersey tribute to Pine Valley.
CHIP SHOTS AND TAP-INS
World Woods is not only home to two of the top layouts in the country, Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks, but it also rightfully boasts the greatest practice facilities in America. Before setting out, players can hit balls at the four-sided, 22-acre “practice park,” roll a few two-tier putts on the two acre putting course, or play the three full-sized practice holes. That’s right, players can loosen up by playing a full length par five, four and three which are designed to let players swing drivers, fairway metals, long irons, short irons, and various wedges and putt out before heading out on the course. Best of all, at $75 for one round and $110 for two in low season (November - March), World Woods is a steal. Couple this with a wonderfully inexpensive room at the quite comfortable, Plantation Inn Resort nearby and there is reason to extend they stay by several days. Florida Golf Vacation Packages are a steal at $145-$160.