Golf and the Gridiron. The terms handily fit Ron Jaworski three decades after his NFL playing career.
Recall the picture of him driving a golf club into a football, blending his two major business interests.
Football fans remember “Jaws’” sterling career as the quarterback who lead the Eagles to a 1981 Super Bowl appearance (they lost, sadly). Golfers know him as the owner of several courses throughout South Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Blue Heron Pines in Galloway. His extensive business portfolio spans a notable run as a network commentator Monday Night Football, and motivational speaker. He is an owner of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul and a major executive in that league, which plans to place a team in Atlantic City.
The golf and football worlds merge when Jaworski hosts charity events at his courses with past and current NFL stars. And they merged again when I spoke with him before tonight’s season-opening contest between the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons to discuss golf and football, two of his passions.
The Eagles’ defending-champion status delights Jaworski, who correctly forecast the success of Nick Foles after Carson Wentz went down last last year. Foles took the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history and was the game’s MVP.
“Doug Pederson did a phenomenal job setting up that situation,” Jaworski says of the Eagles’ head coach. “He’d been a backup quarterback, he knew what guys had to do. Trust me, everyone in that room got along last year. All the players have talent. They all understood in that meeting room that it was about team and they sacrificed their personal egos. They understood that position.”
Jaworski not only revels in the work of Foles, a fellow quarterback, but grins when asked what his own career would resemble today.
“The game is a lot different, it is more wide open,” he says. “I would LOVE to play now. With these spread formations and four-wides, man, I could get these juicy looks (open receivers). In my era, it was the two-back set, compressed formations. I felt I could throw with anyone, but that’s how the game was at that time.”
Oh yes, he could throw. Jaworski earned lofty designations like the UPI “NFL Player of the Year” and the Maxwell Football Club’s Professional Player of the Year award for the 1980 season. The 99-yard touchdown pass to Mike Quick tied an NFL record when he did it in 1985. Even his original nickname, “The Polish Rifle,” denoted a gunslinger. Yet Jaworski’s arm blended with an era where power running was what won games.
His business life mirrors a methodical scoring march. The first country-club purchase, Abington, in Pa., came in 1979. He added courses slowly, buoyed by what he called the Tiger Woods Era. And like a coach watching a new playing field, he adjusted to changing cycles. Golf once enjoyed the build-it-and-they-will come philosophy, so enriched that players once lined up bags on the first tee in the 4 a.m. darkness to play at the break of sunup.
That changed with the Great Recession and with golf being slightly overbuilt here, forcing courses to compete for the entertainment dollar.
Jaworski viewed the situation like a CEO. What was the current need?
“Pace of play is the biggest issue,” he says. “We want people to be done with golf in four hours and 20 minutes, not to be there the whole day. There is a ranger on every nine at Blue Heron. We tell the group what their pace of play was and do it in a professional way. If they kept up, we say ‘great job’ and thank them. If not, we ask them to keep up with the group in front of them. This is not the US Open, you can play in this amount of time and really enjoy it.”
Course alterations contribute. Trees are cut back and roughs are trimmed to reduce the problem of lost balls, a time killer. Pace-of-play initiatives can work because it serves everyone’s interest. Jaworski applies the same approach to the 7-Tap Tavern (tied in of course, with his Eagles number).
“We wanted to get away from the country-club atmosphere in which people can wait around for two hours trying to get a drink,” he says. “Here, you play a round, you come off, we have great food, an ice-cold beverage and you don’t have to wait long.”
What does the future hold?
“You have to be user friendly, especially for ladies and kids,” he says. “We are adamant about that. We are constantly building new tees. We ask our lady members ‘what is good, what do we need?’ We want women. We want youngsters. We want to build the game.”
Jaworski is pragmatic about his personal business stamp. Name recognition provides a business edge, but it can be temporary, he says, without support staff. Ron’s wife Liz and son BJ are key players in a large organization structure.
“He is a great person to work with and for,” says Bruce Chelucci, who conducts clinics at three of Jaworski’s courses and his New Jersey Academy of Golf at Blue Heron. “When you come to him with an idea, he is enthusiastic, he wants to hear it. He says ‘go for it’. He provides you a lot of support.”
These days, many of Jaworski’s scoring players are cerebral. He’s earned the United Way Volunteer Leadership Award, the organization’s highest designation. There’s also his role in the Eagles Fly for Leukemia and the Jaws Youth Playbook, which took 150 at-risk kids to the Eagles’ final preseason game last week. Many were from Wildwood and Bridgeton. A few years back, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, JYP donated $30,000 to the Ventnor Pirates for the restoration of their field and recreation complex.
Jaworski’s professional and charitable outlets flourish. At 67, he shows no signs of slowing. He talks of the Arena Football League team targeted for the area next spring, endorses the arrival of sports-betting in Atlantic City and may be as hard to catch up with as a quarterback scrambling from the pocket. Those who do may see the smile of a guy who sank a birdie.
“Jaws” keeps putting it all together, whether that’s high octane and compassion, yesterday’s career with today’s technology or “Touchdown” and “Fore”.
And as always, he makes it look easy.