Cabot Citrus Farms Opens to the Public

By Jason Bruno

Recently the Sunshine State has seen a boom in golf course development, most of which are new exclusive clubs for the wealthy like Apogee, Atlantic Fields, Rolling Sands, The Ranch, Miakka and Panther National. However, a couple of reimagined public sites that enjoyed a storied past – The Park (formerly West Palm Beach Municipal) and Cabot Citrus Farms (formerly World Woods) are making headlines as worthy new public destinations. The Park, a Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner redesign is located in the urban hub of Palm Beach County, while Cabot Citrus Farms is off the beaten path in rural Brooksville, located just east of the Nature Coast (70 miles north of Tampa).

Cabot visionary and co-founder Ben Cowan Dewar and Daniel Knight welcome the media to Cabot Citrus Farms on January 22nd, 2024.

The two original World Woods (Fazio) courses on the property – Pine Barrens, was Fazio’s ode to Pine Valley, while Rolling Oaks took inspiration from Augusta National. Barrens had a cult following and showed up routinely in the Top 100 rankings, but its biggest flaw as a golf destination was a lack of lodging and a notable dining component. Although Ben Cowan-Dewar (the Co-Founder of Cabot) was enamored with the site during several visits over the years, he took note of how these issues restricted World Woods from reaching its potential. As the the place continued to decline in every facet, the Japanese owners put it up on the market. Looking to add to the Cabot portfolio, BCD and the Cabot group bought the property in 2022.

Our first visit to site in late September of 2023 with Daniel Knight had us excited to see the progress on the new Kyle Franz – “Karoo” layout (formerly Pine Barrens), as well as the new Frank Nuzzo designs known as “The Wedge” (11 holes) and the eclectic 9 hole “Squeeze” course, but perhaps what I personally was most excited to see was the cottages being built. The ability to stay onsite will be a game changer from the previous setup here. The macro plan also includes a second phase in the works which includes more cottages and some single family homes and as well as several upscale eateries, bars and leisure amenities for links consumers and residents to enjoy .

Cowan-Dewar has gleaned many winning strategies from mentor Mike Keiser’s playbook, executing on the marketing and branding aspect clearly is one of those – the social media and pre-opening imagery has been a masterclass. Also, once onsite, the pro shop at Cabot Citrus Farms was already stocked with premium swag when we arrived in late January before the public opening of preview play a week later.

Karoo

Karoo is named after the unique trumpeting sound made by the Sandhill Cranes that occupy the property.

The Par 3 Third on Karoo, sits on the footprint that once occupied the sixteenth but now plays in the reverse direction.

Kyle Franz, who is best known for his restoration work in the North Carolina sandhills of Pinehurst at notable Ross classics like Southern Pines, Pines Needles, and Mid Pines, took a unique approach in making this new iteration his own design. Franz’s work on Karoo began with an aggressive removal of trees and overgrown vegetation that has opened up the property to air circulation, thus providing superior playing conditions for a firm n fast style of golf. And while Franz retained most of the original routing/corridors from Pine Barrens (with a few notable exceptions of reversing the playing corridors of the 2nd/17th, and the 3rd/16th, in doing so he removed the horrific crossovers in Fazio’s less than stellar routing . . .  and eviscerated the two weakest holes on what was otherwise an exceptional golf course. Where Fazio showed savvy restraint in the shaping of barrens, Franz went uber-bold in what he referred to as ‘Adventure Golf’ on Karoo.

The par 4 eighth on Karoo

Sand is the biggest obstacle on Karoo, as it was with the original Fazio iteration, and with no rough to speak of and only two water hazards it’s unlikely that you’ll lose a ball. Karoo has five sets of tees from 4,223 yards to 7,562 yards. We played from 6,295 yards which made for a fun and challenging day.

The par 5 fourteenth and drivable par 4 fifteenth at Cabot Citrus Farms – image credit: Cabot

The par 5 fourteenth and drivable par 4 fifteenth remain largely unchanged from their original orientation aside from a shaping tweak or added bunker here and there, and to me they remain as the best stretch on the property.

This rumpled large mouth bunker just left of the fourteenth green will catch many approach shots attempting to reach in two. I found the shaved turf swale left of the sand as a fairly benign place to pitch from.

The white speck in the photo (above) next to the flag here on the downhill drivable par 4 fifteenth was as close as I’ve ever come to an ACE on a par 4. Safe to say, I was thrilled that Franz didn’t blow up what has always been one of the most fun risk-reward holes in golf.

If there’s a legit criticism of Karoo, the adage that Franz may have tried too hard with the shaping and contours on some holes like the par 4 thirteenth and at the “Thumbprint” green at the par 3 sixteenth (above) may have merit. This one left our collective group scratching our heads after we eventually holed out. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these shapes get alterations in the future, but like all things architecture-wise, it’s subjective.

The Squeeze

2nd hole at The Squeezephoto credit Cabot

While Karoo gets all of the attention, The Squeeze might have left the biggest impression with me personally. Nine holes of Mike Nuzzo designed golf that ranges from 100 yards to 550 yards, using portions of a previously untouched parcel on the property, Nuzzo crafted a fun and thought provoking layout inspired by the finest short par 4s around the globe. In an effort to replicate that theme, he created an eclectic mix with each hole demanding something a bit different than the previous. Do not skip The Squeeze when you visit.

The Wedge

The Wedge is an 11-hole, par-3 Frank Nuzzo design that’s pure joy. For those staying on property, this shorty has lights located throughout the course so the golf doesn’t end when the sunlight does. With yardages between 70-115 yards, all you need is a few wedges and a putter (and perhaps a beverage of choice) to get around this group of diverse finesse shots. This will be a very popular buddies trip hangout.

The Wedge – 11 holes, short finesse shots, lights for night golf, beverages of choice. sign me up

The new driving range is located close to the cottages and beside the 1st tee on the Squeeze. It features Trackman technology to get yourself dialed in, whether it’s just a practice session or a pre-round warmup. The new two-acre new putting course is reminiscent of the Punch Bowl at Bandon, The Himalayas at St.Andrews and Thistle Dhu at Pinehurst. For those who want a cool spot to hang post round – ‘The Porch’ located next to the 1st tee on The Wedge, has firepits and outdoor seating where an Airstream trailer with skilled culinary professionals cranks out tasty bites.

Cabot Citrus Farms – image credit: Cabot

There will be tons of debate from those who were World Woods loyalists as to whether Franz’s Karoo design is an improvement on Fazio’s Pine Barrens of 30 years ago. One thing is for sure, what the Cabot team has done with the property – in the macro sense, is a huge win. The Squeeze, The Wedge, cottages on site, and superb amenities . . . there’s no doubt that Cabot Citrus Farms will be a popular travel destination for the public access golf enthusiast going forward, and with the new Roost Course coming later this year, there’s more to look forward to. https://cabotcitrusfarms.com/golf

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