Deerwood's low profile, but deserves attention before it goes private

By Darryl Berger, Contributor

WESTAMPTON, N.J. -- The Deerwood Country Club has a low profile, but deserves more attention than it’s received. The semi-private course opened for play in 1996 with designs to go private. That hasn't happened yet and operators have no firm timetable to make it happen in the immediate future.

“We don’t advertise and we tend to focus on the membership,” says General Manager Terry Mulligan (and yes his name is the source of some ribbing). “We certainly welcome outside play, but we’ve just never gone out of our way to raise our profile. We do fewer rounds than some private courses so, it’s sort of a private experience.”

Deerwood Country Club is dominated by wetlands, which come into play often, and make you think the course could easily be located in the Carolina low country. The terrain is ironing board flat and while elevation doesn’t factor into the game, the wind can play a significant role. Owner Dick Alaimo, a civil engineer did the routing himself, with assistance from golf course architect Jim Blaukovitch.

Because of those wetlands, permitting for the course stretched out over a three-year period. “It was a real nightmare scenario,” according to Mulligan. “From the time the project began, until the course opened for play was about 6 years.” The course was built along with a housing development of single family and town homes.

Deerwood Country Club is short, playing just 6,300 yards from the back tees, but it’s no pushover. You must be able to hit your ball straight. On the front nine, many holes are lined with homes on the left and wetlands on your right. If you’re spraying your tee shots, it’ll be a long day, a high score and lots of lost balls. The course is also dotted with small ponds that will penalize the misplayed shot.

Keep the ball in play and you’ll likely shoot a pretty good score. From the tips, the par 70 has a rating of 69.4 and a slope of 124. “The tee ball is the key to scoring here,” advises veteran golfer Bill Kauffman of Marlton, N.J. “Just hit it straight and it’s a very fair test.”

There is an intimidation factor off the tee. Almost half the holes at Deerwood require a carry off the tee over wetlands. Those carries tend not to be very long, but if you dribble the occasional tee ball, it might have you gripping the club a little tighter. The first time player can be mislead because some of those carries appear longer than they actually are.

Deerwood’s greens are usually fast and true. The mid-size to smallish putting surfaces don’t have a lot of dramatic undulation. Green side bunkers tend to be shallow and not terribly penal.

Course conditioning is well above average. “This course is in as good a shape as any I’ve played all season,” said Bob Hughes from Haddon Heights, N.J. “The fairways are like carpet and it’s obvious they work at keeping it in good condition.”

Deerwood requires your full attention right from the start. The first hole plays 380 from the back tees with one and perhaps two forced carries needed to hit the green in regulation. There are houses and out of bounds to the left and wetlands and a pond wide right. It’s definite motivation to spend some time warming up on the practice range.

The fifth hole is a long par 4 and as tough as any you’ll ever want to take on. Deerwood’s No. 1 handicap is a 465-yard monster with a forced carry over wetlands and wetlands running up the right side, pinching the fairway on the approach. If you’re even thinking about going for the green in regulation, you’ve got to be careful of a pond to the left of the putting surface. Most golfers would be dancing off the green with a bogey.

At this writing, Deerwood was in the process of more than doubling the size of its clubhouse.

The verdict

Deerwood will not appeal to everyone. If you don’t like to see houses bordering the fairway, you’ll be turned off by some of the holes here (although there aren’t any holes with homes on both sides).

Some low handicappers might not see enough challenge, while some high handicappers might not care for the forced carries, ever present wetlands and homes (which at times a wild shot can bring within striking distance).

Still, there is much to recommend Deerwood. The pretty setting and the Carolina-style design you seldom see in the Garden State. Most players will enjoy the diversity of shot making and consider it a fair test of golf. In addition, the relatively low number of rounds does provide a private club atmosphere, which is supported by above average course conditioning.

Places to eat

Deerwood has the Green Room that provides above average dining choices. Chef John Kim’s creations aren’t available to the general public, but if you play golf there, you can eat there. Just down the road is a Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse, if you're looking for a cut of beef.

Places to stay

Nearby economy lodging is available at the Econo Lodge (choicehotels.com), Westampton and at Best Western Burlington Inn (bestwestern.com) in Mt. Holly.

Off the course

The course is just minutes away from historic Burlington, N.J. The town was founded in 1677 and retains numerous historic sites. Burlington is just upriver on the Delaware from Philadelphia and was an important port during the Colonial era.

Fast fact

Gen. Ulysses S Grant bought a house for his family in Burlington to keep them safe during the Civil War. Grant and his wife were traveling to Burlington after declining an invitation from President Lincoln to attend a play at Ford’s Theater when the president was assassinated.

Darryl Berger, Contributor


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