On a recent visit to Citrus County, “The Manatee Capital of the World,” I had the opportunity to check out Black Diamond Ranch, the #1 golf community, in Lecanto, Florida. This gated enclave in the rolling hills just 15 miles from the Gulf of Mexico is home to some of the most spectacular golf in the country, not just Florida, designed by the imaginative Tom Fazio, one of the true geniuses in golf course architecture.

I have had the opportunity to interview Tom at numerous course openings as well as his office in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His visionary mind creates both flawless and memorable layouts where some might not see what he envisions. At one particular course, I remember him telling me he worked the course backward. In other words, he picked the location of the greens and then decided how the fairway and other elements would enhance the golf experience and did that on all 18 holes. I had trouble figuring that out, but, the most important thing, he didn’t. His artistry is unmatched.

At Black Diamond Ranch there was a land feature the original owner, Stan Olson, wanted to show off to the world, and Fazio made a big canyon-like hole in the ground come to life in the Quarry course, which has been chosen as one of America’s Greatest Courses’ by Golf Digest for 20 consecutive years. He punctuated a nice rolling terrain of thirteen fun holes with five dynamic gems, starting at the par 3, thirteenth, a 184 yard shot to a smallish green hugging the 80 foot cliffs on the right and a ravine to clear on the tee shot. These 5 holes will give you as much trepidation as you have ever felt. Before teeing off at the short par 5, fourteenth, it would be wise to locate where the green is. Once in the fairway, where most golfers play safe to avoid the left side which careens dramatically, you can not see the green. From there, I recommend a lay up to about 100 yards so you can stop your third shot on the green or ‘arrivederci baby’. On the next hole, tee off from an elevated tee box down to a fairway at the bottom of the Quarry. I really enjoy this par 4 with its Quarry walls as the backdrop to the green hugging a turquoise pond along the left. Two good shots and you can be walking away with birdie. After the 15th, you climb back out of the Quarry to what I consider one of the toughest holes, the 429 yard, par 4, 16th, with trouble looming all the way down the left, and a fairway that narrows as you get closer to the green overlooking the Quarry. Your last challenge is another par three at 218 yards hitting into a ravine into a two-tiered narrow green on 17 with cliffs left and huge grass bunkers on the right. Good luck!

Black Diamond Ranch is 45 holes of pure manicured Fazio golf. After you had the Quarry experience, you can enjoy what I consider one of his best golf courses, The Ranch, at 6900+ yards. The nice thing about all the courses there are 5 sets of tees to make them playable for any level of player. The Ranch is pure undisturbed golf at its best that you will be wanting to play again and again that blends perfectly into the rolling hills of Citrus County. The fairways are framed by hammocks of majestic oaks, tawny colored sand waste areas, and dotted with native vegetation.

The Highlands nine hole course is as good as its big brothers, and can be played in tandem with a nine of either the Quarry or Ranch. On a visit a few years ago, I had the opportunity to play the 3,453 yard layout and found it just as challenging and enjoyable as the other two.

The practice facilities at Black Diamond are second to none. The large driving range is open seven days a week and features three teeing grounds, a putting green, a chipping area and a secluded short game area with an additional range tee. Diamond Dunes, a four hole executive course, provides a great setting for additional short game practice. Brian Painter, PGA Director of Golf and his staff of PGA Certified Professionals are available for lessons.

The stunning clubhouse sits atop a hill with great vistas and is the perfect place for a respite after golf or tennis, and a gourmet dinner with family or fellow members by the excellent culinary team. The favorite libation spot is the wraparound porch that overlooks the Quarry’s ninth and eighteenth greens. The expansive interior is available for private parties, social club functions and special events.

Although Black Diamond Ranch is a private sanctuary, golfers and small groups can enjoy the ‘Black Diamond Experience’ with one of the exclusive stay and play packages available with onsite private home accommodations. Contact Cherri Hall at 352-453-5454 or [email protected]

There are a variety of memberships available at Black Diamond Ranch which are by invitation only and limited to 750 golf memberships. You can apply for a Full Golf; a Young Executive for those 45 years old or younger; Business to Business for entities outside 30 miles; National, for those individuals living outside 30 miles, now with only a $5K initiation for full golf privileges; Sport, which allows access to all social activities and fitness center; and Social which allows access to the pool, tennis, restaurant and Diamond Dunes. I recommend you visit BlackDiamondRanch.com/Membership or call 352-746-3440 for a personal visit or more information.

Black Diamond Ranch’s club facilities are owned and operated by Escalante Golf, a boutique club management company headquartered in Ft. Worth, Texas. Their management team of professionals are passionate about the operation of their golf and club properties. The clear difference between Escalante and other management companies is their passion, enthusiasm and fiscal discipline they bring to their portfolio of clubs. Some of their other well-known properties include Kingsmill Resort in Virginia, Dove Mountain in Arizona, the Golf Club of Houston, The River Club in Georgia and Tarpon Cove Yacht & Racquet Club in Naples.