By Pete Kawalski, Global Golf Post/Biz
During his 17-year NFL career, Ron Jaworski always liked Tuesdays. It was his day off and a chance to get away from the grind of preparation and the spotlight of being a starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1977-86. It also meant a day on the golf course with his teammates.
“I like people,” said the 72-year-old known as Jaws, who was a Pro Bowl selection in 1980 and UPI’s NFL Player of the Year. “I enjoyed my day off during the football season which was a Tuesday. That was the day to get away from the media and the fans and get out and play and hack the ball around and have fun playing golf.”
He cites fellow Eagles Randall Cunningham and Mike Quick as examples of teammates he introduced to the game.
“Mike is now a member at Pine Valley, and he tells people that he learned the game at Eagles’ Nest (one of Jaworski’s courses),” said the man who also played QB for the Rams, Dolphins, and Chiefs in his NFL career. “We would go out on Tuesday and hang out and talk football and talk golf and basically just get away and relax because no one is going to bug you on the golf course.”
Always outgoing and gregarious, Jaworski turned a curiosity into a reality in 1979 when he and Eagles teammate John Bunting leased a nine-hole facility called the Amity Club, now called the Abington Club, in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The quarterback was cutting his teeth in the business and, in the process, befriending the resident professional Hugh Reilly.
“That’s when I learned the business, when you put your own money into it. That’s when I zeroed in. That’s when I started looking really hard at the business of golf when I bought Eagles’ Nest.” – Ron Jaworski
It wasn’t long before Jaworski and his new partner, Reilly, leased Burn Brae Golf Club in Dresher, Pennsylvania, which they renamed Twining Valley Golf Club.
After learning golf operations at Twining Valley from Reilly, Jaworski reached into his own pocket in 1984 and bought Tall Pines in Mantua, New Jersey, which he renamed Eagles’ Nest, in tribute to his connections with the team he led to the 1981 Super Bowl.
That first property was the impetus to establish Ron Jaworski Golf Management, a thriving business including seven golf courses in the Golf Association of Philadelphia purview, with an eighth under contract.
The golf course business is run on a daily basis by his son, B.J., but CEO Jaws and his wife, Liz, are still extremely active, particularly with the Jaws Youth Playbook and the Celebrity Golf Challenge set at Live! Casino in Philadelphia. A celebrity pairings party is set for June 22 and the Celebrity Pro-Am at Riverwinds Golf and Tennis Club, West Deptford, New Jersey, where he has hosted countless MLB visiting players because of the proximity to Citizens Bank Park, will take place June 23.
Jaworski, who has played in about every celebrity pro-am from Pebble Beach to Lake Tahoe, brightens when his foundation’s golf event is broached. For 39 consecutive years, the Celebrity Challenge has been a convention of pro sports stars including Tom Brady, Charles Barkley, Joe Theismann, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, among others.
“The biggest jolly is the amount of money we’ve been able to raise,” said Jaworski, who won the Bert Bell Award in 1980. “Seven million for at-risk kids in our community. It is a labor of love, and we get incredible support from my friends in the athletic world.”
Jaworski grew up in Lackawanna, New York, where he dabbled in “sneak-over-fence” golf at South Park, a nine-hole public track located a short walk from his middle school. “There was a lake hole that was about 100 yards and we’d stash a club in the woods,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to pay a greens fee. We’d start on the second or third hole and sneak a few holes in.”
He keeps an office at Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, but is unabashed in his pride in Running Deer Golf Club in Pittsgrove, New Jersey, slated to host U.S. Open local qualifying in 2024.
Running Deer is a shining example of the business principles he applied at each of his properties, which span over Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“It was in bankruptcy and literally unfinished with a lot of work to be done,” Jaworski said of Running Deer. “My approach is kind of unique. I don’t buy a golf course for three million dollars and then throw three million dollars at it. We have a slow approach to it. I like to take a year to kind of figure it out.
“There are always nuances to every golf course. I learned this through the years that golf courses are local. People in Mount Laurel are different from people in Egg Harbor Township, who are different than Downingtown. I try to get to understand the community and understand the people and model what the course should be based on the clientele in the company. I’ve never believed in the cookie-cutter approach or taking the same approach to every golf course, and it’s worked.”
Jaworski, who estimates he has played more than 500 courses, takes notes and photos wherever he goes although he does not aspire to try course design saying “I don’t have that kind of talent. I steal ideas from other people and integrate them into my courses.”
“One of my favorite courses to play is still Pinehurst No. 2,” said Jaworski. “I’ve tried to model a lot of things at Running Deer from there. I’ve been to Pinehurst No. 2 12 times, and I come back with unique ideas all the time. My superintendent laughs because he knows I’ll be coming back with more crazy ideas. I love the way it’s laid out and the natural beauty of Pinehurst No. 2 and the difficulty.”
In a nearly three-decade career in commentating on pro football for ESPN and other outlets, Jaworski has collected an assortment of golf partners including the likes of Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Tony Kornheiser and Jim Furyk.
“I love playing other golf courses,” Jaworski said. “When I was doing Monday Night Football with Tony Kornheiser, we would play golf on Sunday morning. We’d play all the great golf courses. We were America’s guests.”
Still active with coverage of the Eagles, he is part of NBC Sports Philadelphia’s pre- and post-game coverage.
“I can’t let that go,” he said. “That’s too big a part of me. Monday morning, I wake up and look at the coaches’ tape of the games.”
His Philly presence still presides and when someone sees him, particularly after the Eagles run to the Super Bowl last year. “Folks ask, ‘What about the Eagles?’ And then it goes to golf,” he adds with a chuckle.