In the world of golf there are not many secrets, especially when considering the playability and challenge of a wonderful public golf course.
Oh, you hear about hidden gems, but generally those gems aren't diamonds in the rough. Maybe even more rough than diamond. It's all about one's perspective.
This corner has never been one to keep a secret long, though, when it comes to outstanding play opportunities. Heck, we are always looking to keep our readers in the know about happenings in the game of golf. We are relentless in our quest to ensure our readers know about the best local players, trends in equipment and the game. And we are always looking for great places to play.
Okay, here's the secret: Running Deer Golf Club, which is located just off Route 55 near Vineland, NJ, is an off the charts, must play, don't miss destination. It is located just about an hour from Lower Bucks County --- mostly on Interstate highways --- and once there you will find a secluded and challenging layout worth the trip.
Running Deer features tree-lined fairways with ample room for misplayed shots. That is, one doesn't feel claustrophobic on one of the six sets of tees. But make no mistake, this is not a spray and pray kind of course. Rather, it's one that requires thought and planning before each shot.
From the shortest tees (5,437-yards) to longest (7,104) Running Deer is a true test of one's golfing abilities. Picking the right set of tees is the first decision one makes. Then, battling the course is the second. It requires a well thought out game plan and execution to succeed.
There are more than 140 sand bunkers on the course with water coming into play on four holes. Find the green and one can't relax, as the Ed Carman-designed layout (Y2000) has putting undulations that can be penal or benign depending on the pin position of the day.
"This is a true test of golf, a golf course that can play a little different every time you tee it up," explained Running Deer General Manager BJ Jaworski. "We take pride in our course, the challenge it offers, and the value. We do our best to offer our customers a first class golf experience."
Jaworski has earned his golf spurs from the ground up. An accomplished player at the University of Delaware, he's held several positions within the Ron Jaworski Golf Management Group hodings. As GM of Running Deer, he and his team work diligently toward making one's time at the facility fun as well as challenging.
"My father loves to have a course that is playable by varying levels of golfer. He's also an advocate of fast play. Sometimes it's hard to accomplish, but at Running Deer we've offer a stellar golf experience that gives golfers a chance to have as much challenge as they'd want with the right price point."
Service is a given at Running Deer, from the time one enters the grounds until one leaves. Associates are there for you if you need them, from the pro shop to the beverage cart to the well stocked halfway house the folks are friendly and helpful.
Then there is the golf course. It's a beauty. Advertising will tell you it's "Still Quietly Superior" and that's not a tag line. It's a reality. The course is well kept, and each hole is memorable in its own way.
The course was built on acres of sandy soil, and while it's not constructed on a former sand quarry like Scotland Run in New Jersey or Tobacco Road near Pinehurst you know the Jersey sands are there to find errant shots. Elegant pines jut out from the ground creating a visual buffer from civilization.
Running Deer opens with a 375-yard (middle tees) friendly hole, then gets right into demanding with a 442-yard par-4 that befuddles one on the tee. Visually, Carman designed a hole that doesn't seem to have a fairway. But, believe it, one is there. For many players it's best to hit two good shots, then pitch onto the green and hope for a one putt par as this par-4 and a half is that difficult. It's the number two handicap hole, and upon leaving most let out a sigh of relief.
The third hole offers the first taste of the expansive waste areas of blowout bunkers emerging from liberal gashes in the earth. The tee ball on this modest 345-yard hole only requires an iron, but the multi-tiered green requires thoughtful precision for a birdie putt.
Each of the par-3 holes has a differing element of difficulty. The dicey short (126-yards) fifth hole saw a pin placement over a pond that only the best could take aim toward, while the 161-yard 7th requires a shot over wasteland. The 187-yard 13th hole plays longer as it's uphill and is fronted by a bunker, and if you are very hearty long you can savor the 248-yard tees. The 165-yard 16th offers pin positions that beg a three-putt if not careful.
Number 11, a par-4 of only 320-yards, is not a grip it and rip it test, as it requires pinpoint accuracy and distance off the tee. Four bunkers surround the landing area, and a wayward shot long right will find a pond. Once in the fairway after a long iron or hybrid shot that same pond sits to the side of the green while the right sees several beckoning bunkers (see photo above). Make note, Number 11 is a short hole with a long tail of grief for errant shots.
The number 1 handicap hole on the course is the 12th hole, which stretches between 304-yards and 478-yards. The preferred tees for most, at 382-yards, is plenty of golf hole. A dogleg right, water can be found all the way from tee to green. A perfect drive will leave a long uphill iron to an undulating green where par is an outstanding score.
"We like to think holes 10 to 13 are the meat of the course, all tests in their own right, all offering different challenges," said Jaworski, who admits to playing those four holes numerous times at the end of the day. "They are typical of the entire course, in that we really have a peaceful setting, with no distractions (other than actual deer which may be running across the fairway) like houses or roads on the property. It's a secluded, challenging layout."
Clearly each hole on the course offers distinct feel and challenge, and no two holes are the same. One must have an analytical mind and eyes that focus on creative shot-making on this inspirational public venue.
We could spend hours talking about the fun and challenge of the course, the friendly atmosphere and service. But we can't do Running Deer justice; one just has to sample it firsthand.
Running Deer is a true test of golf, one that should not be missed. It was the 100th golf course I've played in the State of New Jersey, and from this corner it was one of the best overall open to the public golf experiences sampled in the Garden State.
CHIP SHOTS: Running Deer is one of four courses operated by Ron Jaworski Golf. The others are RiverWinds Golf and Tennis Club, Valleybrook Country Club and the recently acquired Blue Heron Pines. For 2012 the first three are part of the Eagle Pass Program which offers special discounts at all three layouts....Running Deer is home of the Dick Smith Golf Academy. Smith, a former president of the PGA of America, was once operator (with brother Tom) of the Hi-Point Golf Farm (now Spring Mill) in Ivyland...Ron Jaworski Golf purchased Running Deer in 2008...Greens fees range from $50-$65, with rates after 2 of $50 or less...Be sure to sample Antler's Pub in the clubhouse after your round of golf.
Golf Bucks County Ranking: A must play birdie of a course, three-and-a-half stars of four.
Contact: 854-338-2000, www.runningdeergc.com