I know there are people who prefer the Rolling Oaks course at World Woods to Pine Barrens. Let’s just say I won’t be planning a golf trip with them anytime soon.
In the context of what else is available in Florida, Rolling Oaks — one of two Tom Fazio-designed options at this tremendous daily-fee outpost an hour north of Tampa — is actually one of the most admirable public courses in the state. Perched on a lovely property with mature hardwoods and pines, long sloping hillsides, good sandy soil and no development within miles, it’s easy to see its unique appeal.
In the context of what sits next to it the preference of this course is a Rorschach Test revealing a strong tendency toward the predictable and orthodox.
Though the Rolling Oaks name is unimaginative, it describes the parkland ambiance. The routing begins on an upper plateau and drifts down to lows and then back up on each nine. Shell and cape-and-bay bunkers flank landing areas and ride shotgun to the greens, which possess flow but not very complex movement.
The most interesting section begins at 12, a short par-4 that tumbles downhill around a treed depression on the right that signals a much needed sense of departure into a slightly different landscape. The par-3 13th runs alongside a sparse pasture and the next two holes, challenging doglegs to the left, start to work their way back up through the thickest part of the forest. Then the old game resumes.
There are some nice open holes along the edges like 3-5 including two par-5’s, but the design assumes the land’s hardwood scenery and natural rise and fall, rather than striking hazards and contour, is enough to imbue it with character.
The course is pretty, but in trying to depart from the roaring model of the first course, which grips you immediately and doesn’t let go, Rolling Oaks feels like a medicated afterthought.
Maybe Fazio and the developers worried Pine Barrens — which presents options, opportunities and real hazards — would so overload the paying public that a safety course was needed. If so, this is probably an example of not giving the customer enough credit, those few Rolling Oaks fans notwithstanding.
I think Fazio missed an opportunity. On such a great site, with pure sand underfoot, Rolling Oaks could have been virtually anything: Sand Belt, Heathland, something purely original. As is, it basically shares aesthetic type with other B-list Fazio course’s like The Frog in Georgia or Pinehurst No.8. Not bad by any means, though also nowhere near its potential, or the class of it’s sibling. (88).
Architect: Tom Fazio