How Cabot Citrus Farms Made Something New From an Old Golf Course

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Not all great golf courses live forever. Even fewer of the very good ones do.

World Woods was a good bet to prosper when it opened in 1993, in the midst of one of the great golf booms in the United States, when the confluence of real estate development and suburban flight created an environment in which a new golf course was opening. golf daily around the world. country.

With a deep-pocketed Japanese businessman owner, one of the most important golf course designers of the generation working on two courses and a location an hour from a growing Tampa, World Woods had similarities to Bandon Dunes and even had advantages over the Oregon golf course. complex that also opened its doors in the 1990s.

Everything worked at World Woods, until it didn’t.

World Woods had every reason to be a smash hit in the golf industry, a bucket list trip for future generations. People wait for hours on the phone for the chance to book their trip to Bandon a year in advance. At the end of World Woods, you can walk into the modest clubhouse and enjoy a tee time.

Some three decades later, Cabot, one of North America’s largest golf resort companies known for building stunning seaside golf courses in exotic locations, assumed ownership of the property, completely redeveloped it and renamed Citrus Farms.

The result is a property that will make you smile, centered on The Karoo, a Kyle Franz-designed course that opens your eyes on every tee box with its bold nature.

Actual golf was never the problem at World Woods. Tom Fazio, one of the distinguished architects of his generation, designed the Pine Barrens and Rolling Woods, and he did almost everything: the site, an hour’s drive from Tampa, looked more like South Carolina’s Lowcountry with its sandy streets. and wooded golf course with Florida water hazards. In 1995, Golf Magazine declared Pine Barrens the 66th best golf course in the world. Golf Digest deemed it the ninth best exclusive public golf course in the United States.

The Wedge has 11 par 3 holes that are lighted for play late into the night. (Courtesy of Carolina Pines Golf, Cabot Citrus Farms)

The problem was everything else, starting with the fact that the property was an hour from Tampa, in an underdeveloped area of ​​Florida.

“We’re out here in the wilderness,” top golf professional Stan Cooke told the St. Petersburg Times in 1993. “We’re going to have to bring in people from outside.”

Japanese businessman Yukihisa Inoue’s plan to achieve this was to create a golf academy, developing the next generation of professional golfers. And with a 120-room resort hotel, maybe even single-family homes and even more golf courses. With a membership primarily from Japan, and the rest from the United States. Sounds great, right? Except none of that happened. Nothing of that.

The slowdown in the Japanese economy is most often blamed for the lack of development, although for locals, the nationality of its owner (at the same time, the Tampa Bay Lightning was also owned by another Japanese businessman). who didn’t always pay his bills) played some role in the palace intrigue.

Pine Barrens and Rolling Woods remained a great and really good golf course, respectively, in the middle of nowhere; a small handmade sign on the road was the only evidence of its existence. For a long time, even that didn’t matter, the industry was hectic enough to still fill the tee boxes with 60,000 rounds a year at its peak.

But then the recession of the late 2000s hit and World Woods was hit as hard as any in the golf world. Streamsong then opened between Tampa and Orlando, offering two (now three) top-notch golf courses with an on-site hotel. Thus, World Woods improved. Keep going. But it is becoming easier to get a departure time, a value more than a destination. “It has great structure” was suddenly the way they described it, a golf course aficionado speaking on behalf of a course that really should be better than it is.

Still, the course had admirers, among them Ben Cowan-Dewar, chief executive of the burgeoning Cabot golf and real estate empire, who eventually convinced Inoue to sell the more than 2,000 acres to Cabot for his first U.S. property.

World Woods would not live forever. But he had a new opportunity and a new life.

This time it’s different. The noise of heavy machinery and large quantities of wood can tell you a lot. There are rows of cabins under construction and Cabot says much of Phase 1 has sold out. Restaurants are also being developed on the property.

If you squint closely, with enough photographic memory, you can see what was. But with your eyes wide open and your head turning, you can see what it is now.

The infrastructure to support the golf course is much greater than before, including the suburban sprawl of the Tampa metropolitan area. But it still has to be about golf, and Cabot Citrus Farms is it.

The Wedge is the 11-hole, par-3 course that is illuminated at night, inviting everything from a morning walk to a late-night session with a beer in one hand and a 56-degree wedge in the other. The Squeeze is the companion to that experience, with nine holes ranging from 100 to 550 yards. The Wedge and The Squeeze were designed by Mike Nuzzo, who also worked with Franz on Roost, a second 18-hole course expected to open for preview this summer.

The Karoo’s par-3 third hole plays over water, a rare hazard at Cabot Citrus Farms. (Courtesy of Paul Severn, Cabot Citrus Farms)

Short courses and alternative experiences to conventional golf may be all the rage these days in the golf world, but they won’t be worth the trip. You need a complete course that demands attention and Karoo does that.

Franz and his team, occupying much of the land once occupied by the Pine Barrens, spent months removing the pine trees from the equation. They lost count along the way, but he estimates that about 6,000 trees were removed. The result is a very open property. The wind sweeps the land. Areas of debris dot the landscape. There is very little water.

At its best, Karoo is a good time, a big, bold rock opera of a golf course.

The first two holes get you going, but it really starts at No. 3, a par 3 with a straight carry line over the water that plays to 292 from the tips and a much more manageable 224 from the tangerine tee. Cabot considers it the toughest hole on the course, for good reason, but firsthand knowledge can confirm that even the average player can land on the green and have a good birdie.

Number 4 is the first hole with two true paths to the green, a vacant area that runs along the spine of the fairway. It’s a strategy Franz repeats several times along the way, culminating in his final hole, a sturdy par 4 with a distinctive triple fairway that stretches 140 yards.

“What we started with there, it was a very, very tight left dogleg, where you have a lot of balls in the woods, you’ll get lost, and there was a really difficult finish. We created a really cool adventure that is a fun ending to golf,” says Franz.

The first and sixth holes share a green so big you can forget there’s another group on it, and No. 15 provides a counterbalance to that long par 3 on No. 3: it’s a par 4 that’s 388 from the back tees but 282 from the tees. tangerine, playing downwind and giving yourself the opportunity to really try.

It’s all distinctive and challenging to lose the ball. The latter gave Franz some freedom to try his hand at the green complexes, which will be some of the most undulating most golfers have ever seen.

“I always wanted to do something that really celebrated the fate of the wild and unpredictable anarchy of St. Andrews, like all the greens just rolled and flowed into those big old features and in some cases it’s a nice soft green and you can do a lot putts. And you have something like the second green It’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in golf, right? Franz said.

“So we’ve tried to steal parts of both. As if there are some greens where it is eminently possible to make a putt and do it from a distance. And then we also have some really cool, quirky stuff out there.”

Resort golf tends to attract a wide spectrum of players. Very good golfers will look at Karoo and identify optimal landing zones and targets on the green in relation to pin positions and how Franz challenges them. But double-digit handicappers won’t feel overwhelmed because it’s open enough to allow them to move around and try different shots.

And everyone can gather to enjoy The Wedge, which sits high on the property and allows you to enjoy the remoteness of your surroundings at sunset. Turning a weakness into a strength and a failing golf property into a potentially great one.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos courtesy of Jeff K. Marsh, Cabot Citrus Farms)