World Woods Golf Club a world away, and a world apart

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

World Woods Golf ClubBROOKSVILLE, Fla. -- "If you build it, they will come." Lacking in creativity and originality is this phrase, anymore. Hackneyed, even. But there is no other way to describe the World Woods Golf Club.

If World Woods was a respectable 18-hole facility designed by a suitable architect and situated an hour's drive from civilization, it would not make the evening news of the travel golf industry, so to speak.

Such facilities are common in this business.

There is, however, nothing common about World Woods. This 36-hole Tom Fazio designed "core" golf panacea with its nine-hole short course and state-of-the-art practice center is deserving of its own mini-series.

"I would put this facility up against any in the state and maybe any in the country in terms of quality golf and first-rate practice facilities," says World Woods director of golf Stan Cooke.

Much has been written about Fazio's two outstanding layouts at World Woods, the Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks Courses. The former is considered one of the best public access tracks in the Southeastern United States. With its 44 acres of waste bunkers, pine-packed fairways and muscular feel, it is as close to Pine Valley as some of us will ever get.

The later -- with its sweeping doglegs, gnarly Live Oaks and roller-coaster terrain -- is so Texas Hill Country, it would make Barton Creek blush. Despite waking up in the shadows of Pine Barrens each morning, Rolling Oaks is considered one of the best pay for play courses in the state.

Spectacular courses, not doubt. But what is truly amazing about World Woods can be fleshed out by two of journalism's most basic questions: how and why?

As in how did one of the country's premier 36-hole facilities end up and hour and 20 minutes from the Tampa International Airport when there's enough vacant land on the outskirts of the Bay area to relocate Busch Gardens 10 times over.

Or why would someone eschew a profitable real estate endeavor in favor of golf in its purest form (did we mention there's nary a home to be found at World Woods?)

"Yukihisa Inoue, our owner, was looking for a climate that was the opposite of his club in Japan," says Cooke. "He was looking for a playground in the Sun Belt where his members could come and enjoy themselves in the winter. He was also looking to introduce the game to the Japanese youth and establish them professionally. That is why we have such extensive practice facilities."

Inoue had an irrepressible vision and a simple blueprint. He had no desire to overpay for land closer to the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area to implement them. That money, he figured, could go toward hiring the architect of his choice. After all, Inoue had taken two years to travel the globe and play the world's best courses. He had sampled the game's best designers and he knew exactly what and who he wanted.

"He decided it was going to be Fazio and he'd do what it took to get him," says Cooke. "Fazio wasn't as expensive then as he is now. But he wasn't cheap. He designs like what, seven or eight courses a year? How we got two of them is a mystery to some folks."

World Woods Golf ClubNo more a mystery than the entire facility, really.

According to Cooke, Inoue hired an industry consultant to study the feasibility of locating a 36-hole daily fee facility some 60 miles from the nearest urban area. The consultant, being of a sober mind, recommended against it.

"We actually saw the guy the other day and had a good laugh about it," Cooke says. "I don't think it mattered what he said, Mr. Inoue was going ahead with the project. Now that we are doing almost 100,000 rounds a year between the two courses, I think we are in the clear."

If you build it, they will come. Of course, it doesn't hurt when the state opens an expressway essentially connecting the Tampa International Airport with your front gate.

"The Veterans Expressway has changed everything here," says Cooke. "It has cut the travel time from an hour and 20 minutes to 40 minutes. We are now almost thought of as part of Tampa. It benefits us, and it benefits Tampa."

Yet, Tampa is only part of the equation. World Woods' gravitational pull gradually has made its way east to Orlando.

"We have guys who make the hour and change drive from Orlando when they are down with their families visiting one of the theme parks," says head professional Scott Wyckoff. "Some come and play 36 holes and head back and others will spend a night here. Orlando is right behind Tampa and local play in terms of where we draw from."

Despite its remote location, there are approximately 700 hotel and motel rooms within a 20 minute drive radius of World Woods, according to Wyckoff.

"We actually have a good number of golfers come down from Jacksonville or up from Naples and Fort Meyers," says Wyckoff. "With all that we have here, we are more than just a place to play, we are a destination."

World Woods Golf ClubThe Courses

Pine Barrens: This is the one they've come to see. Fazio, who is no stranger to moving earth, seems to have let the soil erode from the edges of the fairways and green complexes to create a layout that is as unique as it is challenging. With its wide fairways and unabashed muscle, Pine Barrens appears to be a haven for long-knockers. But shot values are of the essence, with most par-4s and par-5s having a clear position "A" off the tee. Fazio even toys with the unconventional, using split fairways on the fourth and 14th holes to force a choice of route. From the fairways in, Pine Barrens is target golf at its finest.

Wyckoff says: "Fazio provides a lot of room to hit the ball. It doesn 't look like it from the tee because it is visually intimidating. On the approach shots into the green you have to hit the right quadrant. Fazio doesn't kill you with a lot of length. He also always puts one short risk/reward par four and at Pine Barrens it is No. 15. You have to manage the golf course and be patient."

World Woods Golf ClubRolling Oaks: This is the course you'll want to play every day. Rolling Oaks boasts an aesthetically soothing layout that gracefully dips and climbs through the farmlands of central-western Florida. The par-3 eighth hole is straight out of the Texas Hill Country and has to be one of the most sublime one-shotters in the state. Rolling Oaks can be brought to its knees by low handicappers, but that isn't the point here. This is golf for golf's sake and many World Woods regulars will tell you that this is their preferred course.

Wyckoff says: "Initially golfers are drawn to Pine Barrens and then they are pleasantly surprised by Rolling Oaks. If it was a stand alone course, it would be ranked higher. But it is still one of the top ten courses in the state, in my opinion. The golf course is totally different than Pine Barrens - different topography, different trees, and different feel. It is also less intimidating and there are plenty of birdie opportunities on the front nine. The greens are large and the fairways are wide. It kind of lulls you to sleep, so be careful."

The Practice Facilities: World Woods has gone beyond Inoue's original vision as a haven for up-and-coming Japanese players. At least 12 collegiate golf teams can be found on the grounds each spring, and PGA Tour players from the Orlando area frequently make the trek over to fine tune their games in the offseason. The practice area is anchored by the 20-acre, circular driving range surrounded by multiple chipping and putting areas. There's also a two-acre putting course with 36 separate target holes, and three practice holes including a par 3, 4 and 5. World Woods also houses a nine-hole "short course" designed by Fazio that mixes design elements from both full courses.

Stay-and-Play

Saddlebrook Resort, approximately 45 minutes south in Wesley Chapel, can provide a full service golf experience to complement a visit to World Woods. Saddlebrook is home to two 18-hole courses, tennis courts, a spa, fine dining and 800 deluxe guest rooms and suites. The resort is conveniently located midway between the Tampa International Airport and World Woods and is an excellent hub for an extended Tampa Bay golf trip. For reservations or more information, log on to www.saddlebrookresort.com, or call (800) 729-8383.

Chow

A visit to Tampa necessitates the sampling of both the local seafood offerings and a true Cuban sandwich. The staple fish of the Bay (and the state for that matter) is Grouper. Most seafood joints serve it fried, broiled or blackened. For a tasty version of the eye-watering, sniffle-inducing blackened variety, try Jackson's on Harbor Island.

As for Cuban sandwiches, you can find them at local sandwich shops and even larger chain restaurants, but just make sure they are the real deal - sliced ham and roast pork slathered in mustard, cheese, and sliced dill pickles, all pressed together on a Cuban roll. To sample some of the Bay's local brew, slide into the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City and quaff a fresh, homemade pint. The Bay area's bastion of fine dining is the famous Bern's Steakhouse, located in the SoHo district.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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