Diamond Players Club - Florida's Mountain Golf Course
CLERMONT, Fla-Monikers and marketing slogans can sometimes do a golf course more harm than good. How many times are we told that a particular course is "The Best Kept Secret in the State" or another has "The Toughest Finish in Central Florida"? After players realize that it's all just hyperbole, what does the course have left to offer? Isn't it better in the long run to let a golf course develop its own grass roots reputation?
Diamond Players Club Clermont is billed as "Florida's Mountain Golf Course," which is rather funny. It's funny that the large centerpiece of a hill around which the course is routed, at a dizzying height of 260 feet above sea level, is in any way considered a mountain. It's funny also that a course with almost no trees is considered mountainous. Tell it to someone from Colorado, or even North Carolina, and watch the reaction. Calling anything in Florida "mountainous" is like calling a course in Nebraska a "links" when there is no ocean anywhere near it-oh wait, that's done all the time. Oh well. Apparently there are no limits to advertising.
Clermont is marketed this way because with 190 feet of elevation change, it does play somewhat like a mountain course. But is it a mountain golf course? Far from it. Chalk it up as an example of how an area like Orlando, with its embarrassment of golf riches, can prompt new clubs to force a reputation or niche, however awkward it may be.
Which is too bad, because DPC Clermont is one of the most exhilarating golf courses to open in Central Florida in years. There is nothing else like it in the area, probably in the state-there are shots to be found here that simply can't be duplicated anywhere else in Florida. Clermont is definitely strong enough to stand on its own. It doesn't need the misguided marketing.
Opened in 1999, DPC Clermont is owned by a team of investors that consists largely of former and current professional athletes, notably major league pitcher Todd Stottlemyer and PGA veteran Steve Jones. Their hope is to expand the Diamond Players Club label throughout the country, establishing a "chain" of courses that bear the signature (they currently own DPC Wekiva and Sweetwater Country Club in north Orlando, in addition to Clermont).
Securing sites with as much potential as Clermont would do wonders for their franchise. So would allowing an architect like Terry LaGree to oversee design and construction. LaGree created Clermont using elevation and the natural terrain as his key features, and the result is a course that bleeds visceral thrill without being hokey.
Where the temptation to make every hole on such a raw property a theatrical joy ride would overwhelm many architects, LaGree wisely exercised restraint. Rather than attacking the "mountain" by simply running holes up and down its sides, LaGree flirted with the elevation and rarely challenged the slope directly. He routed the course laterally around the perimeter of the site, often seeking its lower points, and somehow managed to create nine holes that play downhill to some degree and only four that play significantly uphill.
LaGree, best known for his work as project manager for Tom Fazio at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, FL, found much of his elevation in numerous ridges and hollows. By merely accentuating the natural contours of the sight, he incorporated an array of ramps and banks that can greatly influence shotmaking. Clermont is therefore much more than just elevated tees and rugged terrain. The playfulness of the design and its dependence upon ingenuity results in a playability so unlike most American courses.
In its most provocative condition Clermont will play fast and loose, calling for a variety of shots that utilize the wild and sometimes extreme contours. The low, running shot that caroms off a sidewall; the slingshot approach off a mound into the fairways; the purposeful short shot that bounds down the slope onto the green-these may be the best, at least the most invigorating, plays for many of its holes.
At 6,911 yards from the back tees and a par of 71, Clermont is not a massive course. It is a layout that might succumb to pure power, but due to its design, the middle player can get around effectively with a little cleverness, even from the long tees.
Clermont never repeats itself and it certainly never dulls. It is a vigorous, exciting design that should absolutely receive more recognition than it currently receives. As for Lagree, he seems to be an architect who gets it and we look forward to seeing what he can do with less stimulating properties (Lagree also designed Royal Oaks Golf Club in Ocala).
If there is anything holding Clermont back from superstar status it is the greens (and not because of their notoriously poor condition during the summer of 2001, a common problem among courses in western Orange and Lake Counties). They are large and receptive though relatively undistinguished. Perhaps the thinking was that there should be some reprieve, something flat amidst all the up and down-places of rest, if you will-but the lack of significant contour detracts from the overall effectiveness of the course, and the greens are often anti-climactic ends to climactic holes. And, naturally, it is assumed that Clermont will amend its severe conditions in time for the fall season.
Number One: The first hole, a 555-yard, downhill par five, is a splendid and beautiful commencement to the round because it introduces the key elements that define Clermont. It's not necessarily a great golf hole, but nearly everything the player needs to know about the course is presented here. The drive out to the bounding fairway calls for all you can muster. The second shot is over a crest, out of sight and down toward a round, spacious green. Approach shots that are played to the right will deflect off a slope toward the target. This is also where LaGree's deep, distinctive bunkering is first noticed.
Number Two: The second hole is a rare par three where the green is nearly blind. Such a set up may frustrate some but should certainly enthuse just as many or more. The tees, 155 to 250 yards away, are stepped up on a bluff 70 to 90 feet above the green, of which only the extreme right hand portion is visible. Tee shots must avoid flying long or left into extreme drop-offs, but short of the green there is a tilted bowl that that will catapult balls toward the putting surface. Watching tee shots hang against the horizon and drop out of sight into the green characterizes so much of what is fun about this golf course.
Number Four: The fourth hole is a classic brute hole, a 445-yard par four that doglegs to the left around a deep, impenetrable wetland area. Only the mightiest of players will attempt to cut over the marsh with their drives, but all others will have to choose how aggressive a line to take to the fairway. Running tee shots hit bravely up the left side will shorten the approach but will also bring into play bunkers and the steep drop-off of the hazard. Taking the safe side to the right means a lengthy approach to an elevated, intimidating green complex defending by tiers of grassy swales.
Number Ten: The tenth is a fascinating short par four of only 340 yards (300 to 330 yards from the regular tees). The hole occurs in a theater setting at the course's lowest point along a lake. The green is blind from the tee, sitting below the end of the fairway and slightly off to the right against the water, and only a small landing area is visible from the tee. Play for position or go for it? Long drives, preferably a fade, will disappear from sight to hopefully bounce through the rough, down the incline, and onto the green. Those who lay-up too far back will not be able to see the flagstick and will also experience the curiosity of watching the ball disappear, not knowing its fate until they arrive at the edge of fairway. This is a uniquely designed strategic hole that may be the highlight of the round.
Number Eleven: Eleven doesn't appear like much from the tee, but this is really a hole in two parts. The tee shot on this 430-yard par four plays over a small crest to a patch of fairway defended by bunkers left and right. The length of the drive will determine whether the green is visible or not as it sits well below the fairway and to the right, guarded by a large bunker on the right. Drives that do not advance far enough in the fairway will result in blind approaches, but regardless, the second shot is a magnificent sight that plays one to two clubs shorter down to a small, circular green. So great is the descent that one wonders what would happen if superior drives (280-300+ yards) made it to the end of the fairway and caught the slope. Could this 430-yard hole actually be driven?
Number Fourteen: This is another hole unique to the area, a 173-yard par three that plays slightly downhill (from one of the highest and most remote points on the course) to a wide but shallow green with no bunkers. Only the center portion of the green is visible through a gap between two dunes, and certain pins may not be visible at all. It takes courage to design a hole such as this, and it's another situation where the result of the shot will not be known until the green is reached.
Number Fifteen: Pure fun. This is a 375-yard par four that requires a moderate strip of scrub be carried from another elevated location to a cupped fairway that is blind from the tee. All that is visible on the first shot is the waste area that rests in the basin at the inside elbow of this dogleg left and the green perched on a plateau in the distance. Pushed drives will deflect off the steep bank on the right and funnel back down into the fairway, leaving a mid- to short-iron back up the hill that must carry a field of deep-set bunkers. This is a hit-and-wait hole on both shots as the surface of the green is hidden from fairway level.
Diamond Players Club Clermont
2601 Diamond Club Drive
Clermont, FL 34711
DPC Clermont is located west of Orlando off of Highway 50 (visible from the highway), three miles west of exit 272 (Florida Turnpike and Highway 50).
Summer rates for Clermont are $37 weekdays and $47 weekends. Beginning October 1 they will go up to $49 weekdays and $59 weekends. Rates are subject to change to call ahead to confirm.