The Crystal River area in Florida has been a vacation lover’s paradise for many years, and for a variety of reasons. Water lovers have their pick: scalloping, scuba diving, fishing kayaking, or taking a refreshing swim with the oh-so-adorable manatees. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose from activities such as hiking, biking, birding, and horseback riding. If you prefer to stay indoors, there are several art galleries, museums, as well as the performing Arts Center of Citrus County. So much to do.
A popular outdoor sport that seems to be underrated in this part of the state is golf. That’s very surprising because the area offers several private, semi-private, and daily fee facilities with distances ranging from executive length to PGA TOUR length. There is something here for all levels of golfer.
Twisted Oaks Golf Club is a daily fee facility that is a must-play if you are new to or visiting the area. Course owner Tommy Lyman has been in the golf business a long time and knows how important it is to live up to your clientele’s expectations. “Most of the golf courses in the area have given up on overseeding,” Lyman says, “to them, it’s become an unnecessary expense.” Lyman does not see it that way. “A good portion of our golfers in the winter are snowbirds and they expect to see green fairways, tee boxes, and lush greens when they come down here.”
In addition to playing on green surfaces year-round, Twisted Oaks has a lot to offer daily fee golfers. With only a few exceptions the greens are visible from the tees and the course is in great shape. There is a fair amount of elevation change – especially for Florida – and the course is very playable for every level of golfer. Several risk/reward opportunities will most likely yield a better score after you’ve played the course at least once.
The 6th hole is one of those unseeable greens. Calling it a dogleg right just doesn’t do this hole justice; it’s more like a right turn. It’s also one of those holes that if you know how to play it you can score well. From the White tees, it’s a 431-yard par 5 and requires about a 200-yard tee shot to the corner of the dogleg. The next time I play it I will hit a driver off the tee over the trees on the corner which should leave a mid to long-iron into the green and a good score. As long as you can find the ball after your tee shot, you’ll have an opportunity to score well here.
Black Diamond Ranch is the crème de la crème when it comes to golf in these parts and can rival just about any golf course in Florida for natural beauty. There are 45 holes of Tom Fazio-designed golf lying behind the guarded gates of BDR. Black Diamond Ranch used to be a “mandatory membership” community but in these ever-changing times in which we live, that has changed. While the Quarry Course may be the main attraction, the Highlands Course also has some stunning holes and will challenge any golfer. The Ranch Course takes advantage of the hilly terrain with less attention in manicured areas. The Quarry Course is not your typical Florida golf course. If you look around, it’s hard to tell you’re in Florida! The five holes on the back nine that play over, into, and around a natural limestone quarry are the main attraction and rival Pebble Beach as the country’s most beautiful golf holes. There are a couple of ways to get on the course. One is to become a member; the other is as part of a stay and play package which includes accommodations in a luxurious Black Diamond Ranch residence and one or two rounds of golf. The other is to befriend a member!
The Villages of Citrus Hill is home to around 8,000 residents who enjoy 54 holes of golf, 20 tennis and pickleball courts, a 50,000 square foot fitness/wellness center, and a full-service spa. There are several dining venues as well, all serving incredible food as well as a full-service spa. Golf seems to be the main attraction here. There are three 18-hole golf courses; the Oaks and Meadows courses play a little shorter than Skyview at Terra Vista which is the community’s flagship course. These two shorter tracks are by no means pushovers; The Meadows is a par 70 that plays 5,885 yards with a course rating of 68.3 and a slope of 117, while the Oaks is also a par 70, measuring 5,863 yards (68.7/117). Head down the road and you can air it out. Skyview measures a whopping 7,090 yards from the Gold Tees. I found that the Blue/White Tees from 6,245 yards provided plenty of challenge yet allowed me to leave with a little bit of dignity still intact.
Plantation Golf Resort is the perfect family vacation spot, especially if everyone in the family has different activities in mind. Here you can do everything the Crystal River area has to offer. Plantation offers a nine-hole executive course that is usually busy along with an 18-hole championship course that has hosted the likes of PGA professional Tommy Bolt, who was a frequent visitor back in the ’60s. You don’t have to be a great golfer to have a good time out here, in fact, if you take it too seriously, you might miss out on the beauty that surrounds the course including over 50 species of birds, fish, and an occasional manatee sighting. The 11th hole is a memorable one. It’s a 546-yard par 5 that doglegs to the right around a pond and then slightly back left at the end. The pond isn’t reachable off the tee but you’ll need to contend with it and a large palm tree in the middle of the fairway just short of the pond. The layup shot is critical and you’ll have a choice to play between the palm and oak tree on the right or risk hitting it too far on the left and ending up in the pine trees. The green is slightly elevated with a pot bunker in the front middle and more sand behind and right of the green. A good drive followed by a good layup shot is still going to leave about a 100-yard pitch shot into the green. Par is a good score here.
When you’re not on the course, there are a lot of things to do and the Plantation on Crystal River can hook you up with all of them. The Plantation Adventure Center can set you up with boating, paddleboarding, scuba diving, scalloping, and fishing. Each year they host the Plantation Classic Redfish Classic. Marketing Manage Rosemary White is one of the top competitive anglers in the area and can provide you with some valuable local fishing knowledge!
While you can certainly get a good meal at any one of these courses, Crystal River has a restaurant that can’t be missed, especially if you’re a seafood lover. The Seafood Seller is owned by Jimmie Stoltz and his wife, Sue Gerzel. Jimmy hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has brought a little bit of that Cajun flair to the area. Sue is from Baltimore, MD, so she knows a little something about seafood too! You can order all types of seafood, everything from Louisiana crawfish to oysters, littleneck clams, and a variety of fresh fish. I went with the steamed king crab legs with Cajun seasoning, just the right amount of spice. If it swims in the water and you can eat it, the Seafood Seller has it. They also have a full liquor bar with several local and imported beers on tap.
This is just a small snippet of some of the golf available in the Crystal River area. For a more comprehensive list of the golf courses in the area, visit their website at www.discoversrystalriverfl.com.