Deerfield Golf and Tennis Club

A must-play course that's full of character

Posted: May 27, 2007

In all honesty, my first experience at Deerfield Golf and Tennis Club in Newark, Del., was not good.

This was last year, not long after the state of Delaware had bought the onetime country club and converted it into a mid-priced daily-fee facility for any and all taxpayers. I called ahead for a tee time, drove down, pulled up to the bag drop, popped the trunk latch and hopped out, ready to play golf.

"The back nine is closed today," the guy at bag drop informed me. "We aerated."

Now, to me, that's the kind of thing that ought to come up when you're reserving your tee time. It didn't. I thanked the bag-drop guy, slammed my truck, and left - with an attitude.

I didn't go back until last week. I'm glad I did.

Not only did I notch my first-ever, sorta hole-in-one (details on my blog, www.golfinq.blogspot.com), I stumbled into a golf course that oozes personality - hilly, tight, full of twisty little doglegs, and all maintained tidier than the front parlor of grandma's house.

Moreover, I realized my less-than-satisfactory initial encounter with Deerfield was apparently the exception, not the rule.

Like Reading Country Club, a staid, old private club that went public last year, Deerfield arrives on the public golf scene fully formed, a club of a certain age with a respectable history and manicured grounds. No need for the soft opening or the grow-in.

Built by the DuPont Co. in 1955 as Louviers Country Club and later owned by credit-card giant MBNA, Deerfield has a clubhouse that is clean and comfy without being ostentatious, and the grounds are trimmed and green. Delaware has brought in Forewinds Hospitality (Inniscrone Golf Club) to manage the place.

The course itself was designed by William Gordon (Sunnybrook, Saucon Valley Grace Course), a Philadelphian who was one of the more prolific and perhaps unappreciated architects of an earlier era.

By today's standards of behemoth courses, Deerfield is short, only 6,323 yards from the tips and 6,005 from the white tees. In one reference to Deerfield I saw, somebody referred to it as an "executive course."

Trust me, it doesn't play like an executive course. It's a par 70, with only two par 5s (523 and 536 yards), but it's got five par 4s of at least 400 yards (six if you lend a yard to the 399-yard fifth). It's also got a 225-yard uphill par 3.

About 20 years ago, when I used to swing for the fences on every tee shot, I hated courses like Deerfield. Too tight, too many trees, too many why-I-ought-to-hit-3-wood-as-often-as-driver shots.

Now, of course, I'm older, wiser and shorter off the tee, and all those things are precisely what I like about courses like Deerfield: You actually have to think your way around the golf course.

Time and again, I'd stand on the tee, looking out at a mid-length dogleg with a sloping fairway, shrink-wrapped by trees, debating what the prudent play was.

Some holes are better than others, obviously, but not once in 18 holes did I yawn or get bored.

From the very first hole, it was obvious Deerfield was a little different. Instead of a flat, straight, user-friendly starter hole, you face a tree-lined dogleg with a 20- to 30-foot drop in elevation to the green. Hello!

As for charges that Deerfield is short, at the 418-yard ninth, I hit 3-wood off the tee because the fairway seemed a little tight, then still had 211 yards uphill for my second shot.

The next hole is a real doozy: a 536-yard par 5 that falls off almost vertically from the tee, then wraps around a pond on the left. After one of my best tee shots all day, I still had 248 yards to reach the green in 2. Executive course?

My sorta hole-in-one came at the 16th, a 170-yard uphill affair with a semi-blind green that's flanked by four bunkers. (I say "sorta" because I was playing two balls the whole round and holed out on my second ball.)

Ace or not, Deerfield is a winner in my book, especially if you fancy yourself any kind of shotmaker.

Getting there: Deerfield Golf and Tennis Club is at 507 Thompson Station Rd., Newark, Del. Phone 302-368-6640. Web site: www.deerfieldgolfclub.com.

Directions: From Philadelphia, take I-95 south to Exit 3, Rt. 273 west. At the first light off the exit ramp, turn right onto Harmony Road; left at Rt. 2 (Kirkwood Highway); right at Rt. 72 north. After road changes to Thompson Station Road, take the third left into Deerfield.

Green fees: Fridays, weekends and holidays before 11 a.m. $76 including cart, $70 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $66 after 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday, $68 before 11 a.m., $64 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $58 after 3 p.m.

Discounts for Delaware residents and seniors.

Carts: Walking is permitted anytime, although rates include carts. No pullcarts. (Course is walker-friendly).

Amenities: Comfortable clubhouse, grill; moderately stocked pro shop.

Rating: Tight, hilly, shotmaker's paradise, good for any level of golfer. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in charm. Must-play for the well-traveled golfer in the area.


Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com.

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