Florida golf can be easy to stereotype as flat, full of water and condos and palm trees. I know that's how I thought of it before I moved down her three years ago.
But there's a whole other Florida, and a host of resorts and courses that resist those preconceived notions that most people have.
One place that's opened people's eyes to the relative diversity of Florida golf terrain is Streamsong Resort, which opened in 2012 with two mold-breaking courses that take advantage of huge, pure sand dunes left behind from multi-billion dollar corporation Mosaic's phosphate mining operations.
But Streamsong is not the first un-Florida golf mecca. Not by decades.
A great example is Black Diamond Ranch, which savvy students of golf courses and travel have known about since its first golf course, the Quarry, opened in 1987 and instantly jumped onto many "Best Courses In The Country" lists.
And it should be on your radar. Here's why:
A truly unique stretch of golf. Black Diamond Ranch's Quarry Course succeeds as a compelling place to spend a few golfing hours because it accomplishes something that few other golf course do: it presents the golfer with a stretch of utterly unique golf holes. You've probably seen parts of the stretch of holes I'm talking about, from the par-3 13th through the par-3 17th, laid out around both the rim and the base of a huge former rock quarry.
Now, 70-foot rock faces might not register as unusual in the Rockies, but in central Florida, it's a true oddity. And to the credit of course designer Tom Fazio (with considerable assistance from protege Mike Strantz), these holes are as engaging (and sometimes confounding) to play as they are to look at. My favorite of the bunch, the par-5 14th, which curls to the left in a backwards C around the quarry rim. A tee shot that successfully flirts with the precipice invites an even more heroic second shot to the slightly sunken green.
Of course, there's more to the Quarry Course than the quarry holes. In fact, the front nine is particularly strong in its own right. The uphill reachable par-5 ninth leaves an impression with its small, devilish green, for example.
The Quarry's not alone. The Quarry Course gets the majority of the ink at Black Diamond Ranch, but it comprises just 18 of the 45 holes (plus a sweet little pitch-and-putt routing) on property. The Ranch Course, a few years the Quarry's junior, wanders over some more traditionally (though unusual for Florida) hilly terrain, with an excellent inward half that includes a majestic downhill par three that tips out at 248 yards. A number of members actually prefer it as an everyday course to the Quarry.
And lets not forget the nine-hole Highlands routing, which some consider the strongest single nine-hole stretch on the whole property. It's Black Diamond Ranch's newest bit of golf, a Tom Fazio effort from the early 2000s.
Speaking of members... Yes, Black Diamond Ranch is a private club with a strong seasonal snowbird membership. But don't let that discourage you from planning a trip there, because they do allow a limited amount of stay-and-play traffic. The accommodations comprise a handful of private homes inside the community, perfect for a visiting foursome. Best of all, you won't have to endure a tour of real estate properties as a condition of your visit, though you may find yourself wanting one once you've spent a couple days on property.
Out of the way but well within range. Black Diamond Ranch has a Lecanto, Florida address, and to be honest there's not a ton going on in the immediate vicinity (though I recommend venturing off-property for dinner one night at Dan's Clam Stand in nearby Crystal River, as I've yet to see a better version of New England seafood in the Sunshine State). It's about 90 minutes from the big airports in both Orlando and Tampa, but the journey either way will take you through rural, down-home parts of Florida most visitors never bother to see. And at the end of the trip, there's some tremendous golf. If you like to wander a bit, Black Diamond Ranch might just stand out as a Florida hidden gem.
Black tees (7,159 yards; Men: 75.0 Rating/137 Slope)
Dark Grey (6,496; M: 72.1/131)
Green (6,050; M: 69.7/125)
White (5,321; W: 71.7/133)
Silver (4,785; W: 68.7/123)
Black tees (6,921 yards; Men: 73.4 Rating/130 Slope)
Dark Grey (6,503; M: 71.6/127)
Green (6,072; M: 69.5/123)
White (5,416; W: 71.1/123)
Silver (4,995; W: 68.9/118)
Black tees (3,447 yards; Men: 74.8 Rating/143 Slope)
Dark Grey (3,254; M: 71.9/136)
Green (2.992; M: 69.5/130)
White (2,674; W: 70.0/119)
Silver (2,494; W: 68.6/117)
Ski Symbol Rating: Black Diamond (naturally...)