Deercroft Golf Club on road to recovery

By DAVID DROSCHAK

Why would Ted Robinson leave a perfectly good job he held for 13 years at a private club in the Philadelphia suburbs?

To pursue his dream, that’s why.

Robinson, 50, had been looking at investing in a golf course over a five-year period when an ad for an ownership/lease option at Deercroft Golf Club in Wagram caught his attention. He was intrigued by the close proximity to Pinehurst and visited twice before pulling the trigger in June 2011.

“It is probably a mid-life crisis. One of my goals and dreams for the last 30 years was to be able to call the shots, to have a vital say in the progression of a golf course,” Robinson said. “I loved being a head professional, it was a great job in a great situation at a private course, but ultimately it wasn’t me calling the shots. I just felt there were things being left on the table that people weren’t willing to do or try. I look at it as if I’m going to succeed or fail it’s going to be because of me, it’s not going to be from anybody else.”

Robinson certainly picked a challenge. Deercroft was neglected on numerous fronts and had lost a large portion of the local and tourism golfing market. Poor course conditions have a way of catching up with you in a competitive market like Pinehurst.

“My first thought was it needed a lot of TLC and money put back into it,” Robinson said. “As it turns out when I got down here and got involved it needed a lot more than I anticipated. I could see the physical part of it, but being a club pro I didn’t know enough about the irrigation end of it, the drainage end of it. I could see that the grass wasn’t growing and the tee boxes were a mess. So I just figured, ‘OK let’s put more fertilizer on it and aerate it and that should do it,’ but it was more than that.”

At first, Robinson felt it would take three years to inject new life into Deercroft. Upon further review, he’s now on a five-year plan that initially began with getting the course’s greens in shape, which he has accomplished to rave reviews.

“The equipment was a little worse off than I anticipated, so I was knee deep in it,” he said, looking back on his first few months on site. “But at the same time I looked at it as there is definitely a market for Deercroft. I wanted to get good greens and be the best golf course in that $20-$30 price range. That has been our mindset for the past year once we got stuff fixed, figured out what we had and what we needed.

“But my ultimate goal is not to be a $20-$30 golf course,” Robinson added. “Deercroft hosted a PGA Qualifier back in the mid 1980s, so it has a lot of potential. It is a slow process. As we made improvements we started getting a lot of positive feedback, like ‘your course is a great value for the money.’ That tells me, ‘OK let’s jump a dollar here and there.’ That’s a little less painful for the locals who have been supporting us. You don’t want to forget about them, but at the same time we need to get Pinehurst people back here and playing it and saying, ‘Hey, these conditions are as good as so and so and they cost twice as much.’’’

And there are even bigger plans. Robinson has retained rising star Kyle Franz, who worked with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw on the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 and is completing a major makeover at Mid Pines Resort, as a consulting architect to create a master plan to renovate Deercroft.

“There are little bits and pieces around the edge of the golf course that are just sitting there,” Franz said when asked about the potential of Deercroft. “I’ve kind of just started picking away at things, tinkering here and there. It’s more like a 10-year project as opposed to a 10-minute project.”

Franz has already worked on the first few holes, shifting around the bunker patterns to make things more playable for your average player.

“We’re going to continue to poke away at it when Ted has the time and money to do so,” Franz said. “Ted is such a nice guy; that’s why I was so excited to take this on and help him out as much as I can.”

In addition, Robinson is indebted to Paul Jett, the former superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2. Jett came down when Robinson first got into town to evaluate the conditions at Deercroft and recommended Alan Green, who was an assistant at Pinehurst No. 6 before Robinson offered him a job in early 2012.

“Paul kind of took us under his wing,” Robinson said. “He told me that Alan Green had the ability, the work ethic and the knowledge to take on a project as big as this because it was coming at you from all ends – irrigation, machinery, everything.”

Green left for another job after seven months. That didn’t deter Robinson, who then landed former Pinehurst No. 4 assistant Tait Robinson.

“From what I heard Alan and Tait were two of the best assistants at the Pinehurst Resort facility,” Robinson said. “I give both of those guys all the credit in the world.  Alan got us back on the map, worked his butt off, and fixed a lot of the drainage and irrigation problems with the help from some of his buddies at Pinehurst. He reached out and we were able to get some good used equipment from Pinehurst’s graveyard, which is as good of used equipment that you’re going to get.”

“For me, the first six months I really thought we weren’t going to make it. I thought it was way too far gone for my abilities. Getting Alan gave me that second wind. He was able to do a lot with nothing, then all of the sudden I started seeing good greens, I started hearing positive feedback. We got good used equipment, stuff that wasn’t costing us a whole lot of money and Alan was able to fix a lot of the golf course within the golf course, not sub-contracting it out.”

Natural areas were created in front of tee boxes and the green work began from the fringes in.

“The green complexes all of the sudden started coming together,” Robinson said. “The transition from Alan to Tait was excellent. Both know their stuff and both are great workers. I feel like I’m in great hands.”

Additional work has been done with bunker drainage and the cleaning up of the underbrush on the perimeters of the golf course. “We’ve taken over 800 trees down so far and are scheduled to take another 500 out to open things up and make it more playable. We’re not making the course easier; we’re just making it more playable,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s staff will soon tackle the cart paths … and on the on.

Off the course, Robinson has embraced the locals with a loyalty program card and military days, and wants tourists to know Deercroft, located off 15-501 South, is once again a viable option in the Sandhills.

“The negatives were basically the public stopped coming here; a lot of them swore they weren’t going to come back,” Robinson said. “It was poor customer service and the golf course deteriorating in front of their eyes. They held out as long as they could but it got to the point that it was just no good. Now the biggest hurdle is getting over that negative perception.”

Robinson, who signed a 10-year lease, is all about customer service. If you need an update on his vision, he’s more than willing to spend 5 minutes explaining where Deercroft is headed.

“After I talk to them they start to come back and they are inquisitive, wondering what this new guy is going to do, what has he done so far,” Robinson said. “I think they sense the passion that we have now and our vision and what we really want to do for this place. It is just snowballing and the locals are coming back.”