Last night I returned from a family scuba diving vacation to Florida that turned out to not only be a family vacation, but also an unexpected golf trip.
I brought my clubs in anticipation of playing one round at Juliette Falls, located five minutes from the rental house we were staying at in Dunnellon, Florida.
Juliette Falls was a fantastic golf course: Beautiful and challenging, with especially great par threes. I liked it so much that I made a second visit later in the week for their $38 twilight rate. I only got in 14 holes, but made the best of the back nine with a birdie, two pars and two bogeys (one was a three-putt, ugh). I will be writing a full review on it in the near future, so make sure to check back.
I also reached out to World Woods prior to my trip, but didn’t know of a date and whether or not I would have a car to use to get there.
With chilly March weather that ranged from the mid-30’s to high 70’s, we worked out the dive-related trips around sunny days, and I somehow had Friday open.
Friday was beautiful in Brooksville, a one-hour drive from Dunnellon and true championship golf location.
Home to two of Florida’s highest rated courses, the Pine Barrens (ranked #60 in GolfWeek’s listing of the top 100 courses in the country, and #4 in Florida; also ranked #76 in the country by Golf Digest) and the Rolling Oaks (ranked #8 in Florida by GolfWeek), World Woods is also widely known to have the country’s (and possibly the world’s) best practice facility that includes a circular 23-acre practice range, a 36-hole/two-acre putting green, an iron range and three practice holes.
World Woods certainly provides a world-class golfing experience for all. If there is something beyond world-class, though, it provided it for me.
Following 18 holes on the Pine Barrens in the morning, I found myself with an hour to spend before a 1:40 tee time on the Rolling Oaks with my cousin Cari’s boyfriend, Dan, who lives in the area and is a regular at World Woods.
I decided to check out the three practice holes to work on my drive and approach shots, which ailed me throughout my morning round.
When I arrived at the first practice hole, a dogleg left par five, there was another cart already at the back tees. When he invited me to play through, I asked if he’d like to join. It turned out to be William Robbins, a former NGA Hooters Tour player and recently turned professional golfer.
William is working on his game to begin playing PGA Tour qualifiers, and moved to the Brooksville area this past Tuesday. World Woods charges just $120/month for unlimited access to their practice facilities, and he intends to put them to good use in pursuit of the dream to attain his PGA Tour card.
We played the three holes and spent some time chatting about our favorite courses (my favorite golf conversation), as well as his path to where he is today. William grew up in Ohio and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina, eight years ago. He has a plus-five handicap, professional swing coach, an unbelievable wealth of golf knowledge and advice, and a love for the game that rivals or even surpasses mine.
Having only used the practice facilities since Tuesday, I was able to get William in to our 1:40 tee time and the three of us arrived to the first hole on the Rolling Oaks.
William obviously plays the back tees. Dan and I briefly discussed the challenge we should face: The tips (gold tees) on the Rolling Oaks are 7,333 yards, the blacks are 6,873, and the greens are 6,438. I played the greens along with two other singles on the Pine Barrens, and fared how I expected to this early in the season: Poor touch around the greens, and the same slice tendency I have had for 23 years that continues to reduce my distance off the tee.
Our brief conversation that ensued:
Dan: “Probably the greens… Ah what the hell, let’s play the tips!”
Me: “Dude, the tips are 7,333 yards!?”
Dan: “We’re here to have fun, let’s see the whole course!”
Me [being as quickly and easily inspired as I am]: “Good call. I’m in.”
The first hole started out well. Dan, using a Pittsburgh Steelers putter to his psychological advantage, parred the 424-yard par four. I tapped in for bogey, and William snaked in a 25-footer for birdie. This game’s easy.
The rest of the front nine did not play as easily, but things picked up very well on the back.
Highlights included Dan’s driver-driver green-under-regulation on the 606-yard par five tenth, a highlight reel full of PGA-level shots by William, and a much improved game by both Dan and me on the back nine. Dan shot a legitimate 39 on the back, while I shot a 46 with several mulligans that backed up pulled tee shots.
Our back nine scorecard was littered with “F’s” and “G’s”: Fairways hit and greens-in-regulation. I have always enjoyed the effect it has playing with someone who is a legitimately talented golfer. Whether it is because you don’t want to slow them down to throw them off their game, or whether some of their game somehow rubs off on yours’, it’s a real thing and fun to witness. But hitting greens somewhat consistently with long irons, hybrids and woods? That’s just crazy.
William once shot 64 in four consecutive rounds, and has played tournaments with the likes of Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, JB Holmes, Bo Van Pelt and others. After recently being forced to take a little time off, he is currently in the process of getting his swing back. I wish “Getting my swing back” looked more like this drawn uphill approach shot to eight feet:
Or like this monstrous drive on the short par five eighteenth:
I have been fortunate to have personal golfing experiences with a number of professional level golfers: Winning the “Putting with the Pros” contest at Torrey Pines with James Driscoll, then caddying for the pro/am group of my friend, Adam, playing alongside Ernie Els at last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. I got even more out of this experience. So did Dan, who Will re-taught his putting approach and then dropped just about everything on the back nine.
And, of course, we had to get one picture on the former Q-school winners’ stage following our round:
There is little more refreshing than seeing someone I know to be a humble, hard-working and good person succeed wildly, and I wish for all the best and look forward to following my new friend, William Robbins, on his path to greatness.
I will be writing separate reviews on both the Rolling Oaks and Pine Barrens courses at World Woods, but here are a few quick pictures of their practice holes and facilities: