Former Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, 61, recently purchased Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township for an undisclosed price. The Voorhees Township resident now owns four South Jersey golf courses — Blue Heron Pines, RiverWinds Golf and Tennis Club (West Deptford Township), Running Deer Golf Club (Pittsgrove Township) and Valley Brook Country Club (Gloucester Township) — as part of Ron Jaworski Golf Management Inc.
Q: Why did you buy Blue Heron Pines? Was there something about the course that attracted you other than just the price?
A: Dave, I have been looking for a shore course for a number of years now. Kind of looking back on my golf strategic plan, you know I had Valleybrook (Golf Club) and Running Deer (Golf Club) in pretty much Central Jersey. About two and a half years ago I acquired RiverWinds (Golf and Tennis Club) which is right on the Delaware River, and for my golfing followers and members I really felt I needed something down the shore.
I’ve been looking at a number of opportunities for a few years and fortunately this became available last November and I knew of the rich history and tradition of Blue Heron Pines when Roger Hansen first built it. He is such a golfing aficionado. I knew the golf course was designed beautifully by Steven Kay. It was built properly. It’s a great layout — No. 34 in the country! So when this became available it really fit my long-term plan for growing my golf business.
Q: National surveys have indicated that the golf industry is on the downswing with courses closing all the time. Why did you buy a fourth course to go with what you already have?
A: I think the economies of scale really do work. The fact that I buy my products better. You know when you buy in volume and bulk I’m getting better pricing and I can pass on those savings to my customers. What I really found out at the other three clubs is how much people like what we call the “Eagle Pass.” With the Eagle Pass, if you’re a member of one club, you are a member of all four. So if you are living in West Deptford near RiverWinds and all of a sudden it’s November and you have snow on the ground, you can come down the Jersey Shore and play Blue Heron Pines and it’s part of the membership package.
And I think golfers now like to play a lot of different golf courses, and I think the fact that under one membership you can play five golf courses, since I also own a course in York, Pa., called Honey Run (Golf Club), so there is an opportunity to play other golf courses literally for the price of one. So I think that really does work.
I know people are saying golf is declining. I don’t think golfers are declining. I think what happened in the late ’90s was too many golf courses were built when the economy was robust and booming. Every housing development put a golf course in. That just took a little bit of play away from those who were in it for the golf business rather than the housing business and that hurt a little bit. But I think we are seeing now some golf courses close and more rounds are coming back to those golf courses that are there purely for golf, not as part of your housing development.
Q: What are your plans for the course? Are there drastic changes in the works, or are the course and the facilities at the level you expect?
A: Tremendous facilities. Not at the level I expect, but they weren’t bad. Textron (Financial Corp.), who took over the golf course back in October, November, of a year ago did an outstanding job at maintaining the facility. You actually come, David, at a pretty opportune time because today is the day we call “Shock and Awe.” Every maintenance crew from my golf courses is here today. We probably have about 50 people on the golf course right now “shocking” the golf course. Cutting every blade of grass, trimming every tree, trimming around the lakes. A complete makeover of the golf course as far as cleaning it up, trimming things up so we can move play along and make the golf course more playable.
So the “awe” part is when people that were here last week come back this week, they are in awe of what they see and what we did in a short period of time. We are coming up at the big time of the season, so we want this golf course to be in great shape. It is a terrific golf course, the facilities are magnificent.
Q: Where do you see the local golf industry heading? It seems like the local golf, casino and tourism industries have been trying to market Atlantic City along the lines of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Ocean City, Md. Do you think that goal can be accomplished here?
A: Absolutely. I think clearly A.C. needs to be a golf destination. It serves two purposes. It not only helps the golf courses, it helps the casinos. It is bringing people into our town, driving the economy. As much as I love the game of golf, I also understand the business of golf. You know you’ve got to put bodies on the golf course. That what it’s all about. The Greater Atlantic City Golf Association is a wonderful group of people who care about driving business. And there is room for all of us.
If you look at all the golf courses in this area, there are some pristine golf courses. I like to play other golf courses. Some people call (the different courses) competitors. They’re not. I think we are all in this together. If we can drive the number of people here like Myrtle Beach and you look all around the country, there are pockets of golf courses. I think golfers like to go and say, “Hey, let’s play Blue Heron Pines, let’s play Twisted Dunes, let’s play Harbor Pines, get three rounds of golf in.” So I think golfers like to look at it in that perspective.
But it’s incumbent upon all of us to work together to bring business here rather than say, “We are better than you, we do this better.” We are all in it together. It’s got to be a team approach, and so far that approach has been well perceived. I think everyone is working hard, you know “GO AC,” and get people fired up about coming down the shore, coming to A.C. and playing golf at our great golf courses.
Q: How did you get started in golfing? How did you go from player to owner?
A: It’s kind of interesting because when I was 9 years old I started playing the game. I’m now 61, so I’ve been playing a long time. But when I was quarterback at one part of my life in the NFL, Tuesday was our only day off. It was my day to get away, and I would go play golf. That’s what I did. Any frustrations I had, I could pound that white ball rather than yell at (then Eagles coach) Dick (Vermeil) or somebody, you know? I would just go out and take it out on that white ball, but I also felt it was relaxing. I didn’t have guys in the media around asking football questions, asking personnel questions. It was just a day to get away take a deep breath and relax, and I think that is how people look at the game of golf.
In today’s world, today’s economy, everyone has to work hard to put food on the table, to put a roof over their family’s head, and I think everyone needs to decompress once in a while. I always found that golf gave me the opportunity to decompress, get refocused and just get away from the trial and tribulations that you have to deal with every day. So I was kind of hooked on golf because I played every Tuesday.
Q: Did you bring other players with you?
A: Oh yeah. In fact, I started (former Eagles quarterback) Randall Cunningham out on golf. I think (former Eagles wide receiver and current team broadcaster) Mike Quick started when I started bringing these guys out. At the time, I had a golf course called Eagles Nest over in Wenonah, N.J., in Deptford, and you know it was very accessible to them from Veterans Stadium. So whenever the guys had a chance, they were at the Eagles Nest playing golf.
Q: You just completed your 26th annual Ron Jaworski Celebrity Golf Challenge at Atlantic City Country Club. Were your long-standing ties to the community a factor in buying Blue Heron?
A: Absolutely. You know I have always been an avid supporter of Atlantic City, not only with the Ron Jaworski Celebrity Golf Challenge, which by the way now has raised close to $4 million for kids in our community, and the positive vibes you like to get out of an event like that means we have gotten tremendous support from the people of Atlantic City.
I serve as president of the Maxwell Football Club, and our event now is at Atlantic City every year over at Harrah’s and we are very grateful for that partnership. It has become one of the great events around the country as far as national awards recognition goes. In fact, it was shown live on ESPN. And that brings great visibility to Atlantic City and to the wonderful people of this community, and because of the friendships I’ve developed through the years it has worked. I like the people in this area. I like people that like the game of golf. I’ve always felt you meet the greatest people when you are on the golf course and I love the game, so it all works out.
Q: How did you get involved with the Maxwell Club and how did it wind up in Atlantic City?
A: In 1980, I was the Maxwell Club’s NFL Most Valuable Player, so I was selected as Player of the Year. As time went on, in 1995 I think it was, I was on the board for a number of years and I was voted in as president of Maxwell Football Club. There was a time when the club was in decline and our attendance at dinners was probably like 250. We weren’t getting the award winners to show up and I felt we needed a change.
It was a time when Atlantic City was going through a renaissance and I thought this is a good time to possibly make a move to Atlantic City. We met with a lot of people in A.C., but Harrah’s really came to the forefront and they became a great partner. They do an outstanding job. You know we have 900 people at the dinner now. We can’t put any more people in there. We need a bigger room, so we are having success problems right now. But A.C. has embraced the Maxwell football club and I think, more importantly, Dave, the award winners now show up.
Q: Time for some football questions. By your own account, you suffered 25 concussions?
A: Thirty-two. You were a little off. Actually, I met with (former Eagles trainer Otho) Davis, who was our athletic trainer for most of my career, after I retired and we went through my medical report. Now they would never give you your medical report, but you could review it. And Otho had on my report 32 concussions. Now there are different degrees, but still if you took a shot to the head and you saw the twinkling of the stars, he logged that. There were only two what I consider serious shots, where I was knocked out, but a concussion is a concussion, I guess.
Q: How were you able to avoid the problems suffered by former players such as (former Eagles safety) Andre Waters, (former San Diego linebacker) Junior Seau and others?
A: Probably good fortune. Everyone who plays football at a high level in the NFL, you’re going to get hit and you are going to take the shots, and I guess you have to have some things go your way. I see a lot of guys — I’m on the board of directors of the NFL Alumni — you go to our conventions and you see our players and a lot of guys aren’t doing very well from a health standpoint: knees, ankles, hips, and shoulder and elbows and arms and fingers, but I think the most troublesome (problems) are (from) the head trauma. And you see it not only in the National Football League, but in hockey pretty much at all levels. You go to the high school, the Little League levels and I think it is something that everyone is very concerned about.
And I ask my wife and my kids all the time, “Do you sense anything? Am I OK? Am I doing anything different? Am I more agitated?” I ask them about it for their input on my behavior, so I am concerned about it, yes.
Q: Do you think the league is doing enough to take care of the older players and prevent the current players from suffering the after-effects from playing such a violent sport?
A: No, I don’t. I don’t think the NFL or the NFL Players Association is doing enough for the former players. I think to a certain degree a lot of greed is taking over because of the money in the game and the guys who have been the backbone and the foundation of the game have been forgotten, and that part is disappointing to me.
A lot of money has come into the NFL. It generates $10 billion annually in revenue. There is a lot of money. And I say the Players Association as well, because I don’t think the present-day players have done enough for the former players. Every once in a while they throw us a bone, some crumbs on the table to kind of keep the former players quiet. A lot of guys get so little that those crumbs mean a lot. But I think there is a lot of money in the game right now, and I think the former players can be taken care of a lot better than they are right now.
Now, I am fortunate. You know I played 17 years (in the NFL). I started a second career as a broadcaster for ESPN that, knock on wood, has worked out very well. I’m a businessman and I always worry about when the career at ESPN is going to end, so I want have something to fall back on, which will obviously be my golf business, although it takes up a lot of my time right now, which I love. But we have a lot of guys who are not doing so well and I’m being honest with you. A lot of guys are homeless. We have guys who need all the help that they can. They have no medical benefits, they have no money, and I think it is incumbent upon the present-day players and some of us who are transitioning to other careers to help these guys out.
Q: Now to the Eagles. What did you think of their draft and offseason moves, and what do you think about their chances this season?
A: Normally when I look at the draft, I say ask me in three years because it’s a crapshoot any way you look at it. You know you can look at (first-round draft pick Fletcher) Cox and he had a great collegiate career. But what I like about what they did, I think they drafted for the needs they had. They needed that penetrating defensive lineman, they needed a linebacker that can go sideline to sideline like (second-round pick Mychael) Kendricks, they needed a pass rushing end like (second-round pick Vinny) Curry. They got guys who I think can make an immediate impact on the football team.
But outside of the draft is what they did this offseason. I am an absolute firm believer you win in the locker room first. With a chemistry, with a key core of guys working together to be successful. They signed (defensive end) Trent Cole. They signed (wide receiver) DeSean Jackson. They signed (tackle) Todd Herremans, guys who sweat Eagle green. And we have seen in the past, too often those guys have been allowed to leave. And I think when the players see that Eagles are now signing their own, it creates a very positive atmosphere in that locker room. So to me, I like what they did. To me, that sends a message that, “Hey, you play well here, you are going to be taken care of.”
And you look back to last year, and I’m not saying from a personnel standpoint the moves weren’t right, with (cornerback) Nnamdi Asomugha and (cornerback Dominique) Rodgers-Cromartie and guys like that, but it was a lockout season. It was hard to develop that chemistry and you could see it for the first eight games that team was not cohesive. I think it was the fact that a lot of players were brought in and it takes time to develop that chemistry. I like the offseason (moves this year) and I think that projects to a really, really good regular season.
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