World Woods (Pine Barrens), FL, USA
Not your typical Florida course.
Marketing campaigns that claim a course is the 'next Augusta National' or the 'Pebble Beach of the east' tend to alienate some golfers. After all, why bother playing a poor copy? An example is the Pine Barrens course at World Woods that many golf writers have dubbed as 'the poor man's Pine Valley.' Such comparisons were intended to be highly complimentary, but in the end they have caused some serious golfers to underestimate the course and to deem it not worthy of a trip. This is a great shame.
While there are a few holes that remind the player of Pine Valley, Tom Fazio created a brilliant, original course. Fazio goes all out with alternate route holes and some of the most heroic shots to be found on any inland course. The comparisons to Pine Valley are inevitable, as the course is laid out over similar land - rolling, pine-covered and sandy. However, World Woods is far from an imitation of the New Jersey course.
The one-shot 7th to its angled green.
A significant difference is that World Woods has several holes of the type that Pine Valley curiously misses: a gambling, reachable par five (the 4th) and a drivable par four (the 15th). One would have thought that Pine Valley would have been the ideal site for both these types of cherished holes.
The pitch to the 8th.
Tom Fazio has made quite a name for himself in the last dozen years. He brought a softer, more artistic approach to his designs. They are pleasing to the eye; particularly the big, bold bunkering that could be singled out as the common feature of his courses. Much of his commercial and critical success is owed to the backlash against the 'contrived' harsh courses of the 1980s. His courses are almost entirely without controversy as he gets the fundamentals right.
Holes to Note:
1st hole, 370 yards: As with other first holes in this manuscript, it does the key thing: it makes you want to play.
The opener at Pine Barrens.
2nd hole, 430 yards: Continuing in a long line of fine courses (Pinehurst No.2, Ballybunion, Riviera, etc.), the second hole is a brute of a par four. Sand and trees await an errant tee shot. Dramatic as the tee shot is, the approach is the heart of the hole with the right-to-left sloping ground feeding into the interesting but receptive green.
The right to left slope of the hole is evident from the approach.
4th hole, 480 yards: One of very few holes in golf where all the player can say when standing on the tee for the first time is 'Wow.' The player is in the sand pits and faces a choice off the tee: play safe down the left and play the hole as a three-shotter or risk the 210 yard carry to the right, narrower fairway for a shot at the green with his second. This is a rare par five where the decision to go for the green in two must be made on the tee -- it's not just a case of waiting to see how good a tee shot the player hits before making the decision. Also, the dramatic raised green has a huge, fearsome bunker to its front right, angled perfectly so as not to interfere too much with a short-iron third but to make for a heroic second to the green.
The aggresive line off the 4th tee is to the right, this bringing the green into reach in two.
13th hole, 420 yards: Could be at Pine Valley in terms of aesthetics as well as difficulty. Intimidating carry off the tee, but to a most generous fairway. The approach is quite good, made by the contouring with the bowl just short of and in the green and the dramatic bunkering.
The approach shot on the 13th.
14th hole, 525 yards: A lot is going on on this hole -- perhaps too much, though. It takes three to reach the green on this uphill hole through the center of the sand pits. The dilemma is with the second shot is there is a diagonal bunker in the middle of the fairway that forces the player to choose between the narrow left side which leaves the preferred approach or the wide right side which requires a healthy carry over the bunker with the second shot but to a bigger target. The shame is that the player has trouble identifying all this from the landing area for his tee shot. Also, the green with its several levels and rolls doesn't fit - perhaps because a hole this complex should not have a severe green. Still, this is an excellent hole - it's just not all-world for the reasons sited.
The green on the 14th.
15th hole, 320 yards: Another split-fairway hole, this time for a par four. If the player takes the safer left side, he faces a semi-blind approach to a green that is not overly receptive from the left side. The bold tee shot down the right with a 230 yard carry over water leaves a simple pitch or chip shot. This hole does offer to legitimate paths, as opposed to some holes that only pretend to (case in point: 15th at Seminole). Excellent hole for this stage in a match.
The 15th: Lay up left or go for the green to the right?
World Woods is a prime example of Fazio at his artistic best. The course is solid with one well designed hole flowing after another. The only slight hiccup is the two most indifferent holes are the last two. This is unfortunate but the run up to them more than compensates.
World Woods is a lesson for all golf course developers as it proves that if you build a good enough course, 'they will come.' The location is remote by Florida standards, yet this high-end daily fee course still draws a crowd. With a golf operation, the quality of the course far exceeds all other considerations. A good course is its own best marketing tool long term.
In recent times, Fazio has spent less time at sites because of his heavy workload. He has also gone too far toward the 'playability' side of things. The result is predictable; his recent work lacks original contributions to golf architecture in general. This is a great pity because Fazio's work from 1985 to 1993 remains an impressive collection. Hopefully, he can slow down and find the time to return to such refreshingly striking designs as the Pine Barrens course.