World Woods Golf Club: Rolling Oaks Course
BROOKSVILLE, FL - Like its sister, Rolling Oaks is often compared to another world famous golf course, this time Augusta National. Comparisons to Augusta, like Pebble Beach, have become generic in the world of golf and in this case it is due to Rolling Oaks pine and oak tree lined fairways, gentle slopes, pretty white bunkering, and a desire to be thought of in the most revered light.
Rolling Oaks is a fine golf course but one that bears little real resemblance, in either appearance or playability, to Augusta National. Few who have been to Augusta would confuse the two.
It is, however, a course that accommodates all skill levels and contains a number of holes that are memorable because of their beauty. Rolling Oaks represents what Tom Fazio has become best known for: a pretty golf course that hits it big with mainstream players, a course that offers little in the way of variation compared to the majority of courses hes designed in the 1990s.
Also like Pine Barrens, Rolling Oaks is the recipient of praise that 99% of the golf courses in the US would be envious of. Golf Digest has it the 24th best design in a state over 1,200 courses. Golf Magazine rates it the 53rd on their Top 100 You Can Play list. Golfweek says its the 74th best course built since 1960.
The big question is would it be rated higher or lower were it not attached to Pine Barrens?
More than Pine Barrens, Rolling Oaks seems to have been designed for a target audience, a constituency that appreciates modern, framed golf holes in a scenic, club-like setting. It was meant to be a truly idyllic golf course, both a synopsis of great inland American course features and a counterpoint to the boisterous Pine Barrens.
Rolling Oaks plays to a similar championship yardage as Pine Barrens (6,985 yards), but thats about where the similarities stop. Though they are not larger, the fairways offer better targets and contain fewer hazards. The holes are routed over hillier terrain. The bunkers are traditional in appearance, fewer, and less deep. The greens are larger and contain more of a gradual slope.
From the perspective of playability, the course is straightforward and rather prescriptive. Disciplined shots are required and there are few decisions to be made other than club selection and whether to go for it on three of the four par fives (nos. 3, 5, and 18). Most of the hazards are placed to the sides.
Among the memorable holes are the muscular, uphill seventh (440 yards), due to the difficulty of holding the sleekly contoured right side of the green with a mid- or long-iron. There is enough room off the tee to stray a little left or right, but both strength and control are requisite to get the ball to the pin when its cut on this side.
The eighth would win many a contest in Florida for most beautiful hole. The green at this postcard drop-shot par three is snuggled as close to a pond as can be. It is angled away from the tee at a right-to-left orientation so that a front pin position is cinched by water short and left and a bunker to the right. Floating it back to a rear pin position also must challenge diagonally with the stream that runs along the left of the green.
On the second nine, Rolling Oaks really hits stride thematically. The holes on this side have a commonality of feel, a naturalistic aura that suits the courses high-class personality. More holes on this nine glide up or downhill, green sites are varied, greater demand is placed on positioning the drive, and there is a sense of seclusion sometimes lacking on the front.
Holes such as 12, 13, and 14, replete with a narrow creek and moss hanging from oaks, reek of a purely southern atmosphere. Though there is little to study in the way of strategy (save for how to circumvent the interesting fronting bunkers on holes 14 through 18), Rolling Oaks scores style points like mad for those who like a photogenic course.
The strongest hole at Rolling Oaks comes at the finish, a 503-yard par five that bends twice around gothic stands of trees as it nears the elevated green. Drives played down the right side do not have the best angle to the green so second shots must be placed delicately between the lines of wood. From the left portion of the fairway, the green is accessible but only with a high powerful draw or a low, sweeping, seeing eye hook run through a series of bunkers. The left side of the pear-shaped green is thin and difficult to find even with a wedge. This is an opportunistic hole that might yield a 4 but only if approached correctly.
There is some debate as to which of the two World Woods courses to play first. Conventional wisdom says to warm up on Rolling Oaks before advancing to the more challenging and thrilling Pine Barrens. This approach, however, may completely negate any recollection of Rolling Oaks as the memory of the second course would completely obliterate it.
Others say (chiefly high handicap and card-and-pencil players) that since Rolling Oaks is the more accommodating of the two, it is therefore more enjoyable, and thus the better course to finish with. The relaxation level is certainly greater and the chance to score well at the end of the day holds great appeal.
At any rate, Rolling Oaks is best experienced in its own context. It cant really compete with Pine Barrens because it is designed to be nearly its polar opposite. This is the Rolling Oaks paradoxbecause it sits next to Pine Barrens, it is both overshadowed and highly considered. Though it is traditional and mainstream, it somehow seems alien in comparison. Yet, if it were a stand-alone course, it would probably not receive anywhere near the accolade it has. Damned if it does, damned if it doesnt.
When its all said and done, however, Rolling Oaks manages to impress on a wistful, laconic note. It cant help but be viewed in relation to Pine Barrens, but memories of its slow, serene presentation and hazy Watteau landscapes are likely to occupy their own separate space in players minds.
World Woods Golf Club
17590 Ponce DeLeon Blvd.
Brooksville, FL 34614