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Amateurs get rare glimpse at Diamond

The mere thought of playing the elite Black Diamond Ranch Golf and Country Club sent shivers through Larry Barousse's golf game, even from 250 miles away. A members-only course famous for five holes on the back nine that are carved out of an old mining site, Citrus County's Black Diamond Ranch opens its normally well-guarded gates today through Sunday for the 74th annual Men's State Amateur Championship.

For guys like Barousse, a 39-year-old businessman from West Palm Beach, the State Amateur may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to challenge the quarry holes. They are the trademark of the course selected by Golf Digest as the nation's best new private course when it opened in 1988.

So it's not too hard to understand how Barousse could miss a near-gimme 18-inch putt during qualifying last month in Jupiter, because his head suddenly was filled with visions of the elusive Black Diamond Ranch.

"I had blocked everything out and I played a good round," Barousse said of the qualifying tournament that saw 120 players fight for 17 berths in the State Amateur.

"But when I knocked a 40-footer over a little knoll and I left that 18-inch putt, my mind wandered to Black Diamond. I said, "I'm on my way.'

"

The putt missed the hole.

"I still had two holes to go," Barousse said. "I made par and double-bogey to be the first alternate."

But unlike most of the record-number 760 amateurs who attempted to qualify for the 120-player tournament this year, Barousse was on the Black Diamond driving range Wednesday warming up for his practice round.

"When I got the call and they said there'd been a cancellation, I was elated," Barousse said. "I'd been wanting to come out and play Black Diamond in the State Amateur for over a year."

And as most of the players checked in Wednesday for practice rounds, it was obvious that Barousse was not alone in his delight. Normally reserved golfers could be seen sneaking cameras into their golf bags or stocking up on Black Diamond souvenirs _ shirts, hats and logo golf balls _ all of it proof that "I played Black Diamond."

But while Florida State Golf Association president Cal Korf credits Black Diamond for the record number of entries this year, he said that by Sunday's final round the tournament, not the course, will take top billing.

"This is a great course, there's no question about it, but the State Amateur is the State amateur," Korf said. "What I wanted was a great test of golf. Black Diamond is not just beautiful and spectacular. It's a great golf course. There's not a bad hole out there."

Still, the quarry holes _ Nos. 13-17 _ are guaranteed to make things more interesting.

"On any one of those holes you can shoot any number known to mankind," said two-time State Amateur champion Tom Knapp, 44, of West Palm Beach. "It's scary when you're standing on the tee and there's an 80-foot drop-off six feet away."

The facts

What: The 74th annual Men's State Amateur Championship.

Who: 120 of the state's top amateurs.

Where: Black Diamond Ranch Golf and Country Club, Lecanto; located on County Road 491 just north of the intersection with County Road 486.

When: Today-Sunday, tee times start at 8 a.m.

Format: A 72-hole scratch tournament. The field will be cut after 36 holes to the 60 lowest scores, plus ties.

Spectators: Spectators are welcome; there is no admission fee.

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