The east and southeast of Ohio is much hillier and less populated than the rest of the state...although Bandon-style “destination golf” may not be in the cards, there is plenty of opportunity for courses like Black Diamond, which takes advantage of its terrain to offer golf that’s bordering on “mountain style” (but not quite).
The lay of the land will be the prime opponent at Black Diamond, as very few lies will be even. On the positive side of things, many of the tee shots will be thrill rides, which begins at No. 3, with its long descent to a wider patch of fairway, and the roller coaster continues from there. Perhaps the most photographed hole is No. 14, a par five that shoots between trees and over a ravine on its way to a green that angles steeply to the right.
Ohioan Barry Serafin could only do so much when fighting the geography at this venue...staying out of the wooded valleys that line holes will fall upon the accuracy of your approach game.
In my imaginary scenario, Barry Serafin — hip to the technology of the age — received a topographical map for property just south of Millersburg, Ohio in his inbox at the turn of the 21st Century. “Can u build a course here?” asked a separate instant message. “LOL OK” he replied, and so was born Black Diamond.
That anecdote stemmed directly from my reaction, standing upon the No. 12 tee at what clearly deserved its status as the course’s top handicap. A 420-yard par four, doglegging right around a steep slope and treeline, with a lake following it all the way up the left side. The fairway separating the two hazards was perhaps 80 feet (not yards). It should be noted, however, that anyone opting to land on the left side of this fairway will have their approach angle blocked by a tree at the outside of the dogleg. “LOL, OK,” I said to the groundhog (one of many at Black Diamond) watching me from the lakeside. Fortunately, my strategy paid off; by playing my draw off the side of the hill, I managed to dampen its momentum just enough to settle on the fairway without getting stuck in an awkward lie on the hill’s second cut.
Such is life at Black Diamond, and little of it is any fault of Serafin. This Appalachian corner of Ohio left little sensible land for golf, and left Serafin little sensible option aside from designing anything but a “target golf” showcase. Granted, to reach those targets means thinking outside of the box. Aiming for the right rough was an unusually common theme throughout my round. Twice — nos. 3 and 14 — I missed that target and landed directly on the right side of the fairway, a sin that resulted in my ball following the contours of the land at full-speed, and ending up in an awkward place along the left rough, or in the woods ever farther left.
As an armchair architect, I immediately began to offer counter-proposals to no one in particular. Could Serafin have cleared more trees along the sides of the hole and created wider landing areas? No; a topographical map revealed that forest hid nothing but extremity…aggressive slopes and deep ravines. The rough I had been utilizing from the tee was in fact “the play.”
Although I may gripe about my awkward lies stemming from seemingly reasonable tee shots, the true victims — and the truest definition of “target golf” — lied in the approaches. Serafin’s hands were tied once again; the average green features steep, roughed grass rolling down to the putting surface on one side, and steeply away from the green on the other. Considering that Black Diamond seems to draw a significant portion of its revenue from bachelor parties and other events at its on-property cabin, I can only imagine the slaughter as the twice-a-year golfer tries to get down from one side, only to be forced to come back from the other. The local groundhogs would do well to sell their gathered Maxflis for a few bucks at the turn.
Here’s a spot where both strategy and mercy could be introduced: If the grass side running down to the green were maintained at a reasonably-short height, it could be used to bring balls back down to the putting surface after a high loft, much as I had attempted with my screaming eagle (screaming eagles, the actual bird, seen during trip to Millersburg: one) drive on No. 12. The problem, of course, is that Black Diamond likely doesn’t have the funds to invest in such a capable piece of mowing equipment.
The creation of such a course probably stemmed from Virtues Golf Club (formerly Longaberger), which had opened to acclaim from national publications just a year earlier. Although that course also sits in a region of significant hills, it also flattens out just long enough for Arthur Hills’s bombs-away bravado holes to be deceptively strategic and fair. Serafin simply didn’t have the room to recreate those safety features here.
He doesn’t get a total free pass, however. You can’t avoid par fives in golf course design, but you can limit them when designing courses destined for high handicappers, understanding that few things exact pain from a poor golfer more than a hole stretching farther than 525 yards. It’s an absolute routing travesty that Serafin opted for a 720-yard par six at No. 7. At a course with five par threes, one easily could have disappeared to allow for two par fours on what is ironically the flattest and widest stretch of the property. The kitsch of a “par six” is enough to make even the dignified Doak write “LOL OK” as a “Confidential Guide” entry.
Does Black Diamond merit much consideration from a Golf Course Architecture hobbyist traveling around Ohio? I’d reckon not, and — located in the most Amish-dense county in the United States — I don’t foresee much future for the tweaks suggested above. There is charm to be had in its spectacle, however and, as hinted throughout this piece, in its fauna. I texted a video of one said groundhog to my wife, with a voiceover for my son. Her reply: “LOL.”
Black Diamond’s golfing pleasures are for those who waste less brainpower analyzing them.