Jacksonville's Deerwood gets new drainage, greens with major renovation

By Greg Walsh, Publications Director

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - This city's oldest gated community now has the newest golf course in Northeast Florida.

Officially opened Labor Day weekend, Deerwood Country Club's 18-hole course underwent an eight-month renovation that involved reworking many of the existing holes and adding much needed drainage.

The course improvements represent about half of a $10 million project that includes a new clubhouse, putting green, cart facility and other amenities.

Members of the media were given a tour of the course, which is well known as a local qualifying site for the U.S. Open and Mid-Amateur tournaments. For those who knew the old course, the changes have been dramatic.

"We are very, very happy with the changes," said Michelle Pollina, Deerwood marketing director. "We feel like this has made the course so much better."

Pollina said previously it became clear that the flat course, which always had drainage issues, needed substantial improvements. The course was built in 1960 on a shoestring budget and it became obvious over the years when its infrastructure couldn't keep up.

"The course was built badly, and over time everything started to look really awful," Pollina said. "We had drought for a few years so you really didn't notice the fact we had a drainage problem. When it actually started to rain again about two years ago, you really started to see the problem. Then, everybody started to complain. It became apparent we needed to do something quickly."

Most notable is the contoured feel of the fairways that are now more sculpted to subtly direct water to underground drainage. All the bunkers were dug out and lined to keep the sand and underlying dirt separate, and new irrigation sprayers were added to maintain the bunker edges.

Besides installing the drainage, architect Brian Silva's primary objective also was to straighten some of the holes that got Deerwood dubbed "The Dogleg Open" when it hosted the Greater Jacksonville Open in the 1960s and 70s. He was successful to some degree, although the course still has a couple holes, including the par 5 13th and the par 4 14th, with severe turns.

The course property is dominated by Lake Deerwood, which comes into play on three holes. The 473-yard, par 4 10th hole is a severe dogleg left, but you can cutoff nearly 250 yards with a straight shot over the lake to a large landing area.

And the par 4 11th, while shorter at 339 yards, has a similar tee shot as the hole wraps around the lake. However, the fairway is well bunkered on the far side if the tee shot goes long and the green juts out into the lake, making the second shot very difficult.

Other notable changes include:

  • The 403-yard, par 4 fifth hole that was completely reworked. The fairway was moved more to the left and water on the right made more of a hazard from the tee. The second shot is back to the right to a bulk headed, narrow and undulating green that offers only limited bailout.
  • The par 3 eighth appears easy enough on the card at 159 yards. But from the tee box it requires a golf technician's skill to hit a small, oblong green that is protected in the front by water. Long or left are trouble spots, and over the green puts you into thick rough, making for a dicey chip back onto the putting surface.
  • Silva also altered the 439-yard ninth hole to make it more attractive to cutoff yet another dogleg, this one left and slightly downhill to a green that sits uphill for the second shot.

Country Club president John Kattman said the members looked at a number of architects before settling on Silva. "It was very close," Kattman said of the choice. "But of all the architects we looked at he seemed to have what we were looking for."

Famed golf course designer George Cobb designed Deerwood. Pollina said Cobb was selected based on the recommendation of his good friend, Arnold Palmer, who later criticized the course as too difficult for members. When Cobb begrudgingly agreed to revamp the layout he added a number of doglegs to show his displeasure.

The Verdict

Deerwood has a somewhat unusual, but not awkward, layout. With the large lake dominating the property, many of the holes can be seen from the clubhouse. The course is above average in difficulty, especially from the tips, and some holes require precise shots into greens that arguably are not member friendly. But that's what makes this course an excellent site for local and regional tournaments.

As the course, and especially the tif eagle greens, mature it should really offer members an excellent golfing challenge for several decades to come.

Fast Fact

The private course was owned by Gate Petroleum magnate Herb Peyton until 1999 when he sold it to the country club members. Although some outside groups are allowed to rent the course on special occasions, such as the annual Players Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, guests usually are invited to play by members.

Greg Walsh, Publications Director

Greg Walsh has more than 23 years of journalism experience as daily newspaper editor and reporter. Prior to joining TravelGolf.com in July, Walsh held editing positions at newspapers in Oklahoma, Illinois, Louisiana, Indiana, Pennyslvania and Florida before realizing the Holy Grail of newspaper newsrooms doesn't exist.

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