Deerfield Lakes Golf Club: Getting down to the basics in Callahan
CALLAHAN, Fla. -- While some golf courses can be a bit snooty, Deerfield Lakes Golf Club puts the "country" in country club.
It has a small-town, friendly environment that has warmly welcomed Jacksonville-area residents for more than 40 years. It's low-key, to the point that a sign gently asks patrons not to wander into the kitchen if they aren't employees.
The pro shop doesn't bother with tee times through the week, adhering to a first-come, first-served philosophy. In short, you're welcome whenever you feel like playing. With the exception of the very popular men's league on Thursdays and Sundays, you won't have to wait long to tee off, Deerfield Lakes Head Professional Nate Carter said.
But let's make one thing very clear. While the ambiance is casual, the golf is pretty serious.
Deerfield Lakes can hold its own in regard to its greens against some of the most elite, prestigious and expensive golf courses in the nation. I'm not prone to such bold statements, but I was amazed. The greens are flawless. They are sloped, vary in size and shape, and are nearly perfect. No scuffs, no bald patches and few ball marks. Your putt will go where you send it, without a single bump or hiccup, thanks to superintendent Bruce Whitson. He apparently achieves those standards with smoke and mirrors. He has a bare-bones staff, including a member who works the pro shop a few mornings a week before jumping on the mower the rest of the day.
Deerfield Lakes is more than greens, though. It's a feisty golf course with water on 16 of 18 holes, most in the form of small, nearly invisible ditches and tiny ponds that pull your errant shots into the depths, never to be retrieved.
Larry Brugh, a 6-handicap, said the water is treacherous, especially for long hitters.
"If you back up to the back tees, water really comes into play," Brugh said, pointing out from the clubhouse porch the holes where water waits.
His toughest hole is the last, with water on both sides of the landing area. "I can drive it into two lakes." he said, chuckling.
Deerfield Lakes offers four sets of tees, the longest at 6,605 yards, the shortest at 5,188.
"The black tees look short, but they aren't," Carter said.
The par-5 fourth hole is 600 yards, the par-3 seventh is 216 yards and the par-4 18th is 451 yards.
"You can't just throw the ball out there and hope for the best," said Brugh, noting even the par 3s are a challenge from the tips. "You have to be precise."
Throughout the course, you'll be contending with fairways hemmed in by huge pines, that infernal water, and elevated greens with thick rough everywhere.
The course is diverse, with trees and occasional fairway mounds to send your ball in places you never intended. You also have to make some plans and stick with them.
For example, Deerfield Lakes Golf Club's par-5 sixth hole requires you to parcel out your shots so you have the right distance at the end to fly over a pond that slides in from the right at the green. The eighth hole comes back on the other side of that pond, but it has a few added mounds between water and the fairway that can either bank your ball back in play or toss it into the drink.
Coy Centerfitt has been chasing small, white balls at Deerfield Lakes for most of its existence. Deerfield Lakes opened in 1968.
"When I first started playing here, there were a lot more trees and fox squirrels," Centerfitt said. "They've gotten rid of most of the trees."
Given the abundant number of saplings carefully protected from mowers, however, its tree-hewn heyday might be returning. When those trees gain some height, the course will be tight as a tick.
Centerfitt's game has changed, too, moving him up to the gold tees. From there, he finds a lot less trouble, but the course is still challenging.
"If you're hitting it well, the water isn't a problem," Centerfitt said. "If you're spraying it, it's a problem."
Deerfield Lakes Golf Club: The verdict
Deerfield Lakes Golf Club doesn't try to be something it isn't. It's a meat-and-potatoes, inexpensive golf course that gives your golf game a good workout without causing a lot of frustration, with the exception of a few balls lost to the tea-colored water all around the course.
This is a place to make some friends, bet a few dollars per nine and hone your putting skills on some remarkably fine greens. There's nothing wrong with that.