Deck Cheatham Leaving Behind A Legacy Of Excellence At The Farm

  • Monday, February 12, 2024
  • Paul Payne
Deck Cheatham will be retiring March 1 as Director of Golf  at The Farm after 33 years
Deck Cheatham will be retiring March 1 as Director of Golf at The Farm after 33 years
photo by Paul Payne

Over the course of his legendary career in the carpet and flooring industry, Dalton native Bob Shaw earned a reputation of achieving unparalleled excellence in every endeavor he tackled. Settling for less than the best simply was not – and still isn’t – a part of his DNA.

When Shaw envisioned transforming a rolling tract of land in the Mill Creek valley at the base of Mt. Sinai in nearby Rocky Face into a championship golf course and exclusive residential community, he wanted the best golf course architect available overseeing the project. So, he coaxed Tom Fazio into creating his masterpiece that would be known simply as The Farm.

Once that dream became a reality after The Farm opened in 1988, the next challenge would be finding the right head golf professional to uphold the standard of excellence desired by the club’s patriarch. It was essential to find someone to serve as the ambassador to Shaw’s vision for the members and the community.

He found that person in Deck Cheatham.

After brief stints from two previous hires as head pro, Shaw brought Cheatham to The Farm in 1991. Little did either realize at the time the impact that decision would have for years to come.

Cheatham was 32 years old at the time, looking for a stable place to raise his young family. He hoped he could remain for a few years, helping nurture The Farm’s increasing national prominence along with serving its growing membership.

But shortly after his arrival, Cheatham recognized that he had found a home both personally and professionally. Now 33 years later, he will retire as director of golf at the end of the month, leaving behind a legacy that will forever link him with the expectation of excellence Shaw had originally intended.

“It’s been a great marriage,” Cheatham said. “I did not know I would be here this long, but that was my goal. I had started my career at Scioto Country Club (in Columbus, Ohio) where Walker Inman retired after 37 years as the head pro. It was my desire to do what he did and to stay at one place my entire career, and The Farm has afforded me that dream.”

Cheatham’s presence at The Farm has been a source of comfort and pride for Shaw over the past three decades.

“When you find a gentleman like Deck Cheatham – and I’ve met a lot of fine gentlemen – he was the perfect person to represent the image of The Farm,” Shaw said. “We always wanted people who visited The Farm to have a memorable experience, and Deck has set the standard of excellence for 33 years. He’s been a dear friend of mine and instrumental in any success we’ve enjoyed.”

Cheatham was raised in Orangeburg, S.C. and played golf collegiately at Furman. He started his career as caddie master at Scioto before rising to an assistant golf professional position. He then landed as head professional at Melrose on Daufuskie Island near Hilton Head.

Melrose was a high-end resort accessible only by boat that was an oceanfront success during the early years but has since closed under bankruptcy. Sensing a change was needed after four years there, Cheatham had a providential encounter with one of the Melrose members that altered the course of his life.

“We needed to make a move from Melrose as a family as our children were young,” Cheatham said. “Lewie Card was a member at Melrose and also The Farm. He told me the job was open at The Farm, that it was a really great place, and I would enjoy it there. So, I put my resume’ in and everything just flowed from there.”

Cheatham has served in various roles during his tenure at The Farm, including general manager for several years. He assisted in the success of the club hosting its hallmark national event, the Carpet Capital Classic, a collegiate invitational that featured many of golf’s legendary performers during its three-decade reign before being discontinued in 2019.

The Farm has also been site of numerous amateur championships, including the 2005 U.S. Senior Amateur and the 1993 Southern Amateur along with multiple Georgia Golf Association men’s and women’s state events. It is also home of the Clay Dykes Invitational, a long-running two-man four-ball event that annually attracts 100 of the top senior amateurs in the nation.

“Tiger Woods played here when he was 16 years old with his father and his uncle, and then returned when he was at Stanford,” Cheatham said. “All the greats have been here during my time. Then we had back-to-back hole-in-ones by a pair of North Carolina golfers on No. 8 in ’91. I heard the odds of that happening on consecutive swings was 144 million-to-one. We’ve had an incredible history as a club I’m thankful to have been a part of.”

Andy Bargeron, a long-time member who was tournament director of the Carpet Capital event during its 31-year run, has had a front-row seat to Cheatham’s leadership skills.

“He’s meant everything to The Farm,” Bargeron said. “We couldn’t have had the success in hosting that event all those years without Deck’s expertise. He has become the face of our club. There’s nobody that can replace him and his contributions. He’s a special friend who was always able to find that perfect balance between being sincere but firm.”

In reflecting back on his years, Cheatham hopes to be remembered for his dedication in making The Farm a preeminent experience to all who entered its gates.

“I just hope that everybody knows that, whether we were on the same page or different pages, I was dedicated to making The Farm the best it can be,” Cheatham said. “Our heart was always in the right place. Golf pros spend a lot of hours at their job and it’s a sacrifice compared to some other careers. But it’s been rewarding because we were part of creating something bigger than ourselves.”

Cheatham readily admits the unsung heroes in his professional quest have been his wife, Nancy, along with their children Blake, Sarah and Lizzie.

“I could not have done what I have accomplished without the support of Nancy these past 41 years of marriage,” Cheatham said. “She, along with my children, have been my inspiration and standard. No golf professional can succeed for 33 years with the support of his family.”

The opportunity to work for a visionary leader like Shaw has made Cheatham’s years at The Farm particularly rewarding.

“Everybody knows the success Mr. Shaw has accomplished, but they don’t necessarily get to see him outside of business,” Cheatham said. “He can communicate wisdom better than anybody I’ve ever met. He is so perceptive with things and challenges your thinking. It’s been a privilege to work for him because he’s committed to what we do out here. Our relationship will continue to be terrific even after I’m gone.”

The timing of Cheatham’s decision is not something he has taken lightly or without prayerful consideration. A serious heart attack ten years ago shifted the focus of his priorities, setting in motion a new sense of purpose that will carry into his retirement.

“I had two stents inserted in my widow-maker artery, which was 100-percent blocked,” Cheatham said. “I realized that I was a heartbeat away from eternity. As I went through the healing process, I began to think about what the rest of my life was going to look like. I’ve loved what I do for more than 40 years, but the time has come for me to pursue other passions.”

Prior to medical scare, Cheatham began to delve deeper into his Christian faith, regularly sharing his discoveries with others through a series of emails to friends. He was compelled to explore other avenues to expand his thoughts in hopes of encouraging others in their faith journey.

“As I grew older, I began to start having a deep thought process that began to wake me up. After the heart attack, I knew God had me here for a bigger reason. So I asked myself, ‘How am I going to serve God’s kingdom?’ I had decided then I wanted to start devoting more time to writing.”

For the past few years Cheatham has shared his faith as a regular columnist for the newspaper in nearby Rome. He has also created a blog available at www.deckcheatham.com where his well-articulated inspirational thoughts can be accessed.

“I’m not a theologian. I am someone who has seriously thought about our purpose here in life. I just want the reader to think about their own faith even if they may or may not understand what I’ve written. Everybody’s in a different place in their faith journey. I’m just throwing pebbles in the pond, and God creates the ripples,” Cheatham said.

Cheatham’s plans are to move to Monteagle where there is a vibrant community of writers, spending time focusing on completion of his first book.

“I won’t be living in Dalton, but I’m not leaving Dalton,” Cheatham said. “It’s just time for me to refocus and change directions, to decide what the rest of my life is going to look like. I believe writing is the path that God wants me to pursue, and I’m going to follow that. This is not ‘goodbye’ but more like ‘I’ll see you again.’”

As he reflected on the treasured friendships forged over his career at The Farm, the memories stirred Cheatham’s emotions.

“I spend my time thinking about all the people that were here in the beginning that came together creating this vision that Mr. Shaw had,” Cheatham said. “That’s where most of my sentimentality is directed. It’s the members and fellow workers who were involved in making The Farm special. That’s what I’ll always cherish. Sure, it’s a little bittersweet, but it’s been such a blessing.”

* * *

Paul Payne can be reached at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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