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Diamante reigns again as readers' favorite.

AFTER BEING OUSTED FROM the top spot by Arkansas Business readers last year, the Diamante Country Club course in Hot Springs Village is once again sitting as the favorite spot for a round of golf.

Chenal Country Club of Little Rock barely edged out Diamante last year, but reader's failure to differentiate between Chenal's two courses--the original Founders Course and Bear Den Mountain, which opened last year--hurt its ranking this year.

Participation in this year's reader poll was almost exclusively online--269 Internet votes and four paper ballots. Diamante had, by far, the largest number of first-place votes with 96.

Another Hot Springs golf course, Belvedere Country Club, had 50 votes for the top spot, while Big Creek Golf and Country Club, the public course at Mountain Home, garnered 48 votes for the No. 1 course. Last year both Chenal and Diamante received 137 votes for first place.

Of the 85 courses that received at least one mention this year, only 18 different courses received any first-place votes. Votes are tabulated on a weighted scale of 10 points for a first-place vote, nine points for a second-place vote and so on.

All reader polls are subjective and unscientific, and they obviously are influenced by where the readers live. The survey didn't ask readers to distinguish between private courses, including land development and resort courses, and public, daily-fee courses.

The Diamante golf course, one of eight (soon-to-be nine) private courses at Hot Springs Village, is considered to be one of the most challenging, yet flexible golf courses ever built.

With five sets of tees, ranging in distance of 7,548 yards to 5,282 yards, the course challenges both low and high handicappers. Diamante's longest hole, the par-five 11th hole, stretches to 627 yards.

Golfers hit from Zoysia fairways to Bent grass greens that average 6,500 SF. Four large water hazards come into play, along with a number of grassy depressions and traditional white sand bunkers.

Diamante reigned as the best course in the state for four straight years by Golf Digest magazine, until it was edged out last year by Chenal, which opened its second course in 2003.

There's been a big shakeup, however, in the latest Golf Digest rankings. The newest Hot Springs Village course, Isabella, is ranked No. 1 by the golfing magazine. Diamante, second last year, has fallen to fourth in the publication's rankings. Pleasant Valley Country Club of Little Rock remains third, the same spot it held last year.

Diamante was designed by Ault Clark & Associates of Kensington, Md., one of the country's premier golf course design firms. Ault Clark also designed Mountain Ranch Golf Club at Fairfield Bay, Cherokee Village South, Big Creek Golf and Country Club at Mountain Home and Thunder Bayou Golf Club at Blytheville.

Chenal's original 18-hole championship course, now called the Founders Course, was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., one of the most famous names in the business. At 7,115 yards, it has consistently ranked as one of the top courses in the state. Chenal has seven lakes and features Zoysia grass on its fairways and Bent grass for the greens.

Bear Den Mountain, Chenal's second 18-hole, party 72 golf course, is also a design of Jones. Completely unlike the first Chenal course, it runs 7,221 yards from the back tees. The new course was carved out of the woods and features a more natural terrain with several acres along the course set aside as natural wildlife protected areas. It has more long and tight fairways and small greens.

The Pleasant Valley course has remained fairly consistent, whether ranked by Golf Digest or Arkansas Business readers. PVCC underwent a $1.6 million renovation in 1999 that rebuilt its Bent-grass greens, reworked the bunkers and updated its drainage system. From the tips, PVCC is 7,103 yards. The course has 92 bunkers.

Isabella, the newest of the Hot Springs Villages courses, is an Ault Clark design with eight signature holes with water and mountain views. It plays at 7,160 yards from the tips and features spacious fairways, numerous green-side bunkers and plenty of slope and speed on the greens. After it opened for Labor Day of 2000, it quickly gained a lot of praise and Golf Digest said it was the sixth-best new private course in the nation in 2001.

Big Creek, which fell to sixth among AB readers last year, jumped back to second this year. The public Mountain Home course features 55 white sand bunkers, and with four lakes and Big Creek water comes into play on seven of the 18 holes.

Hot Springs village remains the mecca of golf in Arkansas. Six of the retirement community's nine courses are ranked among the top 20. Also making the list are Magellan, No. 8; Balboa, No. 12; Cortez, No. 15; and DeSoto, No. 19.

The only other public course to make the top 20 was the Mountain Ranch course at Fairfield Bay, which has fallen to No. 16. When it opened it was generally perceived to be the best of the public golf courses in the state and was ranked No. 1 by Golf Digest and was in Golf Week's Top Golf Courses in America list.

Belvedere Country Club's finish in the No. 6 spot was a surprise. It came out of nowhere. Although the course, which features tight, hilly fairways with plenty of trees and greens that are undulating, fast and well bunkered, is well thought of, the 6,767-yard course hasn't been on the favorite list for the past several years.

Pinnacle Country Club of Rogers and the Country Club of Little Rock round out the top 10. Pinnacle's fairways are wide open, and water comes into play on 16 holes. Many of the greens are multi-tiered and heavily undulating. CCLR's 6,454-yard course features fast greens and tight, tree-lined fairways.

It should be noted that Chenal Country Club would have finished second if readers had designated which course they were supporting. Next year, Arkansas Business will list the top 50 courses with a blank so readers can choose their favorites. We'll also leave room for additions from readers.

New courses that are likely to quickly become favorites are Clear Creek Golf Club, the John Tyson-backed development that is set to open in June at Johnson, and Granada, the ninth Hot Springs Village course that is scheduled to open this fall. It will be a par-72 course and have a links-style layout.

And so far, everyone remains tightlipped about Alotian Club, billionaire Warren Stephens' endeavor to build a "world-class golf facility" in western Pulaski County. The Tom Fazio-designed course is slated for an opening this year.
Arkansas Business' Top 20

 Course Points Votes

1 Diamante, Hot Springs Village 1,417 97
2 Big Creek, Mountain Home 656 48
3 Isabella, Hot Springs Village 622 6
4 Chenal (no course listed), Little Rock 611 20
5 Pleasant Valley, Little Rock 602 11
6 Belvedere, Hot Springs 520 50
7 Chenal-Founders Course, Little Rock 300 11
8 Magellan, Hot Springs Village 281 1
9 Pinnacle, Rogers 278 0
10 Country Club of Little Rock 266 1
11 Chenal-Bear Den Mountain Course 241 12
12 Balboa, Hot Springs Village 198 0
13 Hot Springs Country Club (no course listed) 154 0
14 Greystone-Cypress Creek Course, Cabot 147 2
15 Cortez, Hot Springs Village 146 1
16 Mountain Ranch, Fairfield Bay 143 0
17 Hardscrabble, Fort Smith 112 0
18 Texarkana Country Club 105 0
19 DeSoto, Hot Springs Village 87 0
20 Hot Springs Country Club-Arlington Course 84 0

Golf Digest's Top 10

1 Isabella, Hot Springs Village
2 Chenal, Little Rock
3 Pleasant Valley, Little Rock
4 Diamante, Hot Springs Village
5 Ponce de Leon, Hot Springs Village
6 Country Club of Little Rock
7 Texarkana Country Club
8 Big Creek, Mountain Home
9 Hot Springs Country Club-Arlington Course
10 Rebsamen Park, Little Rock

Source: Golf Digest

GolfWeek's Best Public Access Courses

1 Mountain Ranch, Fairfield Bay
2 Hot Springs Country Club-Arlington Course
3 Thunder Bayou, Blytheville
4 Cherokee Village-South Course
5 Prairie Creek, Rogers

Source: GolfWeek
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Title Annotation:Golf Links; Diamante Country Club
Comment:Diamante reigns again as readers' favorite.(Golf Links)(Diamante Country Club)
Author:Henry, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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