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Black Diamond Ranch: One of Florida’s hidden gems lies at the Quarry

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Black Diamond Ranch

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.

Black Diamond Ranch

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.

Black Diamond Ranch

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.

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D.J. Jones is a lifelong golfer and plays to a 6 handicap when he’s not too busy pursuing his other great passion – travel. Tag along with his golf and travel adventures on his blog, The World of Deej.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member DeeBee30, who takes us to George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois. The course is a part of the Illinois Forest Preserve golf system, and in DeeBee30’s description of the course, the challenge provided is underlined as just one of the highlights of the course.

“Really fun tree-lined parkland layout with some interesting holes that cover rolling terrain that you don’t find in many Chicago-area golf courses.  Coming in at 7262 yards and 75.4/142 from the tips, Dunne offers four sets of tees that will provide a good test for most golfers.  The course gets a lot of play, but it’s always in great condition.”

According to George Dunne National’s website, 18 holes during the week will cost in the region of $40, while the rate rises to $75 should you want to play on the weekend.

@ThomasRWitt1963

@GolfTfs

@Kurtis1908

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Gearhart Golf Links in Gearhart, Oregon

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member Mr Guy, who takes us to Gearhart Golf Links in Gearhart, Oregon. Established in 1892, Gearhart Golf Links is the oldest course on the Oregon coast, and in his description of the track, Mr Guy praises the design of the course.

“Super fun links design out on the northern Oregon course. Ocean not visible but right near it and there a few holes that would not be out of place anywhere.”

According to Gearhart Golf Links’ website, 18 holes can be played for $50, however, to play in peak summer months will set you back $85.

@rg_ducksports

@mauilou808

@tonijdear

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Exploring Ireland: Where to golf, drink and stay on the Emerald Isle. Pt. 4. Bearna Golf Club, Galway

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In these series of articles, I will be taking you around the Emerald Isle providing you with great golf courses to visit in some of the loveliest spots in Ireland. I’ll also be highlighting the best and most authentic Irish bars in these spots, as well as places to stay, eat and how to get there. Whether you’re taking a golfing holiday to Ireland in 2019 or are interested in doing so sometime in the future, I’ll make sure to let you in on the best places to spend your time.

In Part Three of our Exploring Ireland Series, we went west and focused on Spanish Point Golf Club in Clare. Now it’s time for Part Four, and we’re staying on the west coast and taking the short trip up to County Galway.

Galway city is famous for its bustling nightlife, and in terms of bars to choose from, there are few better places in Ireland. Whether it’s a quiet night out and a meal, enjoying a few pints with some live traditional music, or a wild all-nighter you’re looking for, Galway certainly has you covered. Conveniently, the city also homes some top golf courses, which makes it a must-visit destination for anyone coming to this island.

Bearna Golf Club, Galway

@kevinmarkham

Galway Golf Club and Galway Bay Golf Resort are usually the two golf courses that people think of when they mention this county. But lurking under the radar is Bearna Golf Club, which will provide you with just as incredible an experience as those two courses, at a lower price.

Located within a 15-minute drive of Galway City, Bearna GC offers an authentic Irish golfing experience. Surrounded by bogland, you can expect your nose to take in all of the scents of Ireland as you navigate your way through the rugged land of humps, gorse bushes and ditches that will give your game a real workout.

@kevinmarkham

Creeks will appear on most fairways, so don’t expect to be able to turn up and grip it and rip it. Bearna is a golf course that is going to make you think, and with the challenges provided, will most likely test your patience as well as your skill.

The track offers five different sets of tees, all of which provide for a fun test. The course ranges between 4,897 yards and 6,271 yards and plays as either a Par 72 or 71 depending on the tees you choose. Thirteen holes feature water, and the one relief that you will find here that is different than other courses in the area is the lack of fairway bunkers.

@IrishGolfPhotos

Robert J. Browne designed the course back in 1996, and as well as the feeling you will have of being amongst nature, you will also have impressive views of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay and the famous Burren.

During the week, 18 holes around Bearna GC will set you back just under $50, while to play on the weekend the rate rises to $75. Don’t be surprised if after your round you want another crack at this deceptive course.

Food & Drink – Tig Coili, Galway

@DBloom451

There is no “best pub in Galway.” The city has an inordinate amount of amazing watering holes to spend your night, and it just comes down to personal taste and what experience you are looking to have for your night. As someone who loves the feel of an old traditional Irish pub though, Tig Coili gets my vote.

@stacy_sobieski

Located in the Latin Quarter of Galway City, this place will often have swarms of people flooding out from the bar onto the street. Traditional music plays here every night, with 14 music sessions each week. The pub prides itself on its music, with pictures of famous musicians that have played here in the past covering the walls.

Also, Tig Coili’s pint of Guinness is renowned for being one of the best in the area, and it’s what 90 percent of folks will be drinking for the night here.

@MeetInGalway

As for food in Galway, it can only be oysters. Described by multiple top chefs as the “best flavoured in the world,” the oysters here come from Galway Bay and are so popular in the city that should you visit here in September you can enjoy Galway’s three day Oyster festival.

You can hop into most bars in Galway serving food and throw back half a dozen oysters, but if you want to experience them for a sit-down meal then go and visit Oscars Seafood Bistro, where the flavour will blow your socks off. An early bird two-course meal of half a dozen oysters and a plate of steaming hot mussels with fries will cost just $20. The perfect drink pairing for oysters? Guinness. Ideal.

Where To Stay

My recommendation is to stay in the center of Galway. We’ve gone traditional in our visits to Donegal and Clare, but for Galway, the city is so alive that you will want to stay right in the heart of it. The Jury’s Inn is a solid option, which will leave you within walking distance of the best bars, restaurants and sights to see in the city. A double room here will set you back in the region of $100 a night.

@WriterVicYates

If you like to shop then visit Quay Street, where you can take in the shops while plenty of buskers on the street entertain you, while the bronze statue of Irish writer Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde is an imposing outdoor sight that is a trendy spot for a photo.

@IndoSport

But as we’re sports lovers, then when in Galway do whatever you can to catch a game of hurling. Galway’s hurling side are currently one of the best teams in the land, winning the All-Ireland title in 2017, and they possess some of the most passionate fans. Just try not to mention the last final when you get here.

How to Get There

Galway is about as accessible as it gets from anywhere in the island. You can take the train from any major city in Ireland, and it’ll take you right into the city center of Galway. A direct train from Dublin City will arrive in Galway in just over two hours.

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