Deerfield

6,323 yards, 136 slope from the Blues

Course:  Located in Newark, DE, Deerfield is probably the hilliest course in the area next to Broad Run.  You’ll definitely see deer, but not many fields, as you’re going up and down a series of hills on virtually every hole.  Elevation changes indeed abound.  The course is also set in a heavily wooded area, so trees are everywhere.  The last time I played here I realized that this course is tough.  The slope rating certainly reflects that, but when the difficulty isn’t thrown in your face and is much more subtle, you appreciate it more.  Right off the bat I’ll say that this course should probably be higher in my rankings overall and in difficulty.  I really enjoy playing here, even when the course is basically smacking me around like a rag doll.

Deerfield was started as a private club in 1955 by the DuPont corporation for its employees.  Its original name was Louviers Country Club.  The course was designed by William Gordon, who was a charter member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and worked with William Flynn for almost 20 years.  Gordon is well known and his others designs include The Stanwich Club and Saucon Valley (Grace course).  Indeed, Flynn’s style can be seen throughout the course, particularly with the conservative/strategic placement of bunkers, which flare out to reveal the majority of its sand as visuals for the golfer.  Shot value is also emphasized, with canted fairways and green complexes placed in tricky spots, there are good and bad areas of fairway on every hole that present a sliding scale of difficulty for the next shot.  It’s not a penal course, but well executed shots are rewarded while mis hits, or shots to the wrong sides of the hole, will usually will give you a more difficult following shot.  The hills also provide tricky lies and complicate your club distances.  As a classic layout set on hilly terrain, Deerfield is one of the better options for a daily fee course in Delaware.

The First is a 523 yard par 5 (from the Blues) and starts you off with a nice wide fairway, but then quickly doglegs left and severely downhill to a narrow deep pin.  The flagstick is probably 25 feet long so you can actually see it from the fairway.  In fact, Deerfield wins the award from average length of flagstick and total length of flagsticks, as they are all very tall to ensure you can see them from various points of the hilly fairways.  A bunker is flanked on each side of the First green to collect any off center approach shots.

The First tee

A peek at the green from the fairway
Approach shot on Hole 1.  Good example of general course type.  Surrounded by trees and hills with sparse but strategic bunker placement

The Second is a 179 yard par 3 with a slight raised tee shot to a larger green.  If you’re going to miss here, miss short, as anything left or long is done, bunkers are left and right and anything to the right of the bunkers leaves you with a difficult downhill pitch shot.

The Second

The 327 yard par 4 gives you an uphill tee shot that dog legs left and possibly leaves you with a blind second shot.  Although the hole is short, the hill and blind shot makes it tougher than you’d think.  The green undulates and is multi-tiered.

The Third
Approach shot territory

Hopefully you’re warmed up and your game is on because the rest of the front 9 will beat you with the bogey stick over and over if you’re off.

The Fourth is a tough 432 yard par 4 with a fairway that severely slopes from right to left.  One bunker after another go up the left side of the hole while the right is generally in the woods.  The fairway also goes up then down and your approach is to a green set up on a hill.  Anything short left goes into a bunker set way downhill from the green while there’s no room on the right.  Quite simply, you must stick your approach on the green or you’ll pay.

The Fourth

A look at the green from the right side of the Fourth fairway

The 399 yard par 4 Fifth is tougher than the Fourth in my opinion, mainly because you have little discretion with your tee shot.  At least on the Fourth you can strategize how you want to play the hole; the Fifth tells you how you’re going to play it.  First is the tee shot.  The fairway slopes left to right and the trees don’t give you much room for anything but a draw.  Or if you hit straight, make sure you’re lined up slightly left on the right side of the tee box.  Then there’s the second shot.  As the hole is around 400 yards, the second shot will likely be on the longer side, which is compounded by the fact the green sits up hill.  Anything that goes right will end up in a bunker, if you’re lucky.  Otherwise the ball will roll down into fescue.  There is some room on the left, but then you’re dealing with a tough downhill wedge shot.  The green is big enough to manage, but getting the ball on there is the tough part.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The 401 yard par 4 has a fairway that severely slopes from right to left, then dog legs left to a green that sits up on a hill higher than any other on the course.  Just like the Fifth, your tee shot and second shot are extremely important, but the Sixth lets you decide how to play it;  go up the left side and have a shorter yet blind approach, go up the right and have a longer approach but will be able to see the green.  The fact that you can strategize on these holes definitely makes it more interesting.

The Sixth.  A great perspective of the fairway from the tee.

Approach shot territory.  The green is blind and it’s severely raised.

The 346 yard par 4 Seventh gives you a little bit of a breather only because there’s more room for error on your approach shot. The fairway slopes left to right yet the green sits level with the fairway, there’s just more bunkers to deal with.

The Seventh
Approach shot territory.  Another skyscraper flag stick looms in the distance.

The 225 yard par 3 Eighth brings me to a soapbox issue that I’ll rant about for a little bit.  This is a par 3, up hill, 225 yards.  Personally, I think any par 3 over 200 yards is a little silly.  Maybe if you’re playing from the tips, I get it, but for the rest of us it’s a stretch.  It has nothing to do with the hole being too hard, but more with realism.  Par 3’s are supposed to be one shotters; how many times is the average golfer hitting a green from more than 200 yards out?  I just feel it’s a cheap way for courses to increase difficulty without getting creative.  In this hole’s defense, there really isn’t any trouble short so you’re not forced to blast it and the green slopes from back to front so hitting short side is preferred.  But other than the length, it’s one of the weaker holes on the course.  The only other hole I can think of at the moment that is a + 200 yard par 3 is at Lederach.  That hole is actually much more interesting and I really wish they’d move up the tees since I feel it could be a lot more enjoyable and just as challenging with a more manageable distance.  (Check out the update section; my thoughts on this have changed).

The Eighth.  This is the fourth blind green in a row and one of the few where the bunkers are some what hidden

Moving on, the 418 yard par 4 Ninth is the number 1 handicap hole and rightly so.  It’s an uphill dog leg right that demands you hit a fade off the tee since the trees on the right intrude on the airspace of the fairway.  I like fades more than draws because I can actually hit them; fades just seem like less dramatic slices to me.  The green is tucked in even more right and uphill, with bunkers surrounding the sides of the green.  The green itself is one of the more difficult.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory.  Blind green alert.

The front nine is among my favorite in the area.  The par 4’s really shine here.  Although they don’t vary much distance wise, they all have different character and each presents a new challenge.  Repeat play is rewarded by knowing the green make up, to remove the uncertainty brought in by the blind greens (which are at 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9).  Ranking the front, I’d go 4, 5, 6, 9, 1, 3, 7, 8, 2.

In terms of difficulty and interest, the back 9 doesn’t let up.  The 536 yard par 5 Tenth is one of the better par 5’s in the area.  You start with an elevated tee shot down into a valley that immediately dog legs left.  There is water that is hidden from the tee box that penalizes those who try to get too greedy with cutting the dog leg.  The fairway is winding and narrow, with the trees forcing you to go up the center.  The green stands on its own mound, so the only way to stick the green is through the air.

The Tenth.  No way to avoid this, course conditions have taken a hit from weather and my photos don’t do the hole justice.  I include them to get a visual sense of the hole.  

Looking down the fairway to green.  Yup, that water on the left is in play off the tee.

The 158 yard par 3 Eleventh is the first par 3 of the back nine.  The green sits on a a side hill that slopes right to left, yet the green pulls in the opposite direction.  All of the trouble is left and long.  The hole fits in nicely to the landscape here.

The Eleventh.

The Twelfth is a 369 yard par 4 that gives you an uphill tee shot and a manageable approach to a green that is scattered with bunkers.  It’s a nice scoring opportunity and feels like part of the routing, beginning with the Eleventh, to ease up on the throttle and give you a breather.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 326 yard par 4 that dog legs right.  I believe driver may not be the best play, as bunkers will get you if you try to cut the dog leg too much on the right and anything too far left is in the woods.  Do not go long with your approach (as I have); the best miss is short.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 406 yard par 4 that is the number 2 handicap hole.  It dog legs left after a tight tee shot to an undulating fairway that slopes right to left.  The second shot is long but the green is on the larger side and uphill.

The Fourteenth

The 355 yard par 4 Fifteenth is a downhill par 4 that gives you a good scoring opportunity.  You’ll get a good amount of roll on your tee shot and the approach shouldn’t be all that difficult.  Missing left is fine, but right is OB.

The Fifteenth
Approach shot

The 170 yard par 3 Sixteenth is the best par 3 on the course.  You have a lot of options off the tee to the elevated green, all of which come with their own plusses and minuses, taking various hazards out of play.  A fade takes the trees on the right side out, but you’ll end in a bunker complex if you’re short.  A draw takes those bunkers out of play, but too strong of a draw ends up in the trees.  There’s always straight, but too much and you’ll probably roll into the bunkers.  The green is a little but of a punchbowl, so any GIR should give you a good chance at birdie.

The Sixteenth

Aside from the Tenth, the Sixteenth through Eighteenth are my favorite on the back 9.  The Seventeenth is a 406 par 4 that dog legs right after a downhill tee shot.  The fairway is probably the most wide open on the course.  Just don’t hit too far right because you’ll be caught downslope and on the second shot a bunker complex comes into play.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The 347 yard par 4 Eighteenth is yet another dogleg par 4 with an uphill tee shot going right.  You’ll be left with a blind second shot if you don’t get all of your tee shot.  It’s a great scoring hole as well.  The green ends in front of the club house with the bar a few steps away.  My kind of set up.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory

The back nine is interesting.  I like the routing, with a tough Tenth hole followed by a few easier ones to set up a strong finishing set.  I’d rank them 10, 17, 16, 18, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11.

Generally, yes there’s a lot of par 4 dog legs that go uphill, downhill and sideways, but the design gives each one its own individual characteristic.  In fact, you don’t really miss those other two par 5’s because the hills make some of the par 4’s feel like 5’s anyways.  I like the routing inasmuch as the tough holes are where they should be as far as I’m concerned, and you’re given a few chances to make up strokes on the closing holes.  The undulations of the fairways, severe sloping and blind shots also bring much more to think about on each hole other than which direction the dogleg is.  And as the holes roll out, there’s enough to make sure you’re not complacent or able to figure out how to play the design.  That will keep you coming back to figure things out.

Deerfield does a lot of other things right other than its great maintenance of a well designed course.  The service here is awesome.  The club pro, Kurt, approached our group after we finished the front 9 and asked if we wanted to go play 17 and 18 before starting the second 9, as hole 10 was a little backed up and no one was on 17, so we could get a few extra holes in.  We were happy to.  Once we were done on 18, Kurt was there waiting for us.  He found an opening for us at 10, but we had to let a group go ahead of us.  He was willing to give us a free round of drinks as we waited.  Who were we to say no?  You just don’t see that at 99% of the public courses around here.  Once we finished 18, I was convinced that my putter was defective (due to a few too many 3 putts), so went into the pro shop for a new one.  Again received great service and ended up getting a putter and we went out for another round.

I’ve also always played with great people here.  From the older gentleman who putted better than anyone I’ve played with to the foursome ahead of me one time that offered me the chance to play with them or go ahead, the crowd here is a plus.  Cart girls come around often, practice area is some where you could hang out for a few hours and one of the best, if not best, staff in the area, I only wish Deerfield was closer to where I live so I could play there more often.

Gripes:  I’m reaching here, but it’s a little bit of a trek once you get off 95.  Can get crowded.  Don’t know if you could, but walking this course is probably the same thing as getting a shotgun and blowing off one of your legs.

Bar/grill:  One of the better in the area.  Great beer and food, plasmas in enough places and a lot of room so everyone gets their own area.

Clubhouse:  Obviously a great selection of putters; they even have a hole you can putt to.

Getting there:  95S to Newark, then another 10 minutes up some hills.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

July 2013

I played here as a single last month during the weekend.  I updated my initial review with a few additional comments and posted a lot of photos above.  Although crowded, they were able to get me on right away.  At the outset, I will say that conditions are not as good as they have been.  It appears the course has taken on a lot of water from the recent record rainfall, which has affected things substantially in places.  I believe that’s something that will be corrected rather than a sign of course maintenance falling off and it’s something I’ll monitor when I return.

I was eager to play the course again since my game has changed dramatically since the last time I was here.  Mainly, I’m much longer off the tee and my irons have improved.  I saw more short irons for my approach shots, but the bunkers and rough did what they were supposed to do; make any mis hit shot more difficult if played incorrectly.  To me, that’s not penal.  Penal is when you have no shot whatsoever from a mis played shot.  Here, you are definitely left with an opportunity to salvage the hole, with more of a difficult shot, in terms of being in the rough, working around trees or getting out of bunkers.  The blind greens were fun, as I know them well, so I enjoyed hitting to them and seeing my ball where I hoped it would be.

The service and people here continue to be great.  I was able to get out on a crowded day without a tee time immediately.  On the back nine, I was paired up with a gentleman who played quite well and frequents the course.  My game imploded the minute he sat in my cart for a few holes, but he was great to play with.  That seems to happen every time I come here; I get paired up with what makes great company throughout the entire round.

Regarding my initial rant on +200 yard par 3’s, they don’t bother me as much as they used to, but I feel the principle still stands.  It’s similar to why the pros complained about the 265 yard uphill par 3 on Sunday at the US Open at Merion.  At what point is a long par 3 too long, making par virtually impossible?  I still agree that these longer par 3’s generally take away the ability to shape shots for most golfers, but they are actually challenging another aspect of the player’s skill; length and accuracy.  If the hole is designed as receptive a more broad range of shots instead of requiring pinpoint accuracy, they can add some welcome variety to a course.  Larger greens, a substantial opening at the front of the green to allow shots to roll on and a good amount of bail out room (with or without rough) in front of the green usually help in this regard.  Most long par 3’s I can think of possess these attributes.  There is one I can think of, however, that does not.  That would be the Seventeenth at Sliver Rock out in La Quinta, CA.  Yes you can hit short of the green to the rough for a straight look at the green, but the green is diagonal to the tee and does not receive tee shots that roll out significantly, which most golfers will end up doing from that distance.  And the fade is the preferred shot shape, again difficult for most golfers to pull off.  It’s a tough hole for sure and intended to be, but I can’t help think how fun it would be to play at 165.  At any rate, the Eighth at Deerfield is a good example of a very playable long par 3 and I don’t have any issues with it or the one at Lederach any more.

I still like Deerfield a lot and although I’m a little concerned with the conditioning issues, it continues to be on my short list.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

May 2017

Time flies and I realized I had not played here for almost four years, so I decided to get a round in on Memorial Day.  The conditioning has improved and the course played very well.  The hills, dog legs, awkward lies and greens make for a fun round that is challenging in a lot of parts.

I included some photos so you can see the improvements in conditions.

It comes back to its rightful place in my rankings.

The Third

The Fourth

The Tenth

The Twelfth


One thought on “Deerfield

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