BROOKSVILLE, FLORIDA | The PGA Show is a time for companies in the golf business to gather in Orlando, in part to introduce new goods and services to a global audience that includes members of the news media as well as thousands of people who make their living in the game.
So it made perfect sense for golf impresario Ben Cowan-Dewar to share news on the status of one of his latest projects. Dubbed Cabot Citrus Farms and located on the site of the former World Woods golf resort in this Florida city of some 9,000 residents 45 miles north of Tampa, it will feature a pair of reimagined 18-hole courses. One of those, Cabot Barrens, is the creation of architect Kyle Franz, and the other, Cabot Oaks, a collaboration between Franz, fellow designer Mike Nuzzo and Ran Morrissett, founder of the Golf Club Atlas website that acts in many ways as a chat room for architect aficionados and head of the highly respected course rating operations at Golf Magazine.
In addition, the complex will boast a pair of short tracks laid out by Nuzzo. There is a lighted 11-hole par-3 course just under 1,195 yards in length called The Ace, and a 10-hole executive track known simply as The Ten that has a 560-yard par-5 as well as six 4-pars and a trio of par-3s. Combined with a 2-acre putting course and a double-sided driving range, they make up an area that Cowan-Dewar and his crew have taken to calling The 21, or Blackjack.
Throw in a few dozen cottages (for now) and a 70,000-square-foot clubhouse with 12 second-floor guest rooms as well as swimming pools, a fitness and wellness center, shops and restaurants, and you have another part of the increasingly impressive Cabot Collection that also includes Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Cabot St. Lucia in the Caribbean (due to open this fall); Cabot Revelstoke in British Columbia (now under construction); and Cabot Highlands, a property in the north of Scotland that boasts the acclaimed Gil Hanse Castle Stuart course and in the not-too-distant future also will have a second track (by Tom Doak) and lodging.
Needless to say, there is a lot commanding Cowan-Dewar’s attention these days. But his focus last week was on only one of those, Cabot Citrus Farm.
Cowan-Dewar closed on the transaction for the old World Woods resort last May.
“About half of the 1,200 acres we purchased was where the courses and practice facilities were located,” he told Global Golf Post. “The other half was undeveloped. And what stood out to me as I got to know the property was the sandy soil, the 120 feet of elevation changes and the old-growth live oaks with Spanish moss hanging off their branches. The potential was huge, for both the developed and undeveloped parts.”
Right now, the developed part is where the work is being done. Trees have been felled, largely to open up views and improve air circulation in areas where that was needed, and some 20 miles of cart paths ripped up. Tees and greens are taking shape on all four of the layouts, as are bunkers and fairways, though as of PGA Show week, nothing had yet been grassed.
“It’s borrowing in a way from George C. Thomas and the concept of a ‘course within a course’ that he utilized at places like Los Angeles Country Club. It keeps things interesting by being able to take a hole that plays 430 yards one day and have it play 330 yards the next.” – Kyle Franz
A resident of the Pinehurst area, Franz cannot help but take inspiration from the great golf courses he knows in the North Carolina sandhills as he works on Barrens and Oaks. The plan with Barrens, he says, is to create wide corridors of play with multiple routes to the greens. He also likes the idea of building multiple tee boxes, not only to vary the distances the holes can be played but also the places from which they can be played.
“It’s borrowing in a way from George C. Thomas and the concept of a ‘course within a course’ that he utilized at places like Los Angeles Country Club,” Franz said. “It keeps things interesting by being able to take a hole that plays 430 yards one day and have it play 330 yards the next. That sort of change in setup tests the better players while giving the higher handicapper a chance to get on the green in regulation.
“We want the green surrounds on Barrens to be tightly mowed, with lots of bumps to make recovery shots challenging but fun, and the greens themselves to have interesting contours and kick slopes. As for the fairways, they will be wide but also have lots of interesting features in the middle of them, like bunkers, hollows and humps of the sort you might find on the Old Course in St. Andrews.
“In addition, we have tried to create a compact routing, so the green-to-tee walks are minimal. And with the terrain and the soil we have on the Barrens, we can quite easily create firm and fast conditions and incentivize golfers to employ a ground game.”
The Oaks, which Franz is designing with Nuzzo and Morrissett, is something of a different story.
“Though the courses are more or less next to each other, they are different in terms of topography and vegetation,” Franz said. “As the name suggests, there are more live oaks on Oaks, and the sand in the soil is not quite as deep. There are some wetland areas, too, as well as a couple of ponds and creeks and even a pair of sinkholes that we incorporate into the design.”
With regards to the holes themselves, he adds that some will have lots of bunkering and others none at all.“And the holes will be a little tighter in places than what will be found on Barrens,” said Franz, who mentions that their efforts on Oaks were informed in part by the designs of Augusta National, Pine Valley and the Sandbelt courses around Melbourne, Australia.
One of the most interesting aspects of his work on Cabot Oaks is collaborating with his friend Morrissett, who also lives in the North Carolina sandhills – and who has made a living commenting on and critiquing golf course architecture.
“We wanted to see what Ran the great reviewer would do when we gave him the keys to a project,” Franz said.
What Nuzzo is doing with the short courses that are taking shape at Cabot Citrus Farms, so named because this town used to be known as the Home of the Tangerine, is enticing. And it is easy to envision a relaxed, late-afternoon round on The Ace, hitting wedges on holes that range from 85 to 125 yards, or a somewhat more serious loop on The Ten, where golfers will no doubt employ most every club in their bags.
“We wanted to make The Ace a wedge course and one where the shots are interesting, challenging and demanding, and where each green is intricately designed,” said Nuzzo, adding that one of his favorites on that track is No. 10, which he describes as an ode to the famous Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon in Scotland.
As for The Ten, the architect seems smitten with the lone par-5 at No. 4, which is bordered on the left by a long berm; a triangle of holes in Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 and then the par-4 ninth, which Nuzzo designed with the epic ninth hole at Cypress Point in mind.
Exactly what Cowan-Dewar has in mind for the more than 600 acres that have yet to be developed at Cabot Citrus Farms remains to be seen. But he certainly seems intrigued by the possibilities of what can be created on land that he describes as having “even more elevation changes” than the property on which Cabot Barrens, Cabot Oaks and The 21 are being built.
Perhaps that will be revealed at the start of a future PGA Show week.
Top: This is what No. 3 on Cabot Barrens will look like upon completion. Photos: Courtesy Cabot Citrus Farms
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