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A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

LECANTO - It's golf, but can this be Florida? Black Diamond Ranch, a cow pasture generations ago, sits today as an aesthetically mesmerizing, athletically challenging aberration on Florida's otherwise flat chest. So deep, so alluring, that it might've been called "The Black Hole," due to more recent history as a phosphate/gravel pit. By whatever name, the Citrus County acreage's modern life is as the most-talked-about, most-applauded new golf course on the peninsula. Somewhat isolated, two hours north of the Tampa Bay area, Black Diamond is both private and expensive.

But if you get the chance Bring your best swing, a good supply of golf balls, and a bagful of patience. Hit good shots at Black Diamond and rewards are reachable even for 90ish hackers. Like me. Strike it poorly, though, and B.D. swallows hard.

For 12 holes, the course is simply green, gorgeous, gently rolling and a challenge equal to Florida's better golfing arenas. That dozen but sets the table. An entertaining preamble. At the 13th tee, the faint of sporting heart will gulp, and gobble the sudden landscape, and wonder if a mortal's golf game can survive what you see.

Black Diamond becomes a rock, and a hard place, and breathtaking. Golf as you'll not see it at Bay Hill, Seminole, Doral, Innisbrook, Sawgrass or any other Florida course of renown. If standing on the well-elevated 13th tee doesn't excite you, it's time to resign from the golfer's union.

For me, a unique charm of golf is to play courses so varying, from Cypress Point in California, to Augusta National in Georgia, to Muirfield in Scotland, to Kapalua in Hawaii. Every hole, and every scene, so different.

At Black Diamond, holes 13 through 17 are in the awesome, memorable league with golf's most famous places. The signature holes begin with a par-3, a 183-yard carry across an 80-foot-deep gorge. The green sits atop a steep, stone-slick wall. Hit short, and your golf ball plunges straight to hell.

"Just hit it," I told myself. Forget the quarry, and even the picturesque, emerald target that sat almost like a mirage. A golfing tactic I should try more often. Standing empty-headed, with stick in hand, I hit the 7-wood higher and far straighter than normal. Plop! Twenty-five feet from the cup. Oh, my! A birdie-2.

Giddiness to be short-lived.

Soon, the credibility of Black Diamond would be reaffirmed. And, hopefully, the acceptability of the analysis you are reading. People familiar with my golf, upon hearing I made 2, will immediately suspect it was achieved on a hole where windmills were among the hazards.

But then came the 14th hole, a par-5 of 529 yards. It demands a tee shot across the corner of Black Diamond's double quarry. I couldn't decide how much to try biting off. Swallowed hard. Tightened grip. Forgot the intelligence of the 13th. Swung like Bo Jackson. Duck hook. Deep, deep into quarry hell. Beginning of a double-bogey-7.

With nature back in command, I worked to relax and enjoy. To snap mental pictures of quarries, and rocks, and sub-tropical growth, and even blue water that shimmied at the depths. Rare property so magnificently green-splotched with golf holes, as if a landscape by Michelangelo rather than noted architect de links Tom Fazio.

The 15th is a 371-yard par-4, sitting inside the quarry with its fairway no wider than a condo lawn. Sixteen is back topside, along the quarry rim. A 371-yard test from the tee I used, but a 435-yard killer from back where the pros play.

Finally, the 17th climaxes the quarry adventure, a par-3 of 204 yards that's more a game of long-distance darts. Miss left and bounce off a stone wall. Miss right, it's quarry hell. But, you know, it can be lifting, to even modest golfing skills, to experience a track of such quality.

My quarry sum: 2-7-4-5-4.

Returning to more normal Florida earth, the Black Diamond finish is a 502-yard par-5 that will challenge your accuracy. But after the "quarry five," almost anything seems mundane. When it was over, my total was 45-44_89.

For me, terrific.

Black Diamond Ranch is owned and being developed by 59-year-old Stan Olsen, co-founder in 1957 of Digital Equipment Corporation in Boston. He found this 18-carat gem called Black Diamond and, with Fazio, created a golfing masterpiece.

Unfortunately, there's no walking up to Stan's door and asking, "May I play?" Restrictions are heavy. The front gate is guarded, and guests must golf in the company of a B.D. member. To join, you must buy property at the course.

My fee: $62. Worth every cent.

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