BROOKSVILLE — When World Woods Golf Club opened on April 1, 1993, it was essentially in the middle of nowhere off U.S. 98 with handmade road signs alerting drivers to the entrance. More than 15 years later, it's still in the middle of nowhere with handmade signs before the entrance.
It's still home to two of the area's unique courses, Rolling Oaks and Pine Barrens. It still has a nine-hole course called the Short Course, and it still has a monster practice facility that is 23 acres and includes a 2-acre, 36-hole putting green and circular driving range.
About the only thing that has changed is the addition of a clubhouse. When the course opened, greens fees were collected from the back of a truck.
"We've made a few changes here and there but nothing significant,'' said head professional Scott Wyckoff, who has been at World Woods since 1995. "The course gets better and better, but we haven't developed around it like we would like.''
There are more than 2,100 total acres owned by Inter Five Ltd., a Japanese company that owns the Sugarmill Woods and Southern Woods courses in nearby Homosassa. There have been plans for years to develop the land with a luxury hotel, but it remains vacant.
"It's been routed out and planned and approved for development,'' Wyckoff said. "We just have to find the right marriage. It's kind of difficult at this time with the way things are.''
Rolling Oaks and Pine Barrens remain the same as when renowned course designer Tom Fazio developed them. Pine Barrens consistently shows up in rankings of the top 100 courses in the country. Most recently, it was ranked the sixth-best public or private course in the country by golflink.com. Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., was ranked first, and Augusta National, home of the Masters, was second. Innisbrook's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor was 16th.
World Woods was built at a cost of $20-million. It took another $800,000 to build the modest clubhouse that sits just off the parking lot. Both 18-hole courses were carved out of the natural landscape of Hernando County.
The Pine Barrens has hosted a first stage U.S. Open qualifier, a first stage PGA Tour School tournament and a Champions Tour final stage qualifier. It also hosted Shell's Wonderful World of Golf in 2002 that featured a match between Phil Mickelson and David Toms.
The courses still host charity tournaments and high school events, but they are not likely to land a PGA, LPGA or Champions event anytime soon.
"I don't think we fit their requirements,'' Wyckoff said. "It's because of the facility, really. You need a clubhouse to house the players, the caddies, families, media. Our clubhouse isn't adequate right now for what they require.''
What's the big deal?
A recent outing to Pine Barrens showed why people are willing to drive miles to play. Like another championship course, Innisbrook's Copperhead, Pine Barrens has elevated tees and lightning fast, undulating greens.
But it also has a maddening amount of waste areas. They line the fairways and protect some of the greens. On 15, there is a 250-yard carry over a waste area to a small fairway. To be fair, there is also a bailout fairway on the left for those who want to play conservatively.
And on 12, there is a carry over waste area and an uphill approach shot that has to carry another waste area. At 417 yards from the white tees, it is the hardest hole on a course full of hard holes.
"Most of Florida is flat and watery and kind of uninspiring,'' Wyckoff said. "Sometimes you play courses that go back and forth and there's no memorability about it. There's certain things on a golf course that bring your mind's eye back. There are a lot of courses that don't have that awe-inspiring wow to it.''
It is the wow factor, and the reasonable summer rates, that keep golfers coming back.
"This is one of the best golf courses around,'' said Jean Kimball, an elementary school teacher who spends her summers playing area courses. "Here and Lake Jovita. We try to get out here about three or four times.''
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (727) 893-8810.