A Reverence For The Game At Deer Run Golf Club
By Rhett Arens
Any course that can combine a purist, historical reverence for the game alongside the epic, artistry of Led Zeppelin deserves kudo’s from all corners of the room. But if that person can also create the best clubhouse atmosphere and a golf course that is atheistically pleasing to play, then I think that person should be elevated to Knighthood. Tom Abts, Deer Runs’ PGA Professional and General Manager is just that guy. Since 1991 he has been meticulously improving every aspect of this course project-by-project, detail-by-detail. Today you step up to the first tee knowing you are in for one heck of a round.
Last year turned out to be a healthy season for Tom and Deer Run Golf Club, so in true champion fashion he has poured his creativity and money back into making it even better in 2017. Before the first tee you’ve already tasted his version of ‘cool’ like a tumbler of vintage scotch. He replaced the golf carts in 2017 and was the first in these parts to have bucket seats, and of course GPS. Be sure to hit a bucket on the range before your round because you will be treated to an automatic tee-filling mat and a set of targets second to… no one. These kinds of touches speak volumes about the kind of Ambassadors Tom and his team of professionals are. He is a force of positive thinking, legendary stories, insider playing tips and most importantly the conductor of a well-orchestrated golf operation.
On a recent visit to the Run, I witnessed one old friend after another stopping by to say hello and staff members dropping in to ask a question or get a piece of advice. I’m not kidding, after I left, it felt like my handicap would drop three points just from spending time in his presence. I’ve heard that Arnold Palmer had that effect on people. Arnie’s style; which was a combination of humble directness, polite manners and a cool individualism is something that Tom admires and you can feel that vibe echoing through the beautiful clubhouse. The cozy Augie’s Pub feels like a warm, welcoming pub straight out the Scottish Highlands, fireplace and all. It’s lined with top-shelf whiskeys and a selection of fine cigars. There is also a wonderful patio that sits under a large tree overlooking the 18th green. I challenge you not to stop there for a craft beer and watch a few foursomes finish out. Impossible, especially if the sizzling aroma from the kitchen is drifting out over the patio. The food will not disappoint. Look around, no details have been overlooked.
The course design folds quite a few shorter par fours through a curving, elevated landscape that has many of the touches you see at the top-end resorts. The tee boxes are squared off nicely and the greens roll like silk. Fairways and first cuts are all very well maintained. However, I don’t recommend getting too comfortable in those bucket seats because there is plenty of trouble right in the sweet spots. A couple highlights include the stretch of #7 through #9. Several tough, tight tee shots lead to a risk/reward point where a missed shot easily results in a double (I know this first hand). Hole’s #11 through #13 give you a chance to recoup those doubles with back-to-back-to-back short par 4’s. Always nice to get a breather and get the bottom-line back on track. Hole #15 is a signature hole that shows off the elevation used throughout the course while bringing water and a tasty bunker into the design. Great stuff and a beautiful vista from the tee box. The course isn’t afraid to show you uphill as well as downhill in its use of elevations, it’s both unique and fair. Hole #18 closes the round with a great view of the clubhouse as you finish slightly uphill towards a wide green. Take a bow if you card a birdie here, nice work.
The results of the 2016 Tee Times Readers Choice Awards speak volumes about how this course delivers on a promise to be a golf odyssey: 2nd in Overall Experience; 1st in Hospitality; 4th in Best Greens; 4th in Best Condition; 2nd for Tournament Hosting and 4th in Pro Shop Merchandise. Last year Deer Run hosted an exclusive four day run for the International Sports Management group out of Chicago during Ryder Cup week. Those ISM people had plenty of options to choose from and they chose Deer Run.
The 4.5 stars really doesn’t capture the type of golf experience that one will enjoy at Deer Run so I highly recommend you set aside an afternoon to soak it in. Build in plenty of time for pre-game and post-game shenanigans as well. There’s a good chance Tom will find you. He may even improve your handicap with a few words of wisdom. But I guarantee he will make you smile and appreciate even more, the game of golf that we all love.