Deer Run Golf Club – The Buck Stretches Here
By E. Nolan
The southwest metro area of the Twin Cities is a hotbed of Minnesota golf. You could even call it the Brainerd of the Twin Cities. There are lakes, links, legends, and even an alternate kind of loon (the human kind). You don’t know how great the golf is going to be, but you do know that it’s going to be great. Just look at this incredible land – how could it not be?
And then there are the overachievers, the names that don’t scream “play me” but, more importantly, don’t require any convincing to bring you back. That first time around, when curiosity meets the cat and shakes hands – when you’re introduced to this property’s subtle brilliance – that’s what exploring and discovering this great game is all about. That’s what brings you to, and what you find at, Deer Run.
You could call Tom Abts an overachiever as well. He shouldn’t be doing this well. His course shouldn’t be one of the most popular golf courses in the state with so little self-promotion. The parking lot shouldn’t always be this full, and his dog Harvey shouldn’t still be barking… should he? Tom is self-deprecating, modest, and arguably qualified as anything but a Head Golf Professional (one of his many titles), but just because he can no longer shoot in the 60’s doesn’t mean he loves the game any less. In fact, if it’s possible, he loves it more.
“Success can be stressful to some,” he says. “But the lack of it would be even more so. I’m one of those guys that wants you to tell me what you don’t like about the course, or rather what you don’t think we’re doing our best, because I’ll address it any way I can. I am always listening. Our golfers know that, they expect that, and ultimately that’s been our ticket to success.”
The constant updates and upgrades validate his assertion. His good friend, (and one of my favorite architects in the game) Kevin Norby, is constantly looking for ways to tweak, modify, and enhance the design. “The environment is so important to me,” Tom says, pointing at me, but looking out his office window at a large group of laughing golfers. “That’s one thing that really connects Kevin and me. This course, the parkland atmosphere, it’s… (he pauses to emphasize his point) everything to us. I mean, we’re surrounded by houses, but golfers say they don’t notice. That’s a huge compliment.” Harvey barks again and Tom smiles. “And that’s why every alteration must be as beneficial to nature as it would be to the course. Our city expects that of us, of course, but if you know Kevin, you know that’s the only way he operates.”
I do know Kevin, and consider his Audubon certified oasis in southern Iowa (The Preserve at Honey Creek Resort) to be one of the most underrated properties in the entire Midwest. He’s the perfect drafting partner for Tom, a trusted “panelist” if you will, right there with the lovely food and beverage director, Heidi Breen. “Tom has been great to me, just as he has been (and is) to everyone who walks in the door. He rewards success with more success, and doesn’t pocket any of it. He’s one of those rare lifelong friends whose greatest reward is in helping others finding theirs, especially here at Deer Run, in whatever way that might be.”
As a golfer I know you translate that to what it means for your game… and at Deer Run, that’s “plenty.” This 6,300-yard romp plays fast and fun, over streams, alongside ponds, up and down gorgeous hills, and, head to toe, is friendly to anyone’s game. The tips challenge while the forwards reward. Everyone can find the perfect fit somewhere in between.
I can absolutely see why they book up so fast for events and why area competitors might balk at trying to match their value. (It’s really hard to.) But no decision here is made based on competition. It’s more about participation. The junior golf program is flourishing, the leagues are booming, and the number of people coming out for their first Deer Run round (each month) is really quite remarkable.
Firmly squeezing my hand at the door, and thanking me for coming out, Tom asks me to be honest. “You’ve played 300 courses around the world… what do you think we’re missing here? What do we need the most?”
I go through a quick mental checklist of the essentials: great service, good course conditions, clever design, tons of people, and an excellent patio/bar area. They seem to have it all. I could only think of one thing I missed in today’s round. “Honestly?” I ask, and he nods. “Twix,” I say. He smiles and nods. “I’ll tell Heidi.” They’ll be waiting for me next time out. Guaranteed.