Tom Fazio’s two original 18-hole designs, which opened in the early 1990s, were much appreciated. Pine Barrens has been charting for several years on the Golf Digest rankings of America’s Top 100 Courses and still in the Top 100 Public Courses, Rolling Oaks has been a constant fixture on lists of the best in the state. Ben Kwan Dewar, founder and CEO of Cabot, wasn’t committed to the direction or extent of expected reforms for the two cycles when asked about them in January. The Cabot Group provided further details with the announcement of the architects who will direct both the reconfigurations, as well as the re-imagining of an area that currently includes a large training facility and additional perforations.
Kyle Franz will renovate Pine Barrens and Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns will direct the re-creation of Rolling Oaks. The task of instilling new life and purpose into the training area, including the construction of two new nine-hole courses, goes to designer Mike Nuzzo.
Franz’s design background is wide and varied. He has created courses for Tom Doak and Gil Hansey and has worked on a range of national and international projects for a range of other architects. Plus counseling at historic clubs like The Country Club of Charleston, Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, and Eastward Ho! In Massachusetts (along with Tyler Rae), he has spent most of the past decade in the Pinehurst area restoring Donald Ross Pine Needles and Mid Pines courses. Last fall he completed an impressive renovation of nearby Southern Pines.
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When it comes to landscape work like Pine Barrens, few are the best. He says the course plans are to make it more flexible and diverse, to build courses within the courses the way George Thomas approached the design of Los Angeles Country Club in the 1920s. In this scenario, entrance angles can be changed to large, protected greens using hazards to divide the lane and arranging the tees at different distances and on different lines, so that 3-second holes can be run from one position in one day, for example, and equal. 4s from a different direction the next day.
“By creating alternate lanes and shifting tees, people will get a slightly different look at the track every day,” says Franz. The pluralism will be enhanced by green areas with short grass that plunging into valleys and hollows. “The analogy I made with the crew is that this could be almost like Pine Valley,” a comparison that’s been around since Pine Barrens opened, “with Pinehurst No. 2 greens and LACC flexibility.”
Although the steering will remain similar, “it will look like a whole new golf course,” says Franz. “The greens will be pushed, the tees will be moved, and the puzzle pieces will truly be reshaped. It will be adventure golf.”
Rhebb and Johns previously redesigned the highly successful Winter Park 9 course near Orlando and designed and built The Bootlegger short course in Forest Dunes in Michigan. Rhebb has also been a partner of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw since the mid-2000s, and Johns has designed features on several Coore and Crenshaw projects – including the new Te Arai course in New Zealand – as well as working with other designers internationally. Neither of them was familiar with Cabot’s characteristics – they both helped form the Cabot Cliffs at Cabot Cape Breton, and Rhebb took the lead on ongoing design at Cabot Saint Lucia.
Rhebb says redesigning Rolling Oaks will evolve when he, Johns and their makers begin work in the field, in much the same way that designs on the Coore-Crenshaw projects will evolve. In addition to making the track a better, more connected track, there will be an emphasis on creating solid ground so that balls bounce and glide along site slopes up and down. From there the team expects to develop a distinctive catering technique with strategic positions that the shots must maneuver around.
“We will work closely with the supervisor to make the turf a design highlight and an emphasis on the ground game. We want the ball to be able to interact with a variety of curves and feeding slopes,” says Rip. It gives us the freedom to get creative and build something special, and it will take some time to figure out the best way to unleash the full potential of this property.”
Mike Nozzo designed and built one of the great modern courses that almost no one knows about. As a little-known architect who began working in the early 2000s, he met wealthy Texans who were asked to build a course south of Houston for his own use. Wolf Point opened in 2007, but apart from tour owner Al Stanger and his occasional guests, the course has received minimal outside exposure.
But the low, ground-hugging holes jut into the rolling greens, along with the wide, wind-adaptable holes that encouraged higher grades of stakes, reminded those who had already seen them of the inspiring variety of traditional golf ties. Nuzzo’s latest project is a public development outside of Houston that features a full nine-hole course, a nine-hole short course and a large green. These are the same concepts he will build at Cabot Citrus Farms.
The property section he will have to work with is about 110 acres in size which will include a full training range and a short play area. The nine-hole regulatory course will consist almost entirely of half-even holes – six drivable par-4s, accessible par-5s and par-3s of various lengths. There will also be a short, wild, low trail of nine or 10 triple holes.
“We don’t have any traditional limitations — we don’t have to slam a yard or a number on the scorecard, so we’ll do our best on golf holes that are fun, creative, and play all day long,” Nuzzo says of the nine-hole main course. “There is nothing holding us back.”
The goal of the short course is to put as much “fantastic golf” as possible into those holes. “The whole site is sand, so I’m like a kid on the playground,” Nozzo says. “The idea is just to mix everything together so it’s roughly, as we can, continuous grass from the first tee to the last green point with lots of bumps.”
Don Mahaffey, the construction and irrigation specialist who helped Nuzzo build Wolf Point (and also helped Rhebb and Johns at Winter Park 9), will join the teams at Cabot Citrus Farms as the general project coordinator working with the three teams. Construction work across the properties is expected to begin in June, with a target opening date for all three golf components in Winter 2023.