Newport News Deer Run is a municipal that stands up to the test of time

By Steve Rocca, Contributor

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- If you are looking for a good country club golf course, there are plenty of places in Virginia that you can join. If you just want a cheap place to play golf, there are plenty of municipals out there as well. But if you want to combine the two -- a great golf course manicured to perfection like most country clubs and at an affordable price -- then you owe it to yourself to check out Newport News Golf Club.

The 36-hole facility, just 15 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg and minutes outside of Yorktown, is located in an 8,000-acre park that features some of the best greens in the Tidewater area. The beautifully wooded Deer Run Course, designed by Ed Ault, is rated 3.5 stars by Golf Digest and one of the "100 Best Places to Play in the Middle Atlantic" by Washington Golf Monthly.

The park has more than 30 miles of biking and hiking trails, 188 modern campsites, acres of tennis courts and some of the best salt and freshwater fishing in all of Virginia. Oh, don't forget about the five-star archery range (the only one on the East Coast), or the 30-acre aeromodel flying field? The largest municipal park east of the Mississippi River features activities for everyone in the family. Picnic shelters are open year round, and you can rent paddle boats, go canoeing, or test out your skills on the 18-hole championship disc golf course (one of the newest in Virginia).

While junior and the rest of the family are taking part in some of those challenges, you can be on the other side of the park playing golf.

For $30, you get your choice of two championship courses, Deer Run or the Cardinal. Neither is a pushover. The back tees here are not for the faint of driver. The course requires power and finesse, length and strength. Deer Run, which was built in 1964 but stands the test of time because it plays to plays 7,206 yards, is truly one of the best municipals you'll ever play. That's down from the original length of 7,389 yards, which at the time made it the longest course in the state.

The Deer Run course presents a challenge that requires length and accuracy and a good putting touch, Deer Run has played host to numerous USGA and VSGA qualifiers, probably because they love the rolling Bermuda grass fairways and meticulously manicured bent grass greens.

True lies everywhere, all with a municipal price tag.

"I had the opportunity to go back to the country club life 15 years ago," says head pro Greg Overton, "but the physical environment here in unbelievable."

True indeed. With whitetail deer roaming freely on the grounds of this municipal park, mature trees at every turn, and white birdhouses that mark the 150-yard locations, the golf becomes one with nature. Cut among Virginia hard woods the players rarely see another group of golfers, but plenty of other critters, and the abundance of wildlife brought in the honor of being listed in the National Audobon Society Registry.

Located at the base of Virginia's Piedmont area, Ault cleverly incorporates the 30-35 foot elevation changes on some holes with the rolling fairways and the surrounding forest. The scenic fifth hole, a 215-yard, par-3 over water is considered the signature hole, and as intimidating as it is, it pales in comparison to what is just a couple of hours ahead. Ault tests you on the long, narrow final five holes at Deer Run that some call the toughest finishing holes in the Old Dominion. If you survive the first three par-5s, which weigh in at 513, 547 and 541, you better buckle up for the finishing stretch of 14 through 18.

How's this for a test of your stamina? This incredible stretch of finishing holes plays like this: 464 yards, 422 yards, 212 yards, 443 yards and a whopping finisher of 573 yards. The 18th is narrow and uphill, and together the five holes equal more than 2,100 yards, an average of 422 yards per hole, including the par-3.

You better save yourself for this grueling finishing stretch. The only salvation on most of the holes is that while long and narrow, the bunkering around the greens allows for approaches to run up the neck. Most of these greens can be had with a combination of shots. A running three-iron, bounding along the ground, works just as well as a high 5-wood that lands softly. This course allows for some creativity on the approaches because the sand traps aren't very penal, and the greens are true. The holes can be had by the straight, long hitters, but those who normally fade at the end of a round better take along an extra power bar.

It's a course that, because of its length, will force you to play shots you may not be accustomed to playing. This is not a "driver, wedge and two putts" type of course. You will need your 3-iron, your 4-iron and your 5-wood, and you better be hitting them all straight.

The club's second 18, the Cardinal, combines a beefy nine that was the front side of the original Deer Run course with a shorter, accuracy-demanding back nine that grew from a par-3 course. Because of Deer Run's reputation, the Cardinal is often overlooked.

While carts are mandatory at Deer Run, this is not the case at the Cardinal, which plays to a respectable 6,700 yards. With a sloping fairway and water down the left side, the gorgeous par-5 17th hole is adjacent to a Civil War battlefield.

"You could not build this course today," Overton said. "There's no way you could route it through a Civil War battlefield. It just couldn't be done."

Around town

The Mariners' Museum: America's premier maritime museum. The museum's unrivaled collection includes figureheads, antique navigational instruments, working steam engines and the nationally famous Crabtree Collection of Miniature Ships. It is located in a beautifully landscaped 550-acre park. For more information, call (757) 596-2222.

Virginia Living Museum: "Go Wild" at this unique combination of a native wildlife park, science museum, aquarium, botanical preserve and planetarium. Outdoor exhibits take you on an up-close safari where you will encounter raccoons, beavers, river otters, deer, foxes, bobcats and other animals, all in natural settings. Indoor exhibits include a Touch Tank and a children's activity area. For more information, call (757) 595-1900.

Virginia War Museum: American military history from 1775 to the present is highlighted through uniforms, insignias, vehicles, weapons, accoutrements, propaganda posters and more. The museum's collection of more than 60,000 artifacts includes a 10x10- foot section of the Berlin Wall, an 1883 brass Gatling Gun, a Civil War blockade runner's uniform and a portion of the outer wall from Dachau Concentration Camp. It's on Warwick Boulevard (Exit 263A from I-64, Exit 5 from I-664).

Civil War sites: Newport News has a rich Civil War heritage, including 12 stops on a new Civil War Trails driving tour. Important sites include the Battle of Dam No. 1, Lee Hall Mansion and the Monitor-Merrimack Overlook. A self-guided driving tour brochure is available at the Newport News Visitor Information Center. Guided tours by leading historians are also available.

Dining: The Deer Run Grille offers lunch or full service catering for your event. A refreshment cart travels the courses and a snack bar is positioned strategically halfway through the course, which does not return to the clubhouse at the turn. The course is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes it nice for golf. But there are no other restaurants in the immediate area.

Stay and play

The Point Plaza Suites and Conference Hotel
950 J. Clyde Morris Blvd.
Newport News, Va. 23601

Comfort Inn
12330 Jefferson Avenue
Newport News, Va. 23602
(757) 249-0200 or (800) 368-2477

Fast fact:

The gorgeous par-5 17th hole at the Cardinal course is adjacent to a Civil War battlefield.

Steve RoccaSteve Rocca, Contributor

Steve Rocca has 16 years of journalism experience, including stints at the Virginian-Pilot, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Palm Beach Post and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment