Tom Abts: The Golf Pro’s Pro

Tom Abts: The Golf Pro’s Pro

A mid-life crisis leads to the national spotlight.

Tom Abts, general manager and head PGA professional at Deer Run Golf Club in Victoria, operates on a simple principle: “No one needs to play golf. But people need to be treated well, and we’re happy to do it.”

It’s a business model that has been recognized by Golf Business, Golf, Inc., and Tee Times magazines, honored Abts as the 2011 Minnesota PGA Public Facility Promoter of the Year, and popularized Deer Run as the 2012 “Best Public Golf Course in Minnesota,” according to local CBS viewers.

A Minnetonka native, Abts took up golf while attending Arizona State University as preparation for a career in sales. He went through a self-described “mid-life crisis” at 35 and left jewelry retailing to become a golf pro. He spent one season working at River’s Edge in Watertown before being hired as Deer Run’s golf pro and general manager.

The National Golf Course Owners Association says 93 percent of daily-fee golf courses lost money in 2012. According to Abts, Deer Run was in the 7 percent that finished in the black. Deer Run’s success, says Abts, is largely due to its marketing. Abts says his most creative accomplishment is “Fast Play Friday”—a program that requires golfers to play in less than four hours.

“It put us on the map,” Abts says. “It changed the culture, so that four hours became normal every day of the week.”

Other successful marketing campaigns include “Welcome to the Real Magic Kingdom”—a program based on Michael Murphy’s novel Golf in the Kingdom, which explores golf’s origins among Scottish shepherds.

Above all, Abts values simplicity, hospitality, and honesty.

“Our innovation needs to simplify and improve our total operation and especially our atmosphere and service,” Abts says. “I told my staff that I’d like Deer Run Golf Club to be here 100 years from now, and that will only happen if we establish a culture that doesn’t take short cuts.”