Most top-notch courses in the USA are set aside for the exclusive use of club members and their guests but we take our hat off to Yukihisa Inoue, the president of World Woods. His philosophy, and hence the name behind his corporation, is the provision of world-class golf for all to play. The 1993 Tom Fazio designed Pine Barrens course at the World Woods Resort is therefore a triumph for the people, along with its sophisticated next door neighbour, Rolling Oaks.
Joe Black, past President of the PGA of America said, "This is like having Pine Valley and Augusta, plus the best practice facility in the world - in the same location." We think Black got slightly carried away but World Woods is genuinely a high-class golf resort which will put a huge tick in the box of every avid golfer.
The World Woods' mission statement is “to provide the greatest experience that our guests have ever encountered at a golf facility in regard to golf course conditioning, service, professionalism and overall staff knowledge and to thereby become the #1 golf facility in Florida.” Recently, the mission statement has been revised from "Florida" to the "USA". It’s an admirable target but a huge ask.
Pine Barrens is a course that is at once attractive but also frightening and we can see what Joe Black meant when he mentioned the similarity to Pine Valley. The fairways at Pine Barrens are naturally pine-lined with huge expanses of sand, almost waste-like bunkering. Carved through a pine forest this is not a course for the wayward driver, keep the ball in play and you might card a decent score.
In Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play book by Brian McCallen, the author thinks the course “looks far more intimidating from the tees than it actually plays. There’s room galore to drive the ball, but approach shots must be pinpointed to well-protected greens laced with bold, provocative contours, greens that are slick (especially from above the hole) but not terrifying in their speediness.
“The first hole, a straightaway par four, signals the layout’s intentions. From an elevated tee, a player’s attention is drawn to a large sand pit on the left side and a long sandy trench up the right side. The small, crowned green slopes away on all sides. As opening holes go, it is as pure and fair as they come.
“The back nine at Pine Barrens builds in drama and interest. The long par four 12th, rated the toughest hole on the course, has a pair of alternative and quite different greens to play to, but it’s the short par four 15th that stick in the memory of most pilgrims. Under 300 yards from the middle tees, this exquisite gem offers a safe route to the left, or, to the right, a risky carry over a water-filled ravine fringed by sand and long grass.”
"The course to play if you're going to play one." As noted in my Rolling Oaks review, I am unapologetically in the "Rolling Oaks is the better course at World Woods" camp.
That being said, if you only have time for one - play Pine Barrens.
Why? Pine Barrens at World Woods features the stronger moments. The course features all of the "best in class" individual holes on the facility, however you wish to identify that. However, it simply falls short in the total being greater than the sum of the parts which makes repeat plays a bit of a chore. I only get the itch to play Pine Barrens once every three or four rounds on Rolling Oaks after visiting World Woods with regularity for over 10 years.
Highlights of the round include the all-world 4th hole, whose strategy is a bit overstated since the best plays are, still, 270 yards down the middle off the tee and a high approach to the center of the green to reach the green in two. What 4 lacks in strategy it makes up in heroic qualities but the high-marker is only going to beat the scratch if the scratch can't execute. There is no strategic advantage to be had by finding an "angle" or "underpowering the hole for position." The 8th is probably the best two-shot hole on the entire property and each of the one-shotters are distinctive with the 10th being the most substantive without the sexy window dressing of the other three.
Pine Barrens fails, and miserably at that, at the "walk in the park" test. The routing seeks to emphasize as much of the quarry in a E-W sort of orientation at the expense of the rest of the golf course. You walk through the same null space between 1st/2nd, 6th/7th, 11th/12th, and finally 17th/18th but only in the first instance does the null space pay off with a hole that is superior to the previous one. I am sure there are some that feel this area is worth the interruption in the routing, but for me I tend to lose the rhythm of the round by the third pass through.
The climax of the round (14-15) comes a hole or two too early and 17 and 18 are almost incidental to the fact that the 16th green is the farthest from the property and the corridor through which they play was the only remaining space available. This probably isn't a noticeable to the cart-user but as an almost militant walker I found the lack of an intuitive routing to feel cumbersome.
I would be curious to know if my perception of the routing changes, especially in the quarry, if some of the obvious overgrowth is managed/removed. In the past few years, some thoughtful pruning has made holes like the 9th and 17th more fun. I long for a time when the vista from the 14th green is restored and abandoned tees like those on the 13th and 15th are returned to play.
In the end, however, World Woods is in a good position because the only "wrong" choice to make in terms of golf is to not play one of the courses at the expense of the other. This includes both the short course and the practice holes, which I believe are now integrated under one fee. They serve, for me, as a better warmup to the round than the overrated driving range.
When the Pine Barrens opened, I would go south with my son and play it and the Rolling Oaks. I played here for many years in a row. I have been back a few times. The course has had its ups and downs as it just never took off like it was thought it would. It is a special course. It has much character, some great holes and good conditioning. It starts with a great par 4 and just goes along with good hole after good hole. The risk reward 15th is one of my all time favorite holes. The 5 hole finish is just special. At #11 in Florida which has 100's of exclusive private clubs....Why is this out of the way public course #11.......It actually is that good.
One of the first "modern" courses to go back to the large sandy waste areas now commonplace. A great layout to start the day. Finish with the other course on site for a great 36 hole day, and very affordable!
This is a must play if you find yourself near Tampa, FL. Both Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks have always been in fantastic condition every time I've played. The layout of Pine Barrens is fantastic. Neither course has a house in sight which gives you a secluded feeling that can't be beat.
I think this is supposed to be similar to Pine Valley which has an argument to be the best course in the USA I guess. But I will never get to play Pine Valley. (C'est Dommage) Much like French I will never really know what I am missing. I hit it good here, it is nice because the course allows you to take Driver out of the bag more than most courses which I enjoyed. The entire facility is worth a trip, also play Rolling Hills and the short course if you get a chance. I have played all the courses and agreed this is the best of the three.
The Rodney Dangerfield of Florida golf, this is a course that doesn’t get enough respect because it is public and a bit off the beaten path. Designed by Tom Fazio, the course really does remind you of playing Pine Valley due to the wide fairways and sandy terrain. Avoiding the large sandy waste areas is the key to scoring well (difficult to do, as there are many of them). The fourth is a very good long par four and the short par four 15th was one of my favorites, a sub 350-yard hole that offers the golfer a choice of two fairways off the tee with a classic reward for taking on the more demanding fairway. The greens were in great shape when I played and the price (less than $100) relative to the quality of the golf you get is one of the best in the U.S. When in Florida I would rather play the World Woods Pine Barrens course than I would the made-for-TV-too-difficult TPC Sawgrass.
I was very pleasently surprised by my recent trip here. I visited on a trip with some friends from the UK and found the course to be unlike anything I'd played back home (maybe a hint of the Surrey sand belt but on a grander scale and much more sand) and definitely different to the majority of courses found in Florida. The stand out feature is the vast sandy waste areas (no bunkers) that have to be carefully plotted around. Sone standout holes:
1- a nice opener to ease you in, a tough green to hold, sloping away from all sides.
4-the first taste of the vast waste areas, a 250 carry from the back tees is required to the right hand section of fairway, but this significantly shortens the par 5 for the second, making the green reachable in 2
7- a tough mid/long par 3 with a green the slopes way and to the right with carry over a waste area required.
12- a long par 4 with two separate greens. We played to the right green which required a long iron over a waste area to a very severe green, wish we had of played it while the greens were running at tournament speeds.
14- a par 5 with a waste area bisecting it, the second shot will generally be blind to a severe green, or a layup to the right of the hazard around 70 yards out leaves an awkward approach to another severe green.
15- a short par 4 with two play options. Playing left leaves no more than 100 yards and is a safe play, but the green runs away from you. Playing right and choosing to fly the waste area leaves a short pitch but some pin positions, especially front can be awkward to play to.
All in all we loved our round here and hope to cone back to play rolling oaks some day. Having only seen pictures of Pine Valley I can confirm that this does very much look like I would expect a "poor man's pine valley" to be, but don't be deterred by that moniker, Pine Barrens is more than worth a visit if you are ever in the Tampa/Orlando region.
Pine Barrens #1 is a classic welcoming hole before the sucker punch of the long par 4 second. For your approach favor the right side of the green as there is a severe tilt left. One thing that did surprise me was how few water hazards there are. There is one on the par 3 3rd and I found it. The par five fourth at Pine Barrens is a super golf hole. On the tee you must decide to play it safe or go for it. The left side is safe, but if you go right you have a 200-yard plus carry to a much narrower fairway. The elevated green is protected by a monster bunker on the front right. If you play it safe and come in from the left, the bunker shouldn’t really come into play, but if you played down the right side it is at best intimidating and at worst terrifying. The par 4 8th is deceptive, the fairway feeds left to right into a waste area and the multiple tiered green is really a peninsula in a waste area.
The back starts with a long par 3 with a false front. Aim left as it tilts right. The 12th is along par 4 with two different green options. The right green is much more challenging as it is protected by a waste area and is elevated. Frankly, when the right green is used the hole is even tougher but it is a better golf hole.
The last five holes at Pine Barrens are super closing holes. Off the tee on the par 5 14th there is not a lot of trouble but after that there are multiple hazards and very narrow landing areas. A nice risk/reward hole is the par four 15th. It is a dogleg right around a water hazard. It is at least 225 yards off the tee to carry the hazard to set up an easy pitch to the green. The par3 16th is the signature hole. It is long, uphill with imposing waste areas on the right side with a green that tilts significantly to the right. The 18th is a long par 4 that is best played coming in from the left. You need to carry the waste area but not be too long or you will be blocked out.
Pine Barrens is a good test of golf that utilizes a myriad of golf designs. Good but not great
The first hole starts with a 427 yard par 4 that the drive favors the left side of the fairway. A waste bunker is on the entire right side of the hole. The second hole is a long 483 yard par 4 with waste bunkers guarding both sides of the fairway. There are no bunkers guarding this green and the green slopes broadly from right to left. The third is a picturesque 174 yard par 3 with a pond guarding the front and left of the green. A huge waste bunker guards the right side of the green. The fourth hole is a 526 yard par 5 that is one of the most visually appealing holes I have ever seen. A waste bunker is on the entire right side of the fairway. Shorter hitters can keep it down the narrower left side but longer hitters can hit over the waste bunker (about a 260 yard carry) and have a good opportunity to reach the green in 2. The fifth hole is the second shortest par 4 at 382 yards. The hole is a slight dogleg left with the preferred drive on the right side which will give a good birdie opportunity to the elevated green. The sixth is a 543 yard par 5 with waste bunkers guarding both sides of the fairway. The green can be reached in 2 but if you lay up the preferred angle is on the left side as waste bunkers guard the green short right of the green. The seventh is a solid 207 yard par 3 that plays downhill and is protected by waste bunkers on the left, right, and back left of this green. The eighth hole is a nice 434 yard dogleg right par 4 with the preferred drive down the left side as a large waste bunker guards the right side. The green is protected on 3 sides by a large waste bunker and precision is required on the second shot. The ninth hole is a solid 419 yard par 4 with a fairway that slopes from right to left. The preferred drive is down the left side as it is flatter and provides a better angle to the green. The green is protected by waste bunkers on both the right and left sides.
The tenth hole is a nice 228 yard par 3 that has a narrow green that slopes from right to left. A large waste bunker protects the green short and left of the green. The eleventh is a slight dogleg right 434 yard par 4 with no fairway bunkers and the green is protected short and left by a large waste bunker. The twelfth is the longest par 4 on the course at 491 yards and the preferred drive is down the left side of the fairway. A huge waste bunker protects this elevated green and the green slopes broadly from back to front so balls will come back if hit on the back of the green. The thirteenth is a 465 yard downhill par 4 that doglegs to the right. Waste bunkers protect the green on the right and left. The fourteenth is another visually appealing 587 yard par 5 that doglegs to the left. The green can be reached in 2 with a drive that carries the waste bunker on the left. The preferred layup is to the right as it is a good angle to the green and a good birdie opportunity. This hole has many strategically placed bunkers and trees. The downhill fifteenth is the shortest par 4 on the course at 339 yards. Longer hitters can try to reach the green on the tee shot but for me the preferred drive was down the left side avoiding the waste bunkers which allowed a short wedge and good birdie opportunity. The sixteenth is the signature hole of the course and is a solid 227 yard par 3 that is protected by waste bunkers on the right side. The green slopes left to right and balls going left can end up on the green. The seventeenth is one of the shorter par 4s at 398 yards with the preferred drive down the right side as trees overhang on the left side of the fairway. Pine Barrens finishes with a strong 473 yard par 4 that doglegs to the left. Waste bunkers protect the left side of the fairway and the green is protected by a large waste bunker on the right side of the green.
Great course and very memorable experience. Thank you World Woods for making this course available to all at a very reasonable price. Would highly recommend this course to anyone visiting the Tampa/Orlando area. Click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YY9rO18YVE to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures took during my visit. Jim Brady