Pine Barrens At World Woods

Tom Fazio has built a real gem in a very off beat location in Southwest Florida.  Part of a 48-hole extrazaganza with the most elaborate practice and teaching area you have ever seen, this place is golfing nirvana.  The driving range is a full 360 degree spoke facility.  The practice green is about five acres of the most imaginative putting environs on the planet-even has a full terrarium in the center.  Three hole practice/warm-up course.  9 hole par three.  Two full championship caliber eighteens.

Course character estalished on the opening hole (www.tampagolf.com)

The Pine Barrens is clearly the better of the two-though I must say that Rolling Oaks is a fair complement.  Pine Valley-esque without the 165 slope.  Much like Pine Valley there are huge waste areas surrounding the holes in all directions, but the landing areas and greens are much less forboding.  The course has a wonderfully consistent character with plenty of up and down to make it interesting.  Cut out of the pines but plenty of room to move and maneuver.

Devilish Par 3 Third Hole-Trouble Lurks Left (www.floridagolf.com)

The driving areas on most holes are very generous but do not be fooled there is an advantage place to drive on every hole so pay attention.  The bunkers are all treated as waste areas-the advantage there is not so much that you can ground your club but that you can actually take a practice swipe and test out the sand-strongly advise you to keep that in mind.  The greens are really what sets this apart from most of the top quality tracks you play-they are not just undulating they are severely sloped-I mean serious swerve with 10+ stimpy speed.  This makes for real separation between your ball and the hole on pitches, chips, and long putts if you do not carefully consider the slope all the way to the hole.  The complementing difficulty is that many of the greens have sharp shoulders so if they put a cup close to an edge like this rolling five feet past means you are chipping back.  You cannot get this out of your mind when you are pitching at an edged pin location-makes you very defensive.  If the pin location is 3 today it is a house of horrors so put your ego into storage if that is the case.

Harrowing 16th-205 carry over a sand quarry (www.golfatlas.com)

There are so many unusual and interesting holes on this course it would take a photo scrapbook to recount them properly.  Just be extremely open minded when you plot your strategy on an individual hole or an individual shot because creativity will be rewarded and defensive thinking will be punished.  The end result is that this is a round to savor over and over staring at your ceiling in the middle of the night.

If the meatball sub is on the menu for the daily special I highly recommend it-has the Atkins seal of approval.  Chicken Fajita Wrap gets kudos as well.

Brooksfield, Florida

Architect: Tom Fazio (1993)

Tee          Par    Rating    Slope    Yardage
Mens        71     71.4       123        6458

(Click to see complete Pine Barrens hole-by-hole descriptions)

Rolling Oaks At World Woods

Of the two Tom Fazio courses designed by at the World Woods golf destination in Southwest Florida, Rolling Oaks is the less celebrated of the pair.  It is part of a 48-hole complex with an elaborate practice and teaching area and a practice green from Mars-about five acres of the most imaginative putting array you can imagine.  The facility includes a  three hole practice/warm-up course,   a nine-hole par three, and two championship eighteens.  In spite of the lack of critical acclaim Rolling Oaks is a very enjoyable and distinctive course that needs to be played.

Postcard Perfect #8 (forelinksters.com)

As it’s name would suggest, this country club style course is built a rolling piece of property that wends it’s way among the oak trees.  The course has a very natural flow to it and all the holes seem to fit into the topography-nothing seems forced or contrived.  The driving areas are generous but there are plenty of fairway bunkers to give direction and constraint to the driving tactics.  The greens have sweeping undulations but no where near the steep slopes of the Pine Barrens-much less disarming for mere mortals.  The bunkering is severe-deep bunkers set into the side hills around the greens are very intimidating in character.  The good news in most green arrangements are only bunkered on one side so there are safe passages to the target if a player plans accordingly.

Lovely Finishing Hole (worldgolf.com)

The course is full of memorable holes-some very unique arrangements that leave plenty of room for creative tactics.  None of the challenges presented here are unfair but you do have to think your way around to be successful.  There is not much water to be concerned about it only comes into play on two holes as a forced carry but the woods and the bramble do make for some places you do not want to visit so control of your line and distance is at a premium.

It is a fun afternoon-real complement to the Pine Barrens-my suggestion you try to play both courses the same day-playing Rolling Oaks as a warm up.

Brooksfield, Florida

Architect: Tom Fazio (1993)

Tees        Par    Rating    Slope    Yardage
Mens        72    71.5    125    6520

(Click to see complete Rolling Oaks hole-by-hole descriptions)

Crooked Cat-Orange County National

This place is a real golf factory facility with two championship golf courses, a 360 degree grass driving area the size of Nebraska, and a golf shop that will make you feel like you are in Nordstroms.  The place has hosted the final stage of the PGA Qualifying School a number of times.  Coupled with how many pros and wanna-be pros living in the Orlando area you are going to see lots of sticks out there practicing and honing their games.

The fare is reasonable for a facility of this quality and the golf and related accommodations are very much what you would expect.  The golf shop is humongous with every major line of apparel represented-if you cannot find something memorable to add to your wardrobe you are either blind or too picky.

This course is one of two that were designed by the team of Phil Ritson, Dave Harman, and Isao Aoki.  They moved a lot of dirt to get the sculpting and landscaping they were after but the result is a course that is very challenging but totally playable.  The variety of the holes is it’s strong suit.  There are the typical Florida holes with adjacent water or environmental areas but there are even a few with an Irish lilt thrown in.  The handicapping of the holes is very realistic-three of the five pars are the 16th, 17th, and 18th handicap holes and two of the par threes are the 4th and 5th handicap holes.  They put real thought into which holes needed the handicap assistance rather than just looking at length to determine it.

If you look carefully at the GPS images of the holes the lines of play are fairly obvious.  Most of the sculpted areas of the fairways are still fairway it is just that hitting from them is a less advantageous place to play from relative to the green.  As with most good courses, driving the ball on the proper line and in the short grass is the best way to get aggressive places to play from.  The greens are plenty large but segmentation and tiering require proper planning on the approach shots to avoid three putts.

The yardage book in the shop is major old school-hand drawn with lots of particulars.  Problem is that it is virtually unreadable to a non-tour mortal so you are better off saving the $7 and just go with the provided GPS in the cart.

This is a very enjoyable afternoon of golf.  As always, play from a tee length with hole distances that are comfortable for you.  The challenge you seek is here at whatever length you choose to play at.

Winter Garden, Florida

Architect: Phil Ritson/Dave Harman/Isao Aoki (1997)

Tees                  Par         Rating        Slope        Yardage

Green               72            73.7            132            6927

Blue                 72            71.4            126            6432

White               72            68.8            122            6020

(Click to see complete Crooked Cat hole-by-hole descriptions)

Bay Hill Golf Club

Bay Hill is synonymous with Arnold Palmer as his winter retreat and the host venue for the golf tournament that bears his name. The facility was built in the early 1960’s by a group of Nashville businessmen who hired Dick Wilson-one of the prominent architects of the day-to build a championship course in the middle of nowhere. Arnold came to the recently opened course in the mid-sixties to play an exhibition match with Jack Nicklaus and fell in love with the quality of the course as well as the reclusiveness of Orlando. In the early 1970’s through the connections of Mike McCormick and IMG, Arnold put together a group of investors to buy Bay Hill from the original Nashville businessmen who put it together.

Winnie and Arnie made sure all the players would not miss their tee times

Winnie and Arnie made sure all the players would not miss their tee times

The rest was history as Arnold began to spend more and more time at Bay Hill with Winnie his wife and her Golden Retriever Riley and they put their personal stamp on every aspect of the operation.

Arnie and one of their Goldens

The casual character of this first class destination facility is clearly a reflection of their personalities and values. Arnold and Ed Seay have continually tweaked the course itself to keep it up to standards to challenge the PGA touring pros that play there every spring. Yet it remains totally playable to the large contingent of members and guests who play it every day.

Past Champions Plaque(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

The first impression of the course is that it is not as macho as you would expect after seeing it year after year on TV. The who’s who of winners over the last 30 years shows an amazing diversity of players win here-from Andy Bean, Gary Koch, and Tom Kite to Freddie Couples, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods (6 times).

Wharf arrangement on the Par 5 6th rewards tactical restraint and precise execution.

Wharf arrangement on the Par 5 6th rewards tactical restraint and precise execution.

The course itself is not particularly brutish in length but it is technical enough to require really good management of ball flight and distance. The greens are quick and undulating so it takes tactical planning with approach shots and aptitude with the flat stick to score well.

The par 4 8th is not long but it is very demanding..especially on the approach.

The Par 4 8th is not long but it is very demanding..especially on the approach.

The topography is actually un-Florida-like so you have your share of up and down holes to deal with. The par fives are not particularly long-at least two are reachable if you crank your driver-and there are not really many stout par fours of 425 or longer. The shorter par fours are the most difficult to me-they all have a good measure of Arnold’s favorite risk-reward thinking to them. The overall variety of holes is it’s strongest suit-no two holes feel remotely alike. Fairway bunkers are sprawling but tactically placed.

Bunkering on the Par 3 7th is, as Goldilocks would say, just right!

Bunkering on the Par 3 7th is, as Goldilocks would say, just right!

You cannot help but notice the artistry of the shaping and vistas of the bunkers-they are in the right places to make you think hard before taking the aggressive line on most holes. Greenside bunkering is not overdone but they are very steep sloped so you can get some very challenging exit paths, especially if you short side yourself on an approach miss.

The iconic rock trim carry into 18 has made many a tour player take pause

The iconic rock trim carry into 18 has made many a tour player take pause and reflect

This is clearly a course where knowing when to attack and when to back off make a real difference in your final score. Thoughtful aggressiveness is the mantra here. You have to go for it when the odds are in your favor because you need some low scores to balance the few paybacks you are likely to render through the day.

A locker room with showers, gin tables, and a bar..how old school!

A locker room with showers, gin tables, memorabilia, and a bar..how old school!

Do not miss the men’s locker room-it is a throwback to the days before political correctness dominated our lives. It is a place for men to unwind after a round-have a drink, play some cards, and settle all the bets of the day. The memorabilia on the walls is enough to fill a museum.

Orlando, Florida

Architect: Dick Wilson (1963) Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay (since 1970)

Tees        Par    Rating     Slope     Yardage

Green      72      75.4         142        7381

Blue        72      73.7         139        6895

Yellow     72      71.6         134        6437

(Click to see complete Bay Hill hole-by-hole descriptions)

(Click to see the moegolf Bay Hill Charger Nine review)

(Click to see the moegolf Bay Hill Short Game Area review)

(Click to see more photos in a Postcard From Bay Hill)