Running Deer Golf Club was founded at the turn of the century, and designed by opening owner Ed Carman. That said, many golfers who come to this south-New Jersey public course are more interested in the current owner: Running Deer is one of several courses operated by former (American) football quarterback and current television commentator Ron Jaworski.
Those more familiar with the region for its golf background than its local celebrities will certainly recognize the name Pine Valley, and indeed it seems that Carman intended to produce a similar effect by planting a barrier of trees between most of the holes on the course. He could not resist the design trends of the era, however, and those playing holes Nos. 11 and 12 will need to deal with significant water hazards that line these two par fours.
Carman uses a variety of bunkering styles as well, which can be seen in the two holes that immediately precede the aforementioned watery ones. No. 9 features what may be a nod to the “Great Hazard,” as one enormous sand bunker breaks up the fairway. No. 10 reverses course, punctuating the fairway with 11 much smaller sand hazards.
Running Deer is a good course. I had the good fortune to meet Ron Jaworski the one time I played here a couple years ago. The course hosted the annual GAP father son and we had a good day. The club was very accommodating. The conditions were very good. The green complexes were consistent and the variety of holes was good. I'm glad I got to play here but doubt a return will take place. Do visit if you get a chance.
So much of the focus when golf in NJ is discussed the two primary focus areas are the Northern half of the State and those courses along the Atlantic seaboard -- the Jersey Shore.
Interior courses in the southern part of the Garden State often get little attention as most golf cognoscenti zero in exclusively with Pine Valley. Unquestionably, Pine Valley deserves the attention it rightly gets but for those on the public access players the wherewithal to play the George Crump gem is likely more fantasy than reality.
Running Deer is located in Salem County with the largest nearby town being Vineland. Since the course is not along the Atlantic seaboard it takes a special effort to seek it out. Trust me -- those doing so will be glad they did.
The course was designed and constructed by its original owner -- Ed Carman.
From the championship markers, Running Deer plays over 7,000 yards to a course rating of 74.1 and slope of slope of 129.
The layout is carved from South Jersey hardwoods and unlike so many other modern designs is not inundated with housing cluttering up the landscape. The golf experience is front and center.
The terrain is fairly flat and Carman smartly avoided overplaying man's hand with the final effort. The holes are set within the tree line and the routing is very good -- avoiding predictability and maintaining a very rigorous examination in terms of shotmaking prowess.
Running Deer has a plethora of bunkers and many of them well-placed and need to be given healthy respect.
The 1st is a good opening hole -- giving players a clear idea on what's ahead but not being overwhelming in terms of the demands. That changes in a big-time way with the long par-4 2nd.
The par-4 3rd is a delicious hole. You start with a tee shot over native area and then face a dicey approach to a green that has plenty of different and vexing movements. For a hole of such meager length there's plenty of bite for those who drop their guard for even a moment.
At the short par-3 5th it's easy to be lulled into complacency because of the lack of bunkers. Once you reach the green you encounter various movements that put a premium on one's approach from the tee.
When dealing with a layout devoid of terrain movement one needs to include other elements and you see that at Running Deer via bunkers and green sites which are varied and present an assortment of riddles needing to be solved. The strength of the design is having these inclusions without appearing to be out-of-place and being contrived.
The inward half of holes starts with a first-rate trio of varying par-4 holes. The 10th is well-protected by a cluster of bunkers. The 11th works left off the tee and has a green perched alongside a menacing pond quite thirsty to claim one's golf ball when the hapless play occurs. The long par-4 12th is a superb cape-like hole. Golfers can take a bold route over the corner protected by a massive bunker and trees. The reward for those successful is a far shorter approach.
The final six holes feature an equal number of par-3, par-5 and par-4 holes. Each complement one another and the closing hole caps the round in grand fashion -- a demanding tee shot that must slide between two awaiting bunkers and then a well-played approach to another hard to decipher green.
When the top ten New Jersey public courses are assessed -- Running Deer easily claims one of the positions. As I alluded to earlier, the location in Salem County often means people flocking to the coastal area and not realizing what's being missed. The term "sleeper" and "hidden gem" are often bandied about to the point of silliness. Running Deer has the design goods -- it simply needs a louder megaphone to attract golfers who can truly appreciate the engaging design details found here.
M. James Ward