This month I announced a new partnership with MacKenzie Golf Bags. I’ll be sharing a number of dispatches from my travels on their company blog as a way to invite their fans further into the MacKenzie lifestyle. The star of those stories will be my beautiful new MacKenzie Golf Bag(pictured).
If you are unfamiliar with MacKenzie bags I would highly encourage you to browse their website a bit and get to know their work. Each of their golf bags is carefully crafted by the skilled hands of their team members. MacKenzie bags are perfect for walking golfers. Light weight, durable, and timeless.
Golf in Florida is about as varied as the population at your local zoo. There are some really fascinating and highly interesting stops, but there is also a lot of stuff you just pass by because you’ve seen it somewhere before. Some Florida courses are expensive and not very good and others are cheap and incredibly enjoyable. There are great private enclaves with prestigious courses and there are plenty of low key munis. Golf in the Sunshine State is a total grab bag. As a lifelong Floridian and an eighth generation native of the state, I find it part of my duty as a citizen to help educate folks on where to look for the good stuff.
That being said, I’m kicking off a new series called “Florida Field Trip” where I’ll show you a few interesting stops while I’m scooting around my home state. To kick things off I take you to the private club of Black Diamond Ranch which is home to the renowned Quarry Course. The Quarry at Black Diamond Ranch is a Tom Fazio design that has been recognized as one of the top courses in the state and heralded for its scenic routing around a unique landscape.
I was invited to visit Black Diamond Ranch as part of a charity event benefiting the Florida Coastal Conservation Association. Events like this can make for a great way to experience otherwise private clubs like Black Diamond. The club is located in the town of Lecanto, Florida which is about an hour north of Tampa. I made the trip down and back from Tallahassee in a day but felt the drive was well worth it to see such a heralded course. I’m certainly glad that I made the trip.
The Quarry course at Black Diamond Ranch is very much a part of a housing development. The project was built in the late 1980s as an upscale community for retirees and the Quarry course is the centerpiece of that strategy. Developers hired fabled course designer Tom Fazio to craft a course that could incorporate the varied landscapes of central Florida along with a former rock mining quarry. In addition to the Quarry, there are two other Fazio courses on property.
I arrived at Black Diamond Ranch on a cold December day, but I was warmly greeted by friendly staff and delightful bloody Mary. The club and its trappings are certainly top notch and its appeal to retirees, local club members, and seasonal guests is certainly evident upon arrival. After a quick warm up and a brief browsing of the clubhouse, we suited up for some golf.
Ideally, I would prefer to not play a course with a reputation like the Quarry in a scramble format, but I was pleased to be invited to participate and the tournament was run quite well. Like most charitable events, the teams were ushered onto the course in a shotgun start. I was surprised to see that our squad would be headed straight to the quarry holes to begin our day.
The quarry itself is a massive crater filled with a sprawling lake at its center. This startling land-form is one of the most interesting sites I’ve ever come across for golf. I’ve simply never seen anything like it. Holes 13 through 17 cross, enter, climb, and bend around the quarry making for the most visually stunning five hole stretch in Florida.
I began my round at Black Diamond Ranch in the midst of the quarry holes where we teed off on number 15. It is hard to decipher which of the quarry holes would be the “signature” hole for the course, but 15 would likely get a lot of votes. The tee shot is from the rim of the quarry and a well struck ball will fly high and mighty to a tight fairway that straddles the crater lake. The green sits tucked beneath the quarry wall and any hollers of joy will echo through the limestone canyon. The routing is meant to reach a crescendo here, but for my group it felt like we jumped right into the guitar solo of a rock anthem.
The fun doesn’t stop at 15, The 16th hole snakes around the top edge of the quarry and players are dared to take off as much as they can handle. Miss your mark and face certain doom. This par four wraps around the quarry and provides stunning views of the preceding hole. From this perch the wilder side of Florida golf is well within sight.
The final hole in the quarry is the 17th. A one shotter played across the back end of the quarry to a green in the most troubling of hollows. There is simply no room to miss. The shot requires precision and is made even tougher because the views are decidedly distracting.
The quarry holes came to and end quickly in my round, but I knew I would get to revisit the remaining holes there later in the day. After leaving those curious cliffs the course turns back to the prevailing features of the property and finishes with a fun par five in a parkland setting that is much more on par with the norms of other nice courses in the state.
Leaving the quarry and returning to a more lush and predictable setting for golf is jarring. Holes 1 -12 and 18 are vastly different from the showstoppers on the quarry and they can seem quite pedestrian compared to the stars of the course. These holes are in immaculate condition and are not without interest, but you can’t help but feel that you have played two wildly different courses that happen to share the same scorecard.
After a quick stop back at the bloody Mary bar, we were ready to take on the remaining parkland holes. Most of these holes are pretty good and on the day we played the course was presented incredibly well. As we made our way through the more pedestrian holes at Black Diamond we were eagerly anticipating a return trip to the quarry.
We reached the Quarry again when we climbed the steps to the 13th tee box. Peaking over the hill top of the 13th revealed a remarkable view of the entire quarry ecosystem. Despite the quarry being a man-made landscape, its features feel as if they were carved by god for the express purpose of building a golf course. I was glad to return to that corner of the course.
We finished our round on the 14th hole. The 14th is deceivingly difficult par five that plays alongside the cliffs of the central crater. We took our time and took in the views as we approached the final green. The angle to the putting surface is semi-blind and the shots required to score well there are demanding. Although the routing does not typically end at this point of the course, I’m glad we saw it this way.
Before heading for the clubhouse we decided to play the 15th one more time for good measure. We backed up to the tips and let a big drive go over the cliff and towards the fairway. As the course cleared of teams in the scramble we walked down one last hole in the quarry. A few swings and a yell to test the echos of the canyon walls was a good way to end it.
Back at the clubhouse we had a cold adult beverage to settle ourselves and collect a few thoughts on the round. The team came up short in the scramble, but somehow I managed to win the long drive championship. I got a nice plaque to pair with some good memories from the day. Shortly after a quick meal we said our goodbyes and prepared to part ways from Black Diamond Ranch, but before I could leave I had to pay my respects to Tommy Bolt.
Tommy Bolt was the 1958 U.S. Open champion and in his fading years he called Black Diamond Ranch his home. Lecanto, Florida sounds like an obscure place to settle in for the sunset of you life, but after a turn around the quarry holes I can see why Tommy made his final years there.
Black Diamond Ranch is home to one of the best five hole sequences in golf. The course is more than just those holes around the rocky edges, but make no mistake they are the main attraction. Tom Fazio’s portfolio contains both the wonderful and the unheralded. That does not make him unique, but his eye for building world class landscapes is always worth seeing in person. Black Diamond is a fine example of Fazio’s range as an architect and I’m glad I finally got to see it.
I’ll always remember 2018 as the year I became a father. It’s also the year I learned a whole new appreciation for golf. My daughter Winnie was born in January and this past year has been the best one of my life. When fatherhood found me, I discovered a whole new way of looking at the world. Becoming a dad has not only made me a better man, but it’s making me a better golf patron.
Being a dad is incredible, yet the duties of fatherhood tend to make long days on the golf course an increasingly rare occurrence. For those fathers of young children who are golf-obsessed like I am, you’ll know what I mean. Having kids creates endless hours of enjoyment, but also many hurdles to playing golf regularly.
Every golfing dad finds that the co-existence of a passion for golf and the love for one’s family can be frustrating at times. Hours of free time become scarce, being on the course for long stretches makes you feel guilty, and despite your desire to be out playing with friends most times you just can’t. As a golfing parent, the lack of playing time can make you cranky, cause you to cancel the country club membership, or even lead you to sell your clubs on eBay for diaper money. It’s tough to get out and play as a dad, but I’m here to tell you that this shift in perspective can actually work out to the betterment of your golfing soul.
When I found out that we were going to have a child, I was in the middle of the best competitive golf season of my adult life. My handicap got down to scratch for the first time since high school and I won five tournaments that year. I knew it was my last chance to perform at such a level until after my unborn kids get out of college so I gave it all I had and it paid off. After the ultrasounds started piling up and the nursery got painted I knew it was time to adopt a new strategy for how I would enjoy the game in the years ahead.
When my daughter was born I took to reading and writing about the game as much as possible. I found a great deal of inspiration and made it my new mission to discover the spirit of the game rather than constantly testing my skills in it. Through that process of self-discovery, I have found a winning formula for fathers who golf.
My first year as a father has yielded five revelations for finding more joy in the game of golf. They are as follows:
1) Play less tournament golf
I love competing in golf, but when Winnie arrived it closed the window on me spending hours practicing for tournaments. I was playing in at least 10-15 two day golf tournaments each season and since she was born I’ve cut that to about 3-5 events at most. Tournaments are expensive, time-consuming and unless you are playing well can be a real grind. I gave up almost all tournaments except a few at my home club and to be honest I’m happier as a golfer. I’d rather spend time and money on a unique golf experience than sweating over four-foot putts with a pro shop gift certificate on the line.
2) Forget about score
Once I put most tournament golf behind me I began to realize that score was much less important than I had always made it out to be. Golf isn’t really about what score you make. The game is much more about where you are playing and who you are with. Once I was able to let go of the scorecard, I was open to enjoying varying ways of playing golf. Most times when I play these days I only use seven clubs in my bag. Not only is the bag lighter on my shoulder, but I have less thinking to do and I play faster. I even started playing with vintage clubs including persimmon drivers and some hickory irons. I stopped playing for score and started playing for fun again and I that has made a huge difference for me enjoying the game as a golfing dad.
3) Make every trip a golf trip
I’m fortunate to be able to travel from time to time for golf trips, but those are also growing rarer. Since becoming a father I’ve looked for creative ways to make every trip I take one that involves golf. When golf time at home decreases you have to find ways to play on the road. Whether I’m traveling for business, to see family and friends, or even just to get away, I always bring my clubs. Every city has something unique to offer a golfer and I always plan carefully so that I can get a few holes in while away from home. Some basic internet research will usually reveal that no matter where you are there is an interesting golf course worthy of experiencing. Even the act of seeking them out is part of the fun.
4) Find the course within your course
When the time for golf gets cut by time for the family it can become difficult to play even nine holes much less eighteen. Fortunately, at my home course, the routing is such that I can play a wide array of loops that allow me to play in even the shortest of timeframes. My course has loops of 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 16 holes all available to me and ending up near the clubhouse. Many courses, particularly those built before 1950, have similar routing features. It is a blast to go out and play two holes on my lunch break or to walk five holes early on a Saturday morning before meeting the girls for breakfast at the club. I have even found ways to play cross-country through one corner of our course and creating new holes entirely. It takes a little imagination to find some routing options that can be played in less than an hour, but sharpening those creative tools will save you time and put you on the course more often.
5) Walk the dog
Multitasking is a great skill set for dads. I’ve learned to make the absolute best use of my time so that I can still enjoy the many facets of my golf infatuation. I listen to golf podcasts while washing baby bottles, I work on my putting while watching Winnie play on the floor, and most importantly I play golf while I walk the dog. I’m lucky to have a wonderful club that allows me to take my labradoodle Leon with me when I go out to play. I was unsure about trying this at first, but once I saw that Leon was great at tagging along I became hooked on having him with me. Playing golf with a dog is one of the great joys a golfer can experience. Dogs are man’s best friend and I have discovered they are also the perfect playing partner. Take the pup with you and consider yourself marking off an item from your ever-growing list of dad chores.
Being a golf dad isn’t easy, but if you are willing to suspend the habits that you have previously ingrained in your golf lifestyle you can find an even better appreciation for the game while still being a great dad. I encourage you to treat your shrinking windows for golf as an opportunity to explore the variety of the game. My methods may not be perfect for everyone, but if you are a busy dad looking to get back on the course these tips can serve as a great starting point for your own model. There is no easy way to quit a full blow golf addiction cold turkey so you will need to open your mind to trying something new as a means for getting on the course.
Becoming a father is the best thing to ever happen to me. It just so happens that being a dad is also making me love golf more than ever before. Maybe next year, I’ll show Winnie how to putt.
I hope your golf adventures have been fruitful of late. You may know me from something you read once or perhaps you came across a post I made somewhere, but either way I’m glad to have your eyes come to rest here for a few minutes. If you have followed my golf writing for any amount of time you may have noticed that I have not had a website until now. A man without a country of sorts. That changes today.
I have built JayRevell.com as a hub for all my musings and way to share even more regular stories and thoughts with you. Golf is a never ending story (shoutout Falkor) and I’m glad to now have a home in which I can tell my side of it more often.
Stop by from time to time and I think you’ll find a few interesting and intriguing tales coupled with some rhymes and figurative language that I suspect will pair nicely with each other. I want to write pieces for you that will be perfect for a short morning read, a laugh on your lunch break, or even a long rain delay at your favorite course. I hope you’ll join me for the fun.
Keep chasing the ball my friends. Swing, walk, and repeat.