Diamond Players Club Clermont comes complete with quirks

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

Diamond Players Club ClermontCLERMONT, Fla. -- Diamond Players Club Clermont is billed as "Florida's Mountain Golf Course," a slightly misleading moniker. The course is indeed remarkable for its severe elevation changes, but other than that there's little mountainous about it. A prominent ridge 260 feet above sea level - a respectable altitude for Florida - provides most of the elevation as well as a clear day view of downtown Orlando some 25 miles distant. Otherwise dry sandy washes, a housing development, and a scarcity of trees douse any mountain-like atmosphere.

Misleading sloganeering aside Diamond Players Club Clermont is a fun, thrilling golf course with some extreme golf shots unlike anything in the state. It may not be the Rocky Mountains, but it doesn't feel much like Florida either.

Diamond Players Club Clermont, not to be confused with Diamond Players Club Wekiva, opened in 1999 and was intended to be the first original design in a DPC franchise of golf courses throughout the country. It's owned by a team of investors that consists largely of former and current professional athletes, notably major league pitcher Todd Stottlemyre and PGA veteran Steve Jones (the group also leased and renamed what is now the Wekiva course along with Sweetwater Country Club in north Orlando). The far reaching corporate plan seem to have stalled but if another DPC course is never built Diamond Players Club Clermont will always stand out as an exceptional creation.

Diamond Players Club ClermontTerry LaGree, the Florida-based architect who designed and built the course with his construction firm Barbaron, says DPC Clermont, "(was) a very wonderful piece of property to work with. It's probably the best (course) I' ll ever do." Building it on such a rugged piece of property, however, was far from simple.

"The outside issues with Diamond Players Club [were] you're always fighting with the developer for more land, begging and borrowing," LaGree remembers. "And then the severity of that site is pretty extreme as well, [especially] given the budget that we had to work with and work within. But to me it was an exciting project."

Exciting is about right. The 190 feet of playable elevation change occurs repeatedly throughout the property rather than in one steep section. It's first encountered at the 250-yard par-3 second with an ostentatious drop of over 90 feet from the championship tees. The hole is rare in that weak shots can catch the downslope short of the green and bound forward onto the putting surface.

The limited budget forced LaGree to use his imagination and the result is a design that handles the often abrupt property without competing with it or exploiting it. The routing seeks naturally flat landing areas where LaGree could find them, which wasn't often. Parts of 10 through 14, with the notable exceptions of the downhill second shots at 10 and 11, play level through a lower meadow, but otherwise the course is an exercise in hi-lo.

Diamond Players Club ClermontLaGree might have graded more in the fairways if he could have but the banks and sidehills that remain add to the shotmaking possibilities. The slope short and right of the green at the par-5 first allows players to get home in two by hitting a running a draw off it. Tee balls can also catch a downhill slope in the 7th fairway for added yards or careen off the right bowl of the 15th fairway.

A consequence of the short budget and vigorous property is the presence of several blind shots throughout the round, particularly on the highly entertaining second nine. "There were some extremes that we simply had to do the best we could with them," LaGree concedes. "There were a few areas where I had planned three of four blind shots because that's what the land dictated," (as further evidenced by the imbalanced par tallies on the first and second nines).

The possibility of not having a full view of the greens at one, 10, and 11 is very real if the drives are not positioned correctly. The par-3 second, as described, and the short 14th also have hidden elements. Such obfuscations might frustrate the accomplished player insisting upon fairness but truthfully these little quirks and unpredictabilities make Diamond Players Club a fascinating and original golf course.

Diamond Players Club ClermontThe incredible descent into the smallish 11th green from the platform landing area and the drive over a field to the sunken 15th fairway are two of the most playful shots in Central Florida. The 14th, a semi-blind par-3 between two dune-like mounds, is Florida's version of the "Dell" hole at Lahinch.

"I love 14, which is that little par-3 that's kind of a blind shot, and I love 15," says LaGree. "You have to play it a couple of times to appreciate it, but to me that's exciting golf. It's not for everybody and I understand that, but I explained to the owners at the time that we have an opportunity to do something unique here."

Who Is It For?

Diamond Players Club Clermont should be for everyone who enjoys golf as a sport. Low handicappers may grumble about the quirk, but it's refreshing, really; take it away and the course is not nearly so interesting. It's unique, too, as such uphill and downhill extremes cannot be replicated in like manner anywhere in the state. In fact, outside the parking lot the rather modestly contoured greens are virtually the only places of repose on the property.

Location

DPC Clermont is located west of Orlando off of Highway 50 (visible from the highway on the north), three miles west of exit 272 (Florida Turnpike and Highway 50).

Vitals

Opened: Late 1999
Architect: Terry LaGree
Par: 35-36-71
Yards: 6,911; 6,496; 6,108; 5,665; 5,005

Green Fees

Summer rates for Clermont range between $40 and $50 weekdays and $50 to $60 weekends. Ask for special seasonal discounts and twilight rates. Call ahead to confirm.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


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