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.