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Lecanto, Florida (Sports Network) - FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect: Tom Fazio (1987). Year Opened: December, 1987. Location: Lecanto, Florida. Slope: 141. Rating: 74.4. Par: 72. Yardage: 7,159.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 424 Yds 10 - Par 4 471 Yds

2 - Par 4 415 Yds 11 - Par 4 401 Yds

3 - Par 4 458 Yds 12 - Par 4 435 Yds

4 - Par 3 175 Yds 13 - Par 3 183 Yds

5 - Par 5 577 Yds 14 - Par 5 529 Yds

6 - Par 4 458 Yds 15 - Par 4 371 Yds

7 - Par 4 339 Yds 16 - Par 4 435 Yds

8 - Par 3 224 Yds 17 - Par 3 218 Yds

9 - Par 5 544 Yds 18 - Par 5 502 Yds

Par 36 3,614 Yds Par 36 3,545 Yds

Awards Won: Rated #67 by Golf Digest, America's 100 Greatest courses (2007-08), Recognized as one of America's 100 greatest for 20 straight years, #1 course in Florida by Golfweek - Best Residential Course (2009), Top 100 Courses in U.S. by Golf Magazine (2007-08), Top 50 Best Modern Courses by Golfweek (2008), Rated #3 course by Golf Digest - Best in State (Fla.), (2007-08), Ranked #6 by Golf Digest - Best in State (Fla.), (2011-12), Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Key Events Held: Florida Amateur (1991, 1996), Florida Senior Amateur (1988, 2009), Florida Open (2011), U.S. Open Championship Sectional Qualifier (2012).

Website: www.blackdiamondranch.com.

HISTORY: Originally based in New England, Stan and Betty Olsen fell in love with the Citrus County region on the Florida Gulf Coast and they decided to stay.

Olsen, the co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, also known as DEC, decided in the early 1980s that land development was his next adventure, so along with his wife, they purchased 1,240 acres, northwest of Tampa. This dormant piece of property included remnants of limestone quarries, natural sand dunes and native vegetation.

We slightly digress to the '30s, when an Ohio landowner, John Newell, took claim of 1,320 acres of an unspoiled natural setting on the Florida west coast. Newell sold the parcel of land to fruit industrialist John Taylor Jr. in the '40s. Being of citrus decent, so to speak, Taylor was intrigued by the property and named it after the highest grade of grapefruit, Black Diamond.

Forty years later, Olsen stepped into the picture, with a vision to create a golf club community second to none.

His first task was hiring an architect equal to the challenge, so Olsen selected Tom Fazio.

At the time, Fazio was less than 10 years removed from working with his uncle George on many designs in the 1970s, such as Butler National (still ranked in the top 60 by Golf Digest), Pinehurst No. 6 and Jupiter Hills, but Tom's work was getting noticed around the country.

One of his earliest solo works was the Links Course at Wild Dunes in Charleston back in 1979, which was followed up by several layouts at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

With almost 30 tracks to his credit at the time, Fazio was making a serious impact on the golf course design business and in 1987 he finished Wade Hampton Club and the Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch, two venues that were touted as best new courses in the United States.

Since then, Fazio, with over 180 designs, has been recognized as the premier golf course architect in the United States with 13 solo layouts ranked in the top 100, more than any other architect.

Olsen's vision had become a reality, as Black Diamond has been recognized as the No. 1 golf gated community in Florida. In addition to the Quarry Course, Black Diamond features the Ranch Course, completed by Fazio in 1997, and the nine-hole Highlands layout finished two years later.

"One of the milestones in my career," Fazio said. "I honestly believe the Quarry Course was one of our most special, interesting, fun and spectacular golf courses ever created."

After 22 consecutive years rated in the top 100 of most golf publications around the country, Black Diamond slipped out of the rankings. Although not related to this, Olsen decided to start a new chapter in his life ... and retire.

Seeking new investors, Olsen found a company that possessed the same passion that he had when he started the Black Diamond community, Escalante Golf.

"It was of utmost importance to me and my family that Black Diamond Ranch continues to flourish in the spirit in which it was founded," Olsen said.

Known as a boutique-owner and operator of golf courses, such as Country Club of the North (Ohio), The Raven at Three Peaks (Colorado) and The Crosby National (California), Escalante acquired the Black Diamond Ranch in the spring of 2011.

"We will operate Black Diamond Ranch with a deep understanding of its history and principles to ensure that current and future members enjoy elite service, pristine course conditions and strong espirit de corps," said David McDonald, President of Escalante Golf.

Certainly not a company that sits idly by, Escalante has revealed plans to upgrade this stunning property.

"Our goal is to build on Black Diamond's world-class reputation to ensure the club's long-term sustainability and exclusivity," McDonald said. "The comprehensive master plan demonstrates a continuing commitment to our existing members, and is a point of pride and emphasis in attracting new members and residents who share our vision and values."

In a letter to the residents of Black Diamond, McDonald said it best: "While this is very disappointing (that we dropped out of the top 100), it drives us harder to elevate the condition of the courses, make improvements to the club and focus our marketing efforts in order to regain this status."

In addition to redesigning the clubhouse, plans are in the works to renovate the bunkers and lengthen the course. The multi-million dollar plan will reconstruct all 208 traps on all three courses, as the club celebrates its 25th anniversary.

The Quarry Course has hosted several local and state events over the years, but, in 2012, the USGA awarded the course a U.S. Open sectional qualifier.

During this event, only two players out of 57 broke 70 during the two rounds of qualifying, as Scott Langley carded a 66 and amateur Daniel Berger fired a 68. Langley went on to play in his second U.S. Open and tied for 29th. In all, only seven players finished under par, as the course played to just under 7,000 yards.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole on the Quarry Course is one of eight par-4s over 400 yards in length. From an elevated tee, the first plays slightly shorter than its yardage indicates. The right side of the fairway is the best play from the onset, as the landing area falls off into rough and mounding on the left. A medium iron at most should remain to a fairly open putting surface with sand and a grass bunker left. The green is the longest on the front side at 34 paces.

No. 2 is a straightforward par-4 except for the fact that a deep fairway bunker splits the landing area. The left side of this fairway is the best play, as this will leave a shorter approach to the slightly elevated and offset green to the left. Following a successful tee ball, a medium to short iron should suffice. However, make sure you have enough stick to reach the smallish putting surface, as a deep bunker and grass hollows front the promised land.

At 458 yards, the third is by all means, the hardest hole on the course. Despite an elevated tee, this hole requires plenty of pop from the tee, not to mention a long iron or fairway-metal for your approach. Sand down the right side of the generous landing area needs to be avoided for any shot at par. The green, which is elevated from the fairway, is just 27 paces in depth, but quite wide. Stay below the hole, as the green runs fast from back to front.

The shortest hole on the course is the par-3 fourth. Just 175 yards in length, the real test is club selection, as it plays downhill from the tee. A front pin will be quite difficult to judge, as a ridge short of the green will keep a deep swale from view. Not the most difficult of holes, but still a test.

In contrast, the fifth is the longest on the Quarry at 577 yards from the tips. A sweeping, downhill dogleg right, No. 5 has it all. Your tee ball must favor the left, as the angled fairway will move most shots to the right. Try not to cut the corner - you can't - as sand and trees await. Your second shot must play down the left, not an easy task with a fairway-metal from a downhill, sidehill lie. Mounding, sand and a rolling tight landing area await. For your approach, it's uphill to a small, but fairly wide green, fronted on the right by a deep bunker. Other than that, piece of cake ... hah.

Playing uphill from the tee, No. 6 is an ever-so slight dogleg to the left, but the key ingredient is the tee shot. Sand down the right is quite reachable and is very difficult to get out of to reach the green. If you fail to reach the crest of the hill, your approach can be a blind shot to another wide putting surface which is fronted by a grass hollow. There's plenty of slope on this green, so be careful.

The fairway on the seventh is one of the tightest on the course. Although the holes is just 342 yards in length, it requires precision, both off the tee and from the fairway. A large slope splits the landing area to the left, so favor the right side to stay on an even plane with the green. The putting surface is slightly elevated and guarded by several deep bunkers. This green is fairly long and runs hard from back to front, but any play below the hole can result in birdie.

One of the most difficult holes on the course, the eighth should be nicknamed "Beauty and the Beast." The longest par-3 on the Quarry, No. 8 is 224 yards from the back markers, with sand covering the entire left side of the hole. With relatively no bailout areas, this hole necessitates pop and precision, no matter what tee you choose. In addition, the putting surface is large and quite undulating.

Although not the longest at Black Diamond, the ninth certainly plays every bit of its 544 yards, as it bends to the right with an elevation change of a robust 60 feet from the tee. In addition, a lake covers the right side of the dogleg, so don't even think about it. Play down the left side off the tee, otherwise you'll get wet. Your second shot plays straight uphill to a split fairway. The left side is the best spot, but is quite narrow, while the right side, despite being the smart play, sits well below the putting surface, leaving a semi-blind approach. The green is as slick as it gets, running from back to front. By the way, avoid the two pot bunkers on the left side of the narrow green.

The second of four consecutive, left-to-right holes, the 10th is a lengthy par-4 reaching 471 yards. Playing downhill from the tee, you'll need to favor the left side of the fairway to avoid the tree-lined landing area. A long iron or fairway-metal will be used for your approach to a very long and well- bunkered green. The putting surface is very undulating and falls off sharply on the left toward sand and a grass hollow.

No. 11 is just over 400 yards in length, as it sweeps to the right around a Sahara-like waste area. The fairway is narrow and rolling, but a well-placed tee shot can leave a short iron to another long and slender green. The putting surface is slightly elevated and slopes from back to front and right to left. Be careful to avoid the two traps on the left side of the green, as they will make for a difficult up and down.

Another one of the lengthy par-4s at Black Diamond, the 12th puts a premium on accuracy off the elevated tee, as a 50-yard trap on the right tightens the landing area. A left side tee shot will open the dogleg right for your mid- iron approach. The putting surface is guarded by sand right and deep, so miss right if you must. This hole cannot be taken lightly as you get ready for the quarry holes.

The first quarry hole is the dynamic, par-3 13th. Stretching 183 yards from the black markers, this gem is all carry from the elevated tee box. Choosing the right stick is the key component here, as the elements will surely affect the outcome of your shot. The putting surface is by far the longest on the course at 54 paces with a quartet of sand surrounding the green. What a way to start a group of holes. Wow! Some advice: the walk up to the back tee is a little bit of a hike, so bring an extra ball and two or three clubs ... just in case.

Next up is the boomerang, par-5 14th that wraps around the quarry from right to left. It's not the length of the hole (529 yards from the tips) that will get you, it's judging the distance you need to, first, carry the corner of the dogleg, second, pick the correct club and line for your layup, and, finally, figure out the downhill approach to the green that hugs the cliffs. Start out with a sweeping draw off the tee. This will position you for a sensible layup just over the two bunkers on the right side of the fairway. In addition, this will leave a straight shot to the green, just under 100 yards away. A simple, downhill pitch is left to negotiate the tiny putting surface that slopes to the left. Don't be greedy.

The most photographed hole on the course, the 15th is as good as it gets at Black Diamond. Two decisions face the player off the elevated tee: go short with your tee shot and leave a longer approach or bombs away and attack. The first option to the fattest part of the fairway some 60 yards wide, will leave a 5- to-6-iron, while the aggressive play is driver, leaving a short iron in. There are problems with both, as your long iron will need to cover the beautiful lake that fronts the green, while the big boys will need to squeeze their tee shot into a tiny landing area that is guarded by slope and rough right and sand and water left. The putting surface is fairly large, with several difficult pin placements, like back-left. Talk about a sucker pin, but how many people can say they made birdie on 15?

No. 16 is by far the most difficult of the quarry holes, reaching 435 yards in length. Well, at least it was for me. There are two key ingredients here, a successfully tee shot and an even better approach. With the quarry running along the entire left side, driver down the right-center is the play. However, any shot just a shade further right and a nasty pot bunker will give you fits. As the hole bends to the left, the fairway to the green gets tighter and tighter with just a sliver of landing area short of the surface. The green is quite long and narrow, so your approach must be spot on. Again, left and short is jail, but right is no bargain, either. The bottom line, hook here and you're done.

The final quarry hole is big, bold and full of challenges. From an elevated tee, this par-3, with its incredibly long putting surface, can be stretched to almost 250 yards from the back buttons. Yes, it's downhill, but with the wind usually in your face, this baby might need a driver off the tee. All carry from tee to green, any shot short will end up in a grass hollow of significant proportions or worse, a carom of a slope into the thick brush or rocks. The green is so massive and full of slope that it's not uncommon for three and four putts.

At 502 yards, the closing hole on the Quarry Course is the shortest par-5 on the layout, but certainly not the easiest. If you're looking for an easy birdie ... as they say in the North, "Fugetaboutit." The tee shot on the dogleg left is not the issue, as the fairway, although tight with sand on either side, is still manageable. It's the second shot that gives players fits. Playing uphill from the fairway, your shot must be spliced between trees on either side, sand that splits the landing area in two and a 120-yard bunker down the left. Squeeze your approach between this alley and then, and only then, can you breath a sigh of relief. Your final pitch can be aggressive toward the flag, as this green, although smallish in stature, can be had.

FINAL WORD: "We strongly believe that Black Diamond Ranch should be one of the most exclusive and prestigious clubs in the country with world-class facilities and commensurate service levels," said McDonald in a letter to the Black Diamond residents. "The plans we are creating will generate renewed enthusiasm to be a part of Black Diamond."

McDonald sure didn't mince words when addressing the concerns of the members. His goal is to bring Black Diamond Ranch where it belongs, with the elite clubs in the United States.

With the planned enhancements, the Quarry Course and Black Diamond will once again be worthy of top-100 status, from top to bottom.

Beginning with the layout, the course winds through majestic oaks, dogwoods and magnolias with surprising elevation changes, upwards of 100 feet. From the opening hole you'll be amazed how easily the course flows through peaks and valleys, with wonderful views of the region, certainly not your typical Florida golf course.

But the "Piece de resistance" is surely the five quarry holes, starting with the par-3 13th. Legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins called this stretch of holes "the best five consecutive holes of golf anywhere in the world." He's not kidding.

In addition, the challenge of the Quarry Course is quite intense, especially from the back tees. But with five sets of markers to choose from and multiple teeing areas, it's a course suited for all skill levels.

Course conditioning had been a bone of contention in recent years, but director of golf maintenance Jay Mullen has the revitalization right on track. Even in mid-summer, the Quarry Course was in mint condition after a recent visit.

The Black Diamond experience, and more specifically, the Quarry Course, will require your full attention. This is not a layout to be taken lightly, with eight par-4s over 400 yards, four distinct par-3s and a quartet of par-5s that will test your nerve. There is no question your heart will be racing from the get-go.

The Quarry Course experience that Fazio created is certainly one of his most memorable and rewarding designs.

"We are very proud to be a part of the Black Diamond family and we know that this golf course will be something that will be a legacy in the game of golf," said Fazio.

In years past, the chances of playing this amazing layout were virtually non- existent. However, Black Diamond has created a stay and play package for just $399, which includes two rounds of golf and one night of accommodations. Not bad when you consider that you're playing one of the best courses in the country.

So grab your foursome and make the call to Black Diamond Ranch and prepare to be amazed. I was.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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