The John Deere Classic is a mid-summer staple on the PGA Tour. Although it doesn’t tend to attract the game’s leading lights on a regular basis, (many saving their energy for the British Open, or Open Championship, which follows close at hand) there have been some notable entries and distinguished champions. Jordan Speith won two out of three years, including his inaugural PGA Tour win in 2013. Steve Stricker pulled off a hat trick, winning three times consecutively in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Of further interest, Michelle Wie played there at age fifteen in 2005, missing the cut by a scant two strokes.
However, the focus of this travelogue is not to showcase the leading and lesser lights who make the annual pilgrimage to Silvis, Illinois to test their skills on the TPC at Deere Run, but to shine the spotlight on some of the many hundreds of golf courses nationwide that have the word ‘deer’ in their name. It’s no short list, and the first entry goes to another long-time PGA Tour venue, Brown Deer Park Golf Course, one of the jewels of Milwaukee’s public golf scene.
Brown Deer Park hosted the Tour for fifteen years, from 1994 to 2009, when the tournament was discontinued. Its ‘brush with greatness’ came in 1996, when Tiger Woods, fresh off his third consecutive win in the U.S. Amateur, made his professional debut. He has subsequently made more than a hundred million on the course alone (endorsements aside) but the first twenty five hundred bucks he ever made came courtesy of a sixtieth place finish that fateful week at Brown Deer Park.
The vast majority of the other ‘deer’ courses nationwide make no such claim to fame. They are mostly simple and pleasant tests of golf where visitors and regulars plunk down their green fee and enjoy a day on the course. There is no way to accurately gauge how many ‘deer’ courses there might be in the nation, but here’s a ‘starter set’ of eight. Suffice it to say this is just the very tip of the iceberg, or might we say antler?
Running Deer Golf Club in leafy Pittsgrove, New Jersey, is worth a visit for a few reasons. First is it’s a serene walk through the forest, and second, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of owner Ron Jaworski. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and highly regarded TV analyst owns a small stable of courses, and Running Deer is considered one of the finest in his holdings.
Deer Valley is in Hummelstown, PA, just a few short miles from Hershey and Harrisburg. The course features large elevated greens, massive multi-tiered tees and unique hybrid, dwarf bluegrass fairways. From different vantage points during the round there are beautiful views and vistas of Hershey and the surrounding Blue Mountains.
King’s Deer Golf Club in Monument, CO sits at an elevation of 7,400 feet, making it the highest course along the Front Range. Located high atop the Palmer Divide, the course offers incredible views of Pike’s Peak and Mount Herman, as well as Bald Mountain and True Mountain to the north. The playing fields meander through rolling Colorado grasslands, with the front nine more target golf, requiring accuracy off the tee to avoid the native fescue. The back nine is longer and requires bolder tee shots to insure tenable distances for one’s approach shot.
Deer Creek Golf Club in Deerfield, Florida offers rolling topography and undulating greens that are not usually found in south Florida. The golf market between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton is saturated, but this golf course has always received much-deserved accolades for conditioning and service, keeping it in the top tier of public-access venues in the area.
White Deer Run on Chicago’s North Shore is a popular destination with the area’s public golfers. There are loads of high-end private clubs in the vicinity, but White Deer Run attracts steady play, in part due to its unique location on the famed Cuneo Estate in Vernon Hills.
Deer Ridge Golf Club in Brentwood, CA, not far from the San Francisco Bay Area, is set among the picturesque foothills of Mount Diablo. The golf course hugs the contours of Mount Diablo and winds its way through majestic oaks, with sharp contrasts of color and terrain. Consistent conditioning and excellent greens make this one of the East Bay’s most popular golf courses.
Deerwood Country Club may be located in Mount Holly, New Jersey. However, the course has the look and feel of something found in the Carolina Lowcountry. This links-style course is surrounded by woods and wetlands, and though the ‘tips’ are just a chip shot beyond 6,200 yards, with only a single par-4 beyond 400 yards, this par-70 offers plenty of challenge with its water-laden fairways and tricky greens.
Finally, Deer Island Country Club is one of the more notable courses in central Florida. It’s located on the secluded four hundred acre Deer Island, amidst the Harris Chain of Lakes, which is part of Oklawaha River Basin in Tavares, Florida. This Joe Lee design features magnificent views of Lake Dora and Lake Beauclaire, and the panoramic nature of the property allows players to view a wide range of wildlife as they make their way around the course.