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April 16, 2024

Cabot Citrus Farms is Florida’s next great golf destination

By Gregg Dewalt, Alabama Golf News Editor
Cabot Citrus Farms

Sand is plentiful at Cabot Citrus Farms

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. – It’s no secret that Florida is chock-full of golf destinations. Streamsong, Hammock Beach, Sawgrass, Innisbrook – the list of outstanding places to play goes on and on. Add Cabot Citrus Farms to that list.

The day after the annual PGA Merchandise Show ended in Orlando, it was time to hit up Florida’s next great golf destination. Cabot Citrus Farms isab out 90 minutes west of Orlando and an hour north of Tampa. It’s not quite as desolate as Streamsong, but you do have to know where you are going to find it.

Turning into the property, there was a beehive of construction activity for a Saturday. The sound of workers busy hammering away and the annoying beep, beep, beeping of construction vehicles backing up were prevalent as we turned into the parking lot. A small, temporary golf shop serves as the jumping off point for the vast number of golfers who showed up to play what currently is the 18-hole Karoo course, the 10-hole Squeeze and the 11-hole, par-3 Wedge.

Cabot Citrus Farms
Huge sandy waste areas add to the intimidation factor of Cabot Citrus Farms (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

On this brilliant Saturday morning, it was former Met Golfer editor Jeff Neuman, myself and Alabama Golf News online editor and freelance golf writer Dan Vukelich teeing it up on the Karoo 18-holer.

We got directions to the first tee: Make a left out of the golf shop, another left at the main street, take a right at the end of the fence and that will take you up to the starter. We didn’t have time to hit a warm-up bucket – so we stepped up to the first tee ready to go, like it or not.

First impression of Cabot Citrus Farms: Intimidating

The first impression of the Karoo course, designed by Kyle Franz, is how visually intimidating it seems. Vast waste bunkers dot the course, waiting to gobble up wayward shots and even some good ones.

A line in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” famously details the sailor’s plight – “Water, water everywhere; Nor any drop to drink.” Stepping onto the first tee and looking out over a sliver of fairway, one could easily change Coleridge’s line to “Bunkers, bunkers everywhere; Nor any fairway to hit.”

Cabot Citrus Farms
Deep bunkers are positioned to capture tee shots that are even slightly offline. (Photo: Gregg Dewalt)

Vukelich can easily attest to that – when he walked off the 18th green, not only was he exhausted but it looked as if he had played the entire 18 holes in the Sahara Desert due to the vast amount of waste bunkers he visited.

Because we are old, don’t hit the ball very far and hadn’t been playing much, we opted to play the Karoo course from the green tee markers. And while the 5,325 yards seems short, it was both playable and difficult as evidenced by our scores which ranged from 77 to 100.

We played on a benign Florida January day with little wind. One can only imagine the carnage if the wind gets blowing very hard. The black/silver/tangerine tees play 7,562/6,954/6,295 yards respectively. Based on how well you play, it’s easy to find the right length at which to challenge your game.

Challenging greens complexes

Aside from the massive amount of waste bunkers and the overall rustic, scruffy look, the greens complexes on Karoo stood out. Most of the greens are massive – on the fifth hole I measured my birdie putt at 120 feet. The seventh green is a Biarritz set at an angle, while the 14th green measures 64 paces from front to back. In that regard, Karoo is similar to Streamsong which also features enormous greens.

There is a nice mix of short par 4s, including the quirky risk-reward No, 15 that measures a scant 217 yards from the green tees and 282 from the tangerines. The risk is that it is all carry to the green over a monstrous canyon filled with native grasses and sand. The safe way is to hit an iron off the tee and a short iron with a better angle to the pin.

The par 3s on Karoo are challenging, to say the least. The third hole is ranked as the No. 1 handicap hole and it certainly lives up to that. It’s 158 yards from the green tees and 224 from the tangerine. From the tips, it’s 292 with water along the left and a large hill to the right. In between and all around are the waste bunkers that the property certainly will become known for.

Franz did a masterful job with Karoo – subtle was not in his vision for Karoo. Instead, it’s in-your-face, take it on if you dare, golf. And that’s what makes it so much fun.

The Squeeze at Cabot Citrus Farms

After the Karoo course, we moved to the friendly par-38 10-hole courses known as the Squeeze. It’s the perfect place to wind up your day – a player-friendly course with no par 4 measuring over 359 yards from the tangerine (middle) tees. Mike Nuzzo’s layout isn’t as visually intimidating as Karoo but is aesthetically pleasing and challenging.

My most memorable hole from the Squeeze was No. 4, the only par-5 among the 10 holes. It’s a straight-away hole that is dotted my gentle moguls scattered throughout the fairway, creating an image that is very un-Florida like.

Cabot Citrus Farms also features the Wedge, an 11-hole short course. The Roost, an 18-hole Nuzzo-Franz collaboration along with Ran Morrissett, is scheduled to open in June. There’s also a two-acre putting green and double-ended practice range with Trackman technology.

When the Roost is open and the construction work finally is completed, it’s almost a certainty that Cabot Citrus Farms will be counted among the southeast’s must-play destinations.

‘A pleasure to play’

Here’s Jeff Neuman’s overview of Cabot Citrus Farms. Neuman played the earlier version when it was called World Woods.

“Back in the ‘90s and ‘00s, World Woods was one of my favorite overlooked golf getaway spots.  Fly into Tampa, head north for about an hour to Brooksville, Fla., and enter a 48-hole facility with two Tom Fazio eighteens, a nine-hole executive course, and three separate holes that could be played as a warmup. The landscape blasted away all your preconceptions about Florida golf: it was old cattle-ranching country, with rolling hills and old-growth trees hung with Spanish moss, not the pancake-flat, pond-riddled version of the game along the populous coasts.

“The group behind Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton Island, Canada, as well as Cabot Highlands in Scotland and Cabot Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, acquired the property in 2021, and they have spent the intervening time establishing a wholly different playing experience in the modern firm-and-fast-and-open style.

“The Karoo, the first of the full eighteens to open for play, follows the general routing and contours of the well-regarded Pine Barrens course at World Woods, but with the thickets of trees thinned considerably.  Only one hole of the original 18 was left unaltered: the 15th was and is a risk-reward par-four presenting a direct line over sandy waste to a potential eagle putt. Designer Kyle Franz repositioned and rethought many of the greens while opening up their front entrances; the result is an attractive and challenging course that’s a pleasure to play. 

“Also opened this winter is The Squeeze, a 10-hole course scaled for maximum fun.  The par-38 layout includes a par-5 and three par-3s; there are three sets of tees, at 2,957/2590/1,793 yards, and only a stickler would play the course for score or stay with the same color tee throughout.  It’s a great place for a friendly match, over the same kind of rolling and ridged terrain as the Karoo, and with similarly firm conditions (Mike Nuzzo was the designer). The Wedge, an 11-hole par-3 course, will be lit for play after dark.”

Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News

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Featured image courtesy of Cabot Citrus Farms

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