Ron Jaworski has enjoyed much success over the years as the longtime Eagles starting quarterback, an ESPN football analyst, and a businessman. But he still loves to talk about the times he used to sneak onto South Park, a nine-hole public golf course in Buffalo, and play a few holes.
"Where I went to junior high school, we'd have a lunch break and we could walk a couple of hundred yards to a par-3 that was 110 yards over water," he recalled recently. "We had a club stashed away and a bunch of us would hit balls over this water. It was kind of cool to try to get it over.
"When we played the golf course, we'd always start on the second hole because I couldn't afford it. We snuck on - I'll be the first to admit it. I grew up in a hardworking, blue-collar family. They worked in the steel mill. If I said I was going to pay money to play golf, my dad would have thrown me out of the house."
Now 65, amid his ESPN duties and his charitable endeavors, Jaworski is fully involved in the golf business. He recently took over ownership of Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel and now has seven courses - five in South Jersey, two in Pennsylvania - under the Ron Jaworski Golf flag.
The same kind of passion that fuels his ESPN reports now can be found anywhere at a golf facility, whether it's seeking input from his customers on the course or in the clubhouse socializing with fellow players. The interest goes back to his days with the Eagles, when he, former teammate John Bunting, and others managed the Abington Golf Club in Jenkintown starting in 1979.
He learned about the business side of golf there and at Twining Valley Golf Club in Dresher. Then in 1984, he jumped at the chance to take over the Tall Pines course in Sewell, N.J., a facility he renamed Ron Jaworski's Eagles Nest. The purchase price: a cool $1.6 million.
"All of a sudden you purchase it and you pay $1.6 million, it's amazing how quick you learn the business and make wise business decisions," he said. "In that period of time, I was still playing football, still as the Eagles quarterback and then Miami and then Kansas City. But I really learned the business when I put my hard dollars into it."
Now he operates a golf empire. In addition to Ramblewood, his company owns Valleybrook in Blackwood; Running Deer in Pittsgrove, N.J.; RiverWinds in West Deptford,; Blue Heron Pines in Egg Harbor City; Downingtown Country Club; and Honey Run in York. It is a family affair with his wife, Liz, and their three children, including son BJ, the company's executive vice president.
"I love the social aspect of golf," Jaworski said. "I love golf for the fact that you meet people, you hang out with people, you get to know them. Let's go play. You may have a beer afterward. But from a business perspective, everything has to work. The golf course has to work, the pro shop, your merchandise, the bar, the grill, the food has to work."
He said his philosophy is "to give people good conditions, great service, an ice-cold beer and be affordable." The most expensive rate at a Jaworski course is the $95 at Running Deer during prime time on weekends, and all of his courses can be played for $51 or less depending on the day of the week and the time.
Jaworski said he looks into a golf course when he hears it may be "having some challenging times." He said he became interested in the 27-hole Ramblewood facility after hearing it had problems and purchased the property while retaining the previous owner's son, John Goodwin, and grandson, Hal Goodwin, on his staff. He went in with several partners, one of whom is Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, a native of nearby Audubon.
As he has built his portfolio, Jaworski has changed his way of thinking on purchases.
"For years, it was my money, and then it got to the point where I couldn't grow the company because the banks were saying, 'You're carrying too much debt on the golf courses,' " he said. "That's when I decided to start bringing partners in. My partners get a preferred return and they love the business."
As with all of his golf courses, Jaworski focuses on the hospitality aspect and particularly on weddings. He said Valleybrook will host 92 weddings this year, with 74 at Running Deer.
"I want people to say, 'Jaws made golf fun,' " he said. "They come to our facilities, they'll be treated with great respect. I always say affordability. I'm never going to overprice them. I want people to come here and have a really good time and say, 'I can take a deep breath and relax for a few hours.' "