BROOKSVILLE, Fla. – Playing a golf course out of order sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but in my case, it was part of one of the biggest and best surprises of a great year in golf.
Besides, if you play this game long enough, and in enough different places, you’ll do a lot of strange things on the course.
I was still catching my breath, having just played three other-worldly holes through an old quarry at Brooksville Country Club, a William Mitchell design that Bobby Weed renovated in 2008. The quarry holes are Weed originals, but playing them is more like an acid trip…from what I’ve read, at least.
I’d just birdied the first of what I thought were back-to-back par threes at Brooksville C.C. Coming off the all-or-nothing downhill par-3 14th, the third straight quarry hole, I saw tee boxes just five steps off the left edge of the green. So it seemed natural to turn around and plunge back down into the quarry once more before returning to the pleasant parkland golf the course had given me for the first 11 holes.
But after I lipped out my birdie putt and walked up the hill and out of the quarry, the sign on the next tee read “18,” not “16.”
Whoops! Turned out the real 15th tee was behind the 14th green, and I was supposed to play two par fours before that last quarry par three.
“...around the perimeter and down through the quarry makes for compelling, interesting and memorable golf—uniquely spectacular...”
I burst out laughing at my mistake as the latter stages of a brisk late-November afternoon descended on the Spanish moss-laden live oaks dotting the property. I didn’t stop giggling until I holed out to finish my round. Such was the euphoria of a pleasant surprise.
Luckily, the 16th tee was right next to the 18th green and the 15th played right back to the clubhouse, so playing my last two holes was a breeze, so much so that I found myself thinking that hole sequence made more sense, anyway.
Perhaps I’m biased in order to cover up my mistake, but the way I experienced them, Brooksville’s quarry holes formed a spectacularly crazy penultimate act on a golf course I now consider a hidden gem in a destination that is easy to overlook. The kicker: green fees barely top $40 (if you’re around on a Tuesday, you can play for $28; it’s hard to imagine a much better value in Florida golf).
More compelling golf in Brooksville
Brooksville might be overlooked, but avid traveling golfers are likely familiar with this town an hour north of Tampa. It is home to World Woods Golf Club, a well-known multi-course facility whose Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks courses have graced magazine rankings since opening in 1993.
Here was another surprise. Of World Woods’ two Tom Fazio-designed “big courses” (there is also a nine-hole executive course and three further practice holes, plus a massive driving range and putting course, making the facility a haven for golf addicts), Pine Barrens is generally more popular. It hosted a 2002 “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” episode with Phil Mickelson and David Toms, and its large sandy waste areas have always helped it to photograph nicely for magazine spreads. This is especially true of the famous short par-4 15th, where players can drive the ball on or around the green if they choose to carry one of the property’s biggest sandy expanses.
But after playing both courses, I found myself favoring the less-heralded Rolling Oaks layout. Rolling Oaks has more of a parkland look to it, with crisp-edged bunkers and larger and much more undulating greens than Pine Barrens. Pine Barrens’ greens are smallish and flatter, owing to a somewhat tougher tee-to-green makeup. But what tipped the scales in Rolling Oaks’ favor is its more compact routing. With walking permitted at World Woods, I found fewer long stretches from one green to the next tee.
Both courses are solid, though, and you may well find you prefer Pine Barrens. But don’t make the mistake of skipping Rolling Oaks. Green fees here can tick above $100 in peak fall/winter/early spring, but closer to Tampa or in a higher-traffic destination, rates would top $150 easily.
Rounding out the quartet of Brooksville-area golf courses I saw: Southern Hills Plantation Club, a Pete Dye design just south of town. A classic example of the pre-Recession golf community boom, its big-shouldered routing clambers up and down some of the more dramatic terrain you’ll find in Florida. The seventh hole, an up-and-way-down dogleg-right par five, drops 60 feet over its last 260 yards.
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Southern Hills Plantation Club rounded out the quartet of Brooksville-area courses I saw this week. It’s a big, fun Pete Dye (2006) course that, true to form, is a comprehensive test of both skill and guile on the golf course. - 7, a terrific up-and-over par 5 - Approach to the par-4 10th - The switchback par-4 14th - Looking toward the pedestal-like 18th green (it’s a long par four, in typical Dye fashion)
Southern Hills Plantation Club is a bit more restrained in its bunkering than some Dye designs. But centerline hazards like those in the 15th fairway and some deceptively tough greenside pits on the par threes can derail you if you’re not careful. True to form, though, the course’s bark is worse than its bite, and players who can overcome the fearsome looks will find it generally very playable. When the course hosted the second stage of Web.com Tour qualifying, it took a four-round score of 14-under par or better to advance.
The club is semi-private, with a growing membership (real estate is starting to pick up again) that limits outside access before 11 am. Guests can book up to four days out and green fees float between $75 and $125.
Assorted off-the-course surprises
1. The lone negative surprise about Brooksville as a golf destination: accommodations are not exactly plentiful. World Woods has a handful of off-site villas and Southern Hills has three villas of between two and four bedrooms, but the nearest chain hotels come in the form of a Holiday Inn about 10 minutes west of Brooksville proper, and a Hampton Inn (where I stayed) about the same distance east of town.
2. When you have breakfast at the cash-only Florida Cracker Kitchen (and you should – their corned beef hash is among the best I’ve had), they’ll give your change back to you in $2 bills.
3. World Woods is about 15 minutes northwest of town along a quiet stretch of US-98. About halfway there is Kevin’s “The Way Station,” a quirky roadhouse-like shack of a place. I stopped in for a quick bite between rounds and was the only person in the place, save for proprietor Kevin. While “Cops” played on the two TVs, Kevin cooked me one of the best burgers I’ve had in recent memory. Other visitors swear by Kevin’s chicken wings.
4. Food prices are very reasonable in and around Brooksville. I had dinner one night at Broad Street Market, and my shrimp-three-ways (fried, grilled, scampi) entree, which came with two sides and hushpuppies, was just $18. In Tampa or Orlando or a more upscale destination, it would’ve been $25 or more. I noticed a similar phenomenon at Papa Joe’s, a surprisingly solid red-sauce Italian joint that’s been in business a few miles outside of town since 1981.
There are a couple other golf options in Brooksville. One is Hernando Oaks Golf & Country Club, located just down the road from Southern Hills Plantation. Recent player bory1dav gave it a four-star review: “Course is in great shape. Greens putted true with good speed….Wayward tee shots will roll into the junk.”
Another option is to continue northwest from World Woods and play either Sugarmill Woods or Southern Woods, two private clubs owned by World Woods owner Yukihisa Inoue that allow outside play after noon. When I asked around, the consensus was that people prefer Southern Woods by a slight margin.
Overall, Brooksville is an excellent value-oriented, middle-range golf destination, especially for golf-heavier trips. Between World Woods, Southern Hills and Brooksville Country Club, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you have.