If there’s one thing that the Sunshine State has in no short supply it’s exceptional destinations for golf. From the Panhandle to Jacksonville, down to Naples and Miami, with Orlando and Tampa in between, one could spend a lifetime in Florida and barely scratch the surface of its great courses — this, I speak from experience. And while several of the state’s notable courses are showcased each year during the PGA Tour’s “Florida Swing,” those willing to get off that beaten path will discover a jewel that outranks them all: Black Diamond Ranch.
To say that Black Diamond is on the road less traveled might be an understatement; the sleepy town of Lecanto, about an hour north of Tampa, being about the last place one would expect to find a highly acclaimed golf course. Then again, there are countless examples of incredible golf found in the middle of nowhere, and Black Diamond certainly belongs on that list.
Black Diamond also happens to be one of Florida’s most exclusive private clubs, which kept it out of reach for yours truly for roughly 20 years. That recently changed thanks to the introduction of its “Stay & Play” package, which includes accommodations in a fully furnished home, and one round on each of the club’s two Tom Fazio designed courses. And so it was that a buddies trip to Black Diamond Ranch was finally put on the books.
From the moment we arrived, the hospitality at Black Diamond rivaled that of Florida’s many award-winning golf resorts. Both the staff and members were very welcoming, admittedly something I didn’t expect, and as if our anticipation wasn’t already through the roof, the numerous statements of “wait till you see the Quarry” had us all practically giddy with excitement. The members at Black Diamond are obviously quite proud of their club — and for good reason.
The Quarry Course owes its name to the five-hole stretch on the back nine that surrounds a pair of abandoned limestone quarries. But five holes does not a golf course make, and the build up to the quarry is both a challenging and memorable test of golf. The elevation changes throughout the course — notably the opening tee shot and the par-3 No. 4 — are a pleasant surprise in a state not known for its topography. Meanwhile, the trademark Fazio bunkering combined with small, slick and elevated greens served endless amounts of frustration for our group. It was the 15-to-25 mph winds, however, that proved especially troublesome. The uphill par-5 No. 9 played directly into the teeth of the wind, rendering the forced carry across a pond impossible, and making a hole that was already playing brutally long even longer.
Ironically, the last two holes before the quarry are the only weak ones on the course, perhaps an intentional breather before the thrill ride that begins on the 13th tee. Like any great roller coaster, the quarry holes begin with an excitement-building climb up a set of steps before revealing arguably the most spectacular golf panorama in Florida. It seemed almost inconceivable that there were still four more to come just like it.
The roller coaster ride continued on, with still more inspiring moments and a host of emotions. There was the delightful sunken green on the par-5 No. 14, the fun, yet intimidating, drive on the par-4 No. 15, and the terrifying tee ball on the tremendously difficult par-4 No. 16, all of which kept us all in a state of awestruck bliss.
After four holes of unbridled excitement, it was anguish that besieged our group on the par-3 No. 17. The last of the quarry holes played 207 yards to a green at the base of the 80-foot deep chasm. It also was dead into the wind and setting sun, which prevented us from seeing where our 3-hybrids were landing. We soon learned that a gripped down driver was probably the correct club, as none of us cleared the pit, leading to an unthinkable combined score of 24 from a group of guys with an average handicap in the single digits.
And yet, none of us cared. The quarry holes had just provided the most exciting stretch of golf our regular game had ever experienced together. The collection is easily the most visually stunning in the state of Florida, with a sense of drama and delight that I’ve only felt previously at Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits.
The experience at Black Diamond Ranch, however, is far more than just five holes. From the comfortable accommodations, to the exceptional service and welcoming atmosphere, to the award-winning golf on the Ranch and Quarry courses, Black Diamond deserves a place among Florida’s great golfing landmarks. So if you’re planning a buddies trip to the Sunshine State, consider adding a night at Black Diamond. Right about the 13th tee on the Quarry, you’ll be really glad you did.