There were four days in mid-April that hung around 80 degrees in the Twin Cities, and the hope that golf season was about to explode after a late winter filled the hearts of daily-fee course operators with optimism across our Frozen Wasteland.

"The snow was melted, the grass was appearing and we would soon be taking tee times," said Tom Abts, major domo, No. 1 stockholder and chief promoter at Deer Run Golf Club in Victoria. "And then the weather kicked us again. We're three weeks behind a normal opening, which is April 4."

Abts said this with a wince, which he does in impressive style when talking of the pains that go with the joy of being enraptured by a golf course that has commanded one's life for over 30 years.

"My wife, Sandy, she is a saint," Abts said. "What she constantly hears from me, 'We have to do this to maintain the course, we have to do that to improve our facilities.' And, somehow, she rolls with it."

A pause and then: "Drainage. You can't imagine what it cost for drainage to make this course what it is today."

World-class wince.

A longer pause and then from the hilltop tee box on No. 15, he pointed to the left side of the fairway way down low and said: "Those bunkers are all redone. Bunkers … they are expensive!"

Another mighty wince.

Deer Run finally had its opener on Monday. The first three days were cold and then, on Thursday, the temperature broke into the 50s. There was spotty rain, but the loyalists descended on the course, filling up the tee sheet.

Abts hosted me on a cart ride around the course early in the afternoon. There was a quip and a brief conversation with every foursome encountered.

Those conversations weren't long, because Abts is a huge advocate of keeping play moving.

"I started 'Fast Play Friday' here in 1997," he said. "We were the first to do that. We had six rangers out there, taking care of three holes apiece. If you fell behind, they'd tell the group, 'You have to skip, say, No. 11 and catch up.'

"It's tradition now. Play here on Friday, you're getting done in four hours or less, even with the course full."

The Confirmed Hacker, my nom de plume in golfing days, ventured onto Deer Run quite a few times a couple of decades ago. The humor was always high, but I recall some soggy areas to avoid.

Drainage. Can't imagine what it cost, but Deer Run was looking in amazing condition in lieu of the late winter.

"We got through the '90s living on a fun atmosphere and a functional course," Abts said. "Then I was able to hire Barry Provo as our superintendent in 2001. He's the best. Everybody will tell you that."

How does little old Deer Run keep someone like that?

"I stay out of his way," Abts said. "He's the reason our greens are always good, that our fairways look like this in the first week we're open."

There are no memberships at Deer Run. There is no longer a Thursday men's league.

"We have a tremendous number of regulars, but everyone's a guest," Abts said.

By admission, Abts isn't terribly accepting when a guest has a suggestion to improve the course. And don't try calling him for that purpose: He has neither a cellphone nor a landline.

Sandy's the only shot to get him.

The staff in the clubhouse is known as a home to characters. "We got a Herron, Ketti [Histon], Tim and Alissa's sister, and Ketti is hilarious," Abts said. "You can't talk to her without getting a laugh."

The bar and little restaurant in the back is called Augie's Pub. It's named in honor of Augie Schmidt, most notorious as the St. Louis Park basketball coach when Jim Petersen was the Orioles' star, and later a legend working the Deer Run front desk until his death in 2002.

"Augie smoked cigarettes out front and got mad when the phone rang with someone wanting a tee time," Abts said. "He'd say, 'Tommy, that phone's ringing all the time.' Then he'd answer with, 'What do you want?'

"He was a fantastic character."

Augie's ashes are spread by the 18th green. And Jim Pete and his family joined Augie's wife and son in doing those honors.

Yes, it was a fine Thursday with tales to be told and foursomes to be greeted at Deer Run. And then came a weekend of rain, always worthy of a Tom Abts wince.