Course Reviews/Travel

Black Diamond - Ranch Course PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno



Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Florida is known throughout the golf universe for its five holes

within the confines of its famous Quarry . . . but it's the Quarry's sister course that grabbed my

attention over Memorial Day weekend a few weeks back. Having been to Black Diamond about half a

dozen times, the thought never occurred to me to play anything other than the Quarry . . . but I

started to hear superlatives from people I respect greatly regarding the "hidden jewel" inside the gates

of B.D . . . the Ranch Course.


The Ranch Course at Black Diamond is another Fazio signature design, but it flies under the radar -

getting no mention beyond the gates of the club. Although the five holes within the Quarry itself get

all of the accolades (and rightly so), I could make the argument that as a complete course the Ranch

is the better of the two.

The slight downhill approach into the first on the Ranch Course - notice the the steep front bunker and

fall off left of the green. A soft starting hole to ease you into the round.




The view from the tee on the 439 yard right to left par 4 second hole. Native Oaks and Pines dot the

landscape along the Ranch Course, it flows so naturally throughout the property.




Although the 497 yard par-5 third is very reachable, any approach that veers left will funnel down into

one of the numerous pot bunkers or large waste area. This pin position atop the crest close to the back

edge - gave our group fits. Stay below the hole here and birdie can be had.



Waste areas have a dual purpose in course design: function wise, it's the perfect drainage area just off

the fairway, teeing area or an elevated green complex. From a style stand point, it breaks up the monotony

of continuous turf and really brings some visually stunning sites into play for the golfer. Unlike many

course designers, Fazio will incorporate foliage into his finely crafted barren areas . . . giving the observer

the feeling that these areas were there all along. He might be second to none in this regard, the Ranch

course proved to the perfect setting (similar to his work at Pine Barrens at World Woods) . . . this waste

area just off the fourth tee is yet another example.




The 167 yard par 3 sixth




The short sixth at only 345 yards (Gray tees) is another beauty, but isn't just eye candy - consider

the great design here . . . the right fairway bunkers guard the uphill fairway that cambers left to right.

Choices off the tee are many, but a slight draw sets up the best angle to this shallow but wide green.





The par 5 ninth plays 505 yards (from the gray tees), the oak tree just left of the center line

can only be carried by the longest of hitters, which also brings the waste area into play.





More visually stunning waste areas. Notice the turf berm that borders the tenth tee, what a great visual.

The tenth is another par 5 that plays even shorter than the ninth, straightaway and only 495 from the tips

. . . this is the part of the round where the course is breaking down and giving it to you - here's your chance.

Later on, it will take it from you.





The 297 yard thirteenth - we found that being aggressive off the tee here is fools gold. hit hybrid/wedge

and move on. You'll thank me later.




The approach into the 413 yard fourteenth





Sand lines the left side of the 388 yard - fifteenth hole




The 588 yard sixteenth is the longest and toughest of the par fives on the Ranch, it demands the player

to hit it solid and precise. Perhaps even more important, is to play the hole strategically around the

cluster of oaks that guard the approach. Tom Fazio called the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth

on the Ranch as his best stretch of finishing holes . . . no argument here.




The brutish par 3 - seventeenth is 248 yards from the tips, even from the gray tees it played 238 yards

to the back hole location. This green slopes severely from front to back, 3 is a great score here.





The tree lined uphill finisher plays only 368 yards from the gray tees, certainly a good birdie chance to

close out the round.


The Ranch course plays a modest 6,932 yards from the tips, but where the Ranch lacks in brute

it oozes in charm. Fazio tests your shot making throughout the routing . . . all while providing the

beauty and variety that few courses can match. One of the most fun courses to play anywhere, the

members "hidden jewel" has jumped way up into our fave Sunshine State layouts.



For more info:











Pinehurst No.2 - U.S Open Double Dip PDF Print E-mail

By Jason Bruno


By now it's common knowledge that Pinehurst No.2 will host both the Women's and

Men's U.S Open this summer, and although I think the USGA dropped the ball by

having the Women play the week after the Men (that's a discussion for another place

and time) - I think it's a brilliant idea to stage the two in consecutive weeks in the

town of Pinehurst. It's a unique place in America's golf history, and the village will

take great pride in being the first with such an honor.





Back in 2011 No.2 underwent an extensive restoration by Ben Crenshaw and Bill

Coore. The most dramatic part of the restoration was the removal of rough along

each fairway, allowing for the native sand to once again play a major role in the

course's ability to challenge players. Chopping out of thick cabbage (as is the case

with most Opens) won't be the case this year, green and lush is likely on its way

out-with water restrictions sure to become more strict in the future, edgy, firm/fast

conditions are becoming the new norm in course design & maintenance, and this Open

will showcase that. Next year at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington will be the

uber links version of this new trend in course design. As a career Green Teamer

myself, I applaud the USGA and GCSAA for their efforts to educate golfers. These

next two U.S Opens won't be of the usual variety (neither was last year at Merion),

and it's a probably a step in the right direction. If you haven't been to Pinehurst

recently, then here's a glimpse of what you'll be viewing in June.


The Opening hole on No.2 is a 404 yard par 4, the back left pin location is sure to get

some play during both Opens.



Note the runoff on the 1st green, now imagine the pin is located front left . . . these

are the types of challenges that await the worlds best at the U.S Open.



Hole #2 - The native sand now lines each fairway, just as Ross originally designed

nearly a centry ago.


The approach at the third hole, pine straw will be an equally large obstacle as the

sand . . . there's no handbook on how to play the new No.2.


The fourth hole normally a par 5, will reverse roles with the fifth and be played as a

par 4. It plays downhill off the tee and has a much mellower green complex than the

fifth. Perhaps the most rolling part of the property at Pinehurst No.2, these two holes

will be pivotal during the championship.




Fairway view of the fifth, from here it looks fairly tame . . .


From here not so much, errant approach shots here will face a stiff test to get up

and down, there will be situations where it will take a Seve like shortgame to save

your round at this years Open.




sixth green


behind the seventh green


The shortest hole on No.2 is the 190 yard par 3 - ninth . . . there is some serious left

to right tilt in this putting surface.


Stay left off the tee here on the newly renovated eleventh hole, wire grass dots the

sand scrub throughout No.2


Tough lies will be the norm during the 2014 U.S Open, this particular one was short of

the twelfth green



The short 385 yd par 4 - thirteenth



From the tee on the Par 4 - fourteenth - tee to green Ross' masterpiece is

straightforward, but the green complexes are as tricky as any in America.



The learning center sits in the background left of the 205 yd par 3 fifteenth


Fairway view of the 534 yard sixteenth



Bunkers and native sand scrub areas run into each other at No.2, and will be an issue

at this years Open. An official will be placed on each hole to make rulings if necessary in

regard to such areas (they have been advised to rule - hazard in the case a certain lie

can not be determined as definitive to either condition - therefore advising the player not

to ground their club)


*Payne Stewart made an unbelievable par putt here at the sixteenth during the 1999

U.S Open, this hole might again play a significant role in determining the champion.



The gorgeous 208 yd par 3 - seventeenth . . . short left looks like an acceptable

miss, but photos don't properly represent the slope that will funnel your ball away

from the green. Notice the massive native scrub area front right, the Coore/Crenshaw

course restoration and it's conditions will give NBC and it's announcers, (especially

Johnny Miller) "Carte Blanche" to have a field day announcing their last U.S Open (Fox

takes over in 2015).



The home hole at Pinehurst No.2, site of this year's Mens & Womens U.S Open




Pinehurst No.2 remembers the late Payne Stewart's triumph in 1999.


Pinehurst is more than just about No.2, there are eight courses that are part of

the Pinehurst Resort. It's about Donald Ross, it's about tradition, it's about the golf

community here and it's about preserving history. Walking through the clubhouse at

Pinehurst feels very similiar to how you feel when you walk through Golf House at the

USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J - the place just exudes "Americana". The town

and resort is a must see for any golfer, when you arrive you'll know why they call it

the home of American Golf.

Will Phil Mickelson reach Golf's pinnacle and win the career Grand Slam on the venue

where he and Payne Stewart waged their classic battle 15 years ago? Perhaps, but if

nothing else, Pinehurst No.2 is sure to provide the proper setting for the drama of the

2014 United States Open Championship.




To see more on Pinehurst Resort go to :










Country Club of Winter Haven PDF Print E-mail

By Jason Bruno



Formerly known as Lake Region Yacht and Country Club, the original 1950 Dave Wallace design was

in dire need of a facelift,  so new ownership made the decision to bring in the "Open Doctor" Rees

Jones to do the $4 million redesign. Jones' had no intention on turning CCWH into a severe Major

Championship layout like his work at Atlanta Athletic Club, Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South.

In fact, he went for a more subtle and classic design style. "It's going to be a course playable for

all levels of players," Jones said. "It will walk easily. It will be a good nature walk. I don't think

anywhere around here can emulate what we are doing."


Country Club of Winter Haven is located in central Florida approx. 50 miles from Orlando, just northeast

of Streamsong Resort and a tad Northwest of Seth Raynor's 1916 gem - Mountain Lake.

The 434 yard par 4 - third, is easily one my favorite holes on the new Rees Jones design. The 
tee shot moves left to right through mature Live Oaks, the approach requires a well struck mid
iron to a green that has Lake Hamilton as the backdrop . . . simply a gorgeous site.
Although Jones' redesign is a fresh new look, it has a classic old school vibe and style. The
property at the Country Club of Winter Haven offers great variety, the mature oaks that line many
of the fairways offer beauty and require shot shaping ability . . . but the approaches tend to
be more open to angled and slightly elevated greens, requiring a test of trajectory control.

Flighting your irons correctly is the key to scoring well at CCWH.

The 523 yard par 5 - 9th hole. The narrow well protected green requires absolute precision . . . the
edges have steep fall-offs that funnel any mediocre shot into Jones' well positioned bunkers. Take note
of the wind here, as this is the most exposed portion of the property at Country Club of Winter Haven.

The longest hole on Rees Jones' 7021 yard layout, is the 11th at 555 yards.

The 14th is another beauty that dares you to thread the tee shot between the Oaks and fairway
bunkers, longer hitters who dare to carry it over the edge of the tree line . . .

are rewarded with a short pitch to another surface framed by the Lake Hamilton. Notice the steep
grass banks outlining the bunkers at CCWH, very similar to Raynor's 1916 design at nearby Mountain
The Country Club of Winter Haven is certainly one of the lesser known gems of the Central Florida
golf landscape, but after the Rees Jones' redo, it's sure to get noticed. The intention was to install
classic charm into a new design, and that's not easy to do . . . all while updating the playing
conditions and presenting a great test of golf for today's modern player and equipment - Mission
accomplished, kudos to Rees Jones.

To find out more about the Country Club of Winter Haven:






Grand Opening - Trump National Doral PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno

Bleachers are going up around the new amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the 9th

& 18th holes, this new vantage point will certainly provide a new level of excitement at this

years WGC Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral.




Donald Trump hit the first official tee shot on Thursday, February 6th 2014

Miami, Florida - On a sunny and humid February morning, Donald Trump unveiled his latest

golf conquest - the revitalization of the famed Blue Course, now known as Trump National

Doral - Blue Monster. Perfect timing for a major course Grand Opening . . .  with much of the

nation blitzed by winter weather, the golf media came out in droves for a sight and a spin

around Trump's new Florida beauty (Trump's group which included European Tour player -

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano played right behind my group).

The par 5 - 1st on the Blue Monster had previously been the easiest hole on tour, with Gil

Hanse's new design, the 578 yd 1st is now a legit par 5.



During the unveiling, Donald Trump stated that he could have moved a few tees, put a fresh

coat of semi-gloss on the clubhouse and mailed it in . . . but that's not his style. He's invested

250 million in the property which includes the Hanse re-design of the Blue Monster, a complete

restructuring of the clubhouse, including a new ballroom, and a complete redo of the resort villas

(named after six of the games greats).





Perhaps the most overlooked improvement, is the new practice area & driving range complete

with L.E.D lighting for night practice (the first of it's kind). The old range and practice area at

Doral wasn't even worthy of a muni-amateur championship, not to mention a World Golf

Championship . . . that upgrade might please the tour professionals more than any other when

they arrive in March.



The 430 yard 6th is an example of Hanse's skilled bunker work



Gil Hanse was thrilled, “This is one of the most exciting projects that I have ever had

the privilege to work on. The property itself, being all sand based, is very unusual and unique

and a tremendous asset for a golf course. On top of it all, its location, in the middle of Miami,

is unprecedented."

The six holes on the Blue Monster that have the most significant design changes: 1, 8, 9, 10, 15,

& 16 (the approach on the 8th pictured below)

I went for the green after a big tee shot, and was pin high in the middle right bunker. . . would

have been better off layin up. The sand on the right is no bargain with the green sloping towards

the water. Brilliant design by Hanse, he suckers you into thinking if you play safe into the sand

it's an easy up and down for birdie. Once you arrive at the green complex you realize you went for

the "fools gold" (lesson learned). Note Trump's new heli-pad between the 8th green & 9th tee -

"The Donald" likes to make a grand entrance, and nothing does that quite like a chopper flying

into the middle of the arena.


The re-worked 10th is now the longest hole on the Blue at 608 yards.





The once short 11th is now 428 from the tips.




The new 340 yard 16th on the Blue Monster will still give the big hitters a chance to get home.




Other noteworthy changes at Trump National Doral include a newly designed hotel lobby; a

completely new and remodeled swimming complex known as The Royal Palm Pool, featuring

a lush landscape and an expansive patio design along with 22 lavish cabanas; over 100,000

square feet of six elegant indoor and outdoor premier event venues; Clubhouse improvements

with an incredible new golf shop - one of the largest in the Country and added modern locker

room facilities; a celebrated 48,000 square foot resort spa with over 100 signature spa

treatments and services; and a fully redesigned state of the art fitness center. Additionally, all

new restaurant and bar concepts will be introduced to the property in early 2014, including the

critically acclaimed BLT Prime, which will welcome guests for the first time during WGC- Cadillac

Championship tournament week.



This certainly is not your Grandpa's Doral, but dare I say it's WAY better in every facet . . .

even with construction still going on around the clock, the resort never looked better. I'm not

normally a fan of tearing apart classic course designs, but Dick Wilson's layout had fallen

victim to the modern era of the game, and yet somehow I think he'd approve of Gil Hanse's

re-design (I sure do). At a beastly 7,510 yards now, the Blue is once again a Monster . . .

and a really exciting one at that.



For more info:










Orange County National - Panther Lake PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno


Orange County National, or as it is referred to in Central Florida vernacular simply - OCN, is a 36 hole

golf club and lodge that is ALL golf (not many courses in Orlando can make that claim), it's not affiliated

with any theme park or hotel chain . . . just 365 days a year of pure golf. There are no home sites on the

property, which makes for a serene experience on the links . . . and also is very unique quality for a profile

public course in the Sunshine State. The 360 degree driving range and practice area is as good as any

public facility I've seen. Many top instructors are and have been affiliated with the learning center at OCN,

including Phil Ritson and Sean Foley.



Orange County National's 184 yd par 3 - fourth at Panther Lake



Panther Lake's sister course, Crooked Cat is the perfect "B side" to it's more well known sibling, and if

you're mature enough to know what a "B side" is, it's not uncommon for the obscure to be preferred

by some. I would refer to Crooked Cat as a "sleeper", and wouldn't argue with anyone who actually

prefers it over it's feline relative. Hopefully we'll get a chance to return soon to do a proper review of CC.



Photo courtesy of

Crooked Cat's par 3 - fifteenth (par 3 thirteenth green in the background).




Every once in awhile we'll do a course review without the management having knowledge of our presence,

it's a great way of evaluating the service and conditions . . . and since we heard about new ownership

(Celebration Golf management) recently taking over one of our favorite Central Florida venues, we had

to make the trek. My usual accomplice Scott Baker and Orlando local/Disney Company staffer James

Sofia were aboard for this session around Panther Lake.


Panther Lake was designed by Isao Aoki and David Harmon back in 1997, and has since hosted

the PGA Tour Q-school finals on four separate occasions, the last of which was in 2010. In 2011,

OCN did a complete greens renovation on Panther Lake using Champion Bermuda, which in my

opinion along with Mini Verde is the best of the new hybrid dwarf Bermuda varieties being used.


The two nines at Panther Lake are significantly different, aside from the first two holes, the front

is flat-ish Florida terrain. The back nine rolls up and down and side to side, testing every facet of

your game.




The 228 yard - par 3 eleventh grabs your attention, club selection is everything here.




The best par 4 on Panther Lake is the slight uphill thirteenth, when you stand on this tee box it

looks and feels very reminiscent of Pinehurst, North Carolina. The corridor of Pine and Oak is just

gorgeous. Playing 440 yards uphill from the tips, you'll need two good ones here to reach the small

well undulated green.




The 624 yard dogleg right par 5 -fourteenth, is another gorgeous design that tempts you to bomb it

over the corner, regardless of which tee you hit from, resist temptation and use the wide landing area,

a perfect aiming point is the utility pole down the right center (visible in the background).




With new tees added, the Par 3- 15th played nearly a deuce at 193 yards (from the back tees it plays

227 yards). The one shotters at OCN are varied, scenic and require precision.





From one box up, the par 4 sixteenth plays 420 yards, a big tee shot will leave a short iron, but

be precise with your approach or bogey is likely.



The 167 yard par 3 - seventeenth, check out the sadistic pin location, if you look closely you can see

the ridge that bisects this huge green . . . anything short of the top tier will suck all the way back down

the slope, leaving a near impossible two putt. Considering the hole location was only a few paces from

the back edge, long was dead. Standing on the box -1 for the day, greed took over (of course I went

for it), hit too much stick and ended up in the back left bunker . . . Seve would've had a tough time

getting up and down from there. Fools gold I tell ya . . . insert fool = bogey.


After the round we had dinner and watched football inside the OCN clubhouse. The service all day was

superb, the playing conditions top notch and the company made it all a day to remember . . . can't wait

to get back to Orlando and take a spin on the "B side".



For more info on OCN:









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