CANTON - Learning that the 18-year-old Twin Lakes Golf Course was closing at the end of July, a final nostalgic round was played at the picturesque layout just south of town. It was as beautiful on this hot July today as I remembered from a first round suggested by Tyler friend Terry Lowry in 1999.
The first time I played Twin Lakes was memorable in many ways but most of all because I was stung by a host of foul tempered yellow jackets.
“OUCH” - that can ruin your day. But it didn’t.
It was my own fault. I hit a horrible long iron shot into the right trees on the par-3 fourth hole and as I was looking for my ball, my brother Tim screamed at me to run! He could see the swarm of wasps from 50 yards away. I got hammered on the rear-end and on the hand I was using to shoo away the little pests.
In spite of that trauma, I was enamored with the course nestled into a wooded landscape and part of a vast tree farm. Twin Lakes Nursery is owned by South African emigrant Deon Dekkers and the course was managed by his family with daughter-in-law Carrie serving as the general manager.
It was announced early in July that at the end of the month, the course would close. The Dekkers’ family business has other plans for the acreage the course occupies. There has not been an announcement as to how the land will be used but the family listed raising trees and cattle as passions.
The first time I drove into the property, I thought it was the wine country of California. The hills in the distance were covered with seedlings that looked like vineyards.
Designed by Robert Hay, the course was long and challenging with perhaps the best set of par 5 holes anywhere. Those long holes were straight away with problems lurking on both sides of the fairway. Come to think of it, I never posted a very good score at Twin Lakes but loved it anyway. Beauty is probably a golf course’s greatest attribute.
With a timeline mirroring my own aging process, I played each set of tees beginning with the blacks at 7,239 yards and then regressing to the blues at 6,672 and most recently the whites at 5,760.
Tornadoes hit the 1,000 acres nursery in April, causing significant damage to the property. That event gave the Dekkers family time to pause and reflect on their business interests. The end result was a decision to close the golf course.
Deon Dekkers was an acclaimed track and field runner from South Africa who enjoyed running on golf courses. Though he never played golf, he decided to carve out some of his land for a course with the family residence, a gorgeous replica of an Italian villa, overlooking it.
Appropriately named for two large lakes that dominate the western side of the course, the round started with a tee shot from an elevated tee over a lake and then ended with an iron shot over the same lake to the 18th green. In between those two shots was a pretty and diverse swath of East Texas scenery that included crepe myrtles, pine, oak and even some water cypress trees near the abundant water challenging the golfer.
With the closing of the course, I was reminded of another memory that is dear to me. I was playing with my brother again when he stopped me on the 17th green and said to be real quiet. We stood and listened to a symphony of birds chirping for a minute or two. The volume was way up and it was just a memorable moment for two brothers playing golf but really just wanting to soak up the joys of being in the East Texas countryside without distraction.
Twin Lakes was the second quality course to open in Van Zandt County. In the mid-1960s, Van Zandt Country Club opened with some of the course actually fronting Interstate 20. That course remains open today and is available to the public.
Golf in Van Zandt County has always held an appeal for me since the very first round I ever played was in the early ’60s at the old POCO Golf Course in Van. Long since closed, the POCO course was named after the Pure Oil Company based in Van and featured a special eighth hole that was a short par 5 with a challenging hazard taking up the entire width of the fairway just short of the green - a giant oil storage tank.
Feeling nostalgic, I played Twin Lakes a final time last Wednesday with my Dallas neighbor Dan DeSylva, who played some college golf back in the day at Stanford. We played the shortest tees possible and focused on staying hydrated during some barbaric heat. I noticed I was hitting a short iron on the fourth where I had been yellow jacket prey nearly two decades earlier. Ironically, Dan would get stung by a wasp at the par-3 seventh hole, again the result of one of my errant shots.
We were greeted and hosted by Randy Wade, the head golf professional at Twin Lakes the past eight years. A resident of Tyler, Wade is planning to continue in the golf business at a course near Tyler.
“It’s certainly been an emotional month,” Wade said. “I know I am going to miss the Dekkers family and all of our regular golfers. We had a good group of seniors that played every Tuesday morning and some great junior golf camps during the summer.
“But most of all, I feel grateful for having had the chance to work here the past eight years.”
The Dekkers family hosted a farewell celebration on July 15 when the course offered complimentary green fees and raised money toward a toy drive for children in Van Zandt County. The event was billed as “Christmas in July,” since the course annually hosted the toy drive during the holidays. Last year more than 1,000 toys and $10,000 were presented to the children.
“We are going to miss being able to give back to the community the way we have for a long time,” Carrie Dekkers said. “We loved doing that for the past 10 years.”