Greg Overton, head professional at Newport News (Va.) Golf Club at Deer Run for 28 years, wants to introduce more potential golfers to the sport by tackling the cost problem.
Greg Overton, Head Golf Professional at the Newport News (Va.) Golf Club at Deer Run in 1984, was recently featured in the Hampton Roads (Va.) Daily Press, for his efforts to raise the profile of the 36-hole public course.
After trying to qualify for the PGA Tour, becoming a golf instructor in the Washington, D.C., area and joining the James River Country Club in Newport News as a pro, Overton moved to the golf pro position at the Newport News Golf Club at Deer Run in 1984.
Through five U.S. presidents, 28 Super Bowls and the addition of a second course at the public club, Overton has been at that property ever since, the Daily Press reported, even if he never planned it that way.
“I fully intended to be a Tour player,” Overton said. “But this has been an exciting job. I never thought it would be a dream job, but it really evolved.”
Deer Run opened in 1966 with what is now known as the Championship Course, and after more than 40 years, it remains one of the top public courses in the state, Overton said
“We get a lot of visitors from other clubs, especially from Northern Virginia, and they can’t believe it’s a municipal course,” Overton said. “It’s a true up-and-down course with a lot of elevation changes. There really aren’t any courses better.”
The Deer Run club offers an array of services that, Overton contended, are the match of many private clubs, without the accessibility issues.
In 1988, Overton and Deer Run took an existing par-3 course and redesigned it into the 18-hole Cardinal course. This was during a time when demand was far outstripping supply for accessible golf rounds in the Hampton Roads area.
“There was a lot of demand for another 18 holes,” Overton said. “Today, we’ve gone from 103,000 equivalent rounds in a year—which was too much and shows what a problem access was—to 54,000.”
But that’s not an optimal number for the club, he said. A combination of factors has led to a drop in participation, both at Deer Run and across the country.
“Now there are too many golf courses. The market didn’t adjust itself properly,” Overton said. “The housing bubble hurt, we didn’t anticipate the number of golfers properly. The cost of operating has gone up, yet deflation has occurred.”
Overton’s goal for Deer Run: introduce more potential golfers to the sport and tackle the cost problem.
“In 1984, minimum wage was $5.50 an hour. You could walk an 18-hole course for one hour of work,” he said. “Today a person making minimum wage has to work 2.5 hours to play a round. I’m at the value end, and that’s still too expensive. If you go to Northern Virginia, a public course is $75 on weekends. How often can people play to improve their game at those prices?”
Overton also pointed to Deer Run’s extensive classes for beginner golfers and the club’s participation in the U.S. Golf Association’s Hook A Kid program, in which participating clubs offer free week-long classes to youth unlikely to otherwise pick up the sport.
As for what’s next, Overton said at some point the club may return to a less agriculturally-intense environment, as courses often were in the 1960s
“We’ve been discussing this topic for years – how to create this environment that isn’t expensive yet is still challenging,” Overton said. “In Scotland, they grow courses on grass and sand dunes. I doubt they irrigate St. Andrews. That model has to come back to American golf. Maybe we can be the first facility to revert to a minimalist environment.”