Opinion: Specters of World Woods
World Woods—or Cabot Citrus Farms, as it’s now coined—is, once again, the talk of the golf world, especially this week with much of the golf industry descending upon Orlando for the PGA Show—including our own, Andrew. Moreover, a rather lively thread, entitled “Shouldn’t They Have Restored World Woods”, has been ongoing on Golf Club Atlas, with all the usual suspects chiming in. Like much of the intellectual climate these days, GCA’s message board has, sadly, degenerated into something that’s hardly worth paying attention to anymore: a collection of often snarky, poorly written, poorly fleshed out “hot takes” that has rendered the platform miles from what it was during its intellectual heydays of the aughts.
Mainly out of habit, having been a steady “lurker” since I was about ten years old (which is now a fairly long time ago), I do tend to check out what is being discussed once in a while, usually glancing over the various topics before quickly escaping to greener pastures. However, this thread caught my attention because its title perfectly echoed my sentiment concerning what should have transpired at World Woods—whether that be by the firm of Fazio or by another whose mandate was to restore it back to how it was when it was ranked among the world’s top 100 golf courses.
I’ll admit that much of my hesitation and consternation concerning what I’ve seen so far is emotionally charged, having played World Woods around 50 times over the last fifteen years or so. In a way, World Woods became a “home course” of sorts as we made the yearly journey down to Tampa to get some winter swings in while our actual home course was buried under four-feet of snow. In fact, upon being signed to play Jr. A hockey at 16, I remember ruing that I wouldn’t be able to visit for a handful of years due to length and demands of the hockey season (my priorities were always in the right place, as you can tell)—of course, to accommodate our golf thirst, we instead went at Christmas, rather than during March Break as we tended to up to that point.
So suffice to say that I strongly disagree with poster Steve Lovett’s (contradictory) sentiment that “like others have said, the whole place never had much of an experience. It had a trunk-slamming muni feel to it (not in a good way) and was no place you’d want to hang out and spend time.” As fellow poster M. Shea Sweeney proceeded to retort, however, this “trunk-slamming muni” feel was precisely why we loved it.
From the winding and drooping oak-tree-lined entrance drive, to the cobweb filled guard house, to the parking lot crowded with Japanese and American sedans and pickups, to the golfers changing into their spikes out in the open without shame nor authorial consternation, to the vintage golf carts that chugged along the uneven and cracked cartpaths, to the hideous green and brown and badly footstep-worn rug, to the dated artwork and faded original blueprints on the walls of the modest clubhouse, to the now-decade-out-of-date phone books and dusty handicap guides stacked on the ledge just inside the front doors, to the utilitarian furniture in the dining room, to the casual manner of the employees, to the minuscule and ever-vacant locker rooms, to the unfashionable merchandise, to the ghostly scoreboard outside the single story and homely clubhouse, to the circular and unnecessarily large range, to the practice holes that seemed to never get any traffic, to the massive and ridiculously canted putting course around its central flower bed, to the smaller range between the first tees of the two full-length courses, World Woods was very much a monument to failed ambition, its atmosphere haunted by the original hubris of its Japanese founders, whose vision for it very much forefathered Cabot’s and Dream-Golf’s. Like an overgrown, rusted amusement park, or the decaying ruins of an Olympic village, it was a place where, to quote Derrida, “the future comes back in advance: from the back, from the past”. A place where time felt very much “out of joint”, invoking hauntological specters, a set of presences/non-presences, that were palpable every which way you looked. Like when you return to an area of former revels and find that all of the places you used to frequent have been razed or are derelict—that the lights have gone out, the partiers home, the kids elsewhere. The force of Derrida’s concept of “hauntology”, after-all, lays in the idea that modern society, the zeitgeist of our time, is haunted by the events that never occurred, the futures that failed to materialize and thus loom spectral all around us – a ghost is, as Derrida reminds us, simultaneously there and not there.
But it was comfortable and decidedly, I would argue, a place that made you feel like playing golf, over and over and over. After-all, whose home wasn’t a tad shambolic, chaotic, and at times infuriating and maddening; yet, deep down, we love it for and despite its faults. And wasn’t the core ethos of minimalism exactly what poster Lovett’s derided about the experience at World Woods: that the golf came primary, the “hang” secondary? Perhaps it’s because—other than at my home club—I don’t tend to “hang” much at golf courses or at golf resorts: during the day, I’m not a restaurant or bar lounger; I would rather play golf than linger on a range where ProV1s are provided and music is being played; I’ve never been to spa in my life; and I don’t really care about eating 40$ steaks and drinking 16$ craft cocktails for lunch.
In effect, then, the “trunk-slamming muni” vibe was very much what I enjoyed, and, at its core, is it not what we’ve spent the last thirty years attempting to promote: namely, a veer away from the artificiality and periphery of 1970s and 80s golf? At World Woods, Mom and I could find a game any time and however late we wished; we could get hot-dogs and beers at the turn for a reasonable price even with the poor Canadian exchange rate; and we could usually get out as a two-some and play uninterrupted. Moreover, and most importantly, I never found the conditions to be a detriment, or to take away from the quality of the architecture—sure it wasn’t kept to the standards of Augusta National, but I never had a huge issue with it (and, as my friends can attest, I can complain with the best of them). A nip and tuck, a tweak here and there would have sufficed in my view to recapture what so many of us fell in love with in the first place. And same goes for the routing, the disconnection of which has been severely overblown, I feel, by some posters—in fact, I quite like how it returns a few times to a central point and could envision Cabot replacing the bathroom built where it congregates with a cool open bar or comfort station of some sort. In short, World Woods felt like a welcome relief from the tucked, proper, polished, and corporate nature of Streamsong, against whom, I presume, it will now compete on a market level. I admired Streamsong, and still do after nearly ten visits, but I’ve never felt real affection for it.
I have no doubts that the fine folks from Cabot, and the crews they have chosen to undertake the work, will reimagine Pine Barrens into a visually appealing and architecturally stimulating product, and give a much needed facelift to the facilities and Fazio’s other course. Though, I must admit, that upon examining the renderings I do harbor a slight fear that the plan for the Barrens course looks a tad too similar to the much of the work that has been done of late in and around Pinehurst, particularly, with its scruffy expanses of sand covered in wire-grass that afford wider views across the property, to the closely stacked bunkering, to the humpy and hollowed green complexes surrounded by ample short grass. Obviously judging art (nevermind digital renderings) is an extremely subjective exercise. For the better, Pine Barrens had a style, a flow, and an atmosphere all its own, and my fear is that it will be assuaged in favor of a Mid-Pines/Southern Pines/Pinehurst #2 amalgamation, with the flow being disrupted by the change in routing—something I find especially frustrating since the plan calls for the elimination of what was the best par 4 (the 2nd) and the best par 3 (the 16th).
Basically, my thesis is this (and Cabot Barrens may or may not eventually be constitutive of it): that we seem to have reached the point where modern renovations and restorations and even new builds seem primarily focused not on improving the actual architectural principles as much as on making sure that their product will look good to the army of drone and iPhone bearing “social media influencers” who descend upon every new project in droves (our own Andrew is not exempt from this, either)—and, when you think about it a little more, their motivations are not that different from what drove most of the firms of the 1970s and 1980s who tailormade their products to look good in real estate pamphlets and on billboards to sell homes.
Will Cabot Barrens be better than Pine Barrens? Maybe. The raw property is certainly good enough and, despite the suspicious tone I am adopting, I am more than willing to give it a fair shake. But let’s remember, now, that in the first Confidential Guide it was awarded an 8, thus making it a course that is “one of the very best courses in its region (although there are more 8s in some places and none in others), and worth a special trip to see. Could have some drawbacks, but these will clearly be spelled out, and it will make up for them with something really special in addition to the generally excellent layout.” I am dubious that the new plan, at least on paper, will turn Pine Barrens into a 9, defined as “an outstanding course, certainly one of the best in the world, with no weaknesses in regard to condition, length or poor holes. You should see this course sometime in your life.” So, as GCA poster Stewart Abramson brought up, is it really worth tearing up what Fazio originally built merely to go from a Doak 8 (which it presumably could have been once again with just some touch up work) to a different looking Doak 8? I mean if you have the capital for it, why not I guess. Poster Abramson proceeds to pose an interesting question: “in the case of WW, the place wasn’t ever a business success, notwithstanding the quality of the courses. The chances that a mere restoration would make the place a success was made even more unlikely given its proximity to the relatively recent addition of Streamsong.” I tend to think that a restored, and slightly improved upon Pine Barrens (in addition to the much-needed extracurricular improvements), would have attracted enough golfers to make it a financial success—in truth, even in its current state, I might argue that Pine Barrens is better than Doak’s Blue Course and Hanse’s Black course at Streamsong, and not far off C&C’s Red.
As I’ve written elsewhere, placeless-ness and homogeneity are real issues I sense creeping into golf architecture these last few years, an effect, I would suggest, of what Fredric Jameson diagnosed as the “cultural logic of late capitalism”, wherein its art forms have become dominated by nostalgia and pastiche, in a manner that “randomly and without principle but with gusto cannibalizes all the architectural styles of the past and combines them in overstimulating ensembles”. I mean, for proof of concept, take a look at the rendering of the new 3rd hole, and you’ll struggle to describe it as anything other than “overstimulating”. Or as Mark Fisher surmised, that the “slow cancellation of the future” means that we find ourselves repeating the past. The innovation, sense of possibility, and continuous production of newness seen in the 20th-century culture of popular modernism no longer exists. Culture today largely remains in the past, that “cultural time has folded back on itself.” What we lack, in short, is “the pang of the new”, as he so eloquently termed it.
I hope I’m wrong, and as I wrote in my very first piece for this website, published nearly a full year ago now, “golfers are, if anything, creatures of habit, of comfort, and to accept extreme change is, as everyone knows, difficult, particularly to things we hold dear: most of us become spiritually and emotionally attached to the course we play regularly, so it is hard to bear having its flaws and shortcomings laid on a platter.” I know World Woods needs it, and that it’ll come out sporting a cleaner face, and a new class of clientele, but I’m having trouble accepting it. I’ll openly admit it.
Perhaps my hesitation also comes from my experience of having played Southern Pines with a local who’d been playing the now-revamped Donald Ross layout on a regular basis for a decades in the same foursome. However, due the renovation and the subsequent hike in price, he related that his group had been forced to take to their weekly game elsewhere—Southern Pines, for example, now costs 175$ to play from March to September, and it’s hard to imagine that Cabot Citrus Farms will be anything less than 350$ a round, thus pricing out virtually every person who’s played there regularly for decades. And this is the unfortunate reality of these renovations. A reality that no one in the pom-pom waving, rose-tinted mainstream golf media has been willing to report on yet, of course. A reality that’s no different from the what’s been transpiring in cities across the world.
2 thoughts on “Opinion: Specters of World Woods”
When World Woods opened I made my way there immediately, and each spring with my son for about 5 years. I revisited often but not every year like initially. It’s important to understand that when World Woods opened there wasn’t really anything else like it. Initially when it opened it was not very cheap to play. I recall paying about $150 to play 25 years ago. It wasn’t untill the courses had been neglected somewhat that the rates came down and the local play replaced much of the traveling golfer. I’m very excited to make my way back to enjoy the recreated courses.
I read and follow GCA and agree with your analysis to the pontificating. I often scratch my head and wonder how these people have gotten approval to offer up such uninformed opinions.
As to the integrity of the new vs the old. I’ve visited the Cabot places of Canada and the recently purchased Scotland and have much respect for the braintrust within the network. I’m confident the new Cabot courses of Florida will be amazing. I expect the price points to be similar to Streamsong.
Love your coverage of this and know you’ll rekindle your love.
I played world Woods the very first day it opened , and for the next 30 years 2 to 3 times a week. It was always extremely comfortable love the staff, yes of course definitely needed a facelift but a redesign I don’t think was right. Love Cabot one very classy company I believe the improvements will be nice but it will never be be the same. I was the very last player to walk off the golf course boy I cried the entire day I will miss it.