No less authority than General Electric CEO Jack Welch once broke down competition in the world of business into a single sentence:
“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”
His thinking was simple. If you don’t have a strong product, or are not willing to work your product strong, success will be difficult to accomplish.
In the world of public golf, those words ring true to the successful business person. Golf course ownership can be a viable business, but being successful means knowing what your customers want, whom your competition is and how your organization can develop and maintain a competitive advantage. If one does not have, or can’t obtain the competitive advantage? Well, winning will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
It’s not a case of build it and they will come. The United States has seen more than 500 golf course closings in the last five years. And course openings? Less than 50 a year.
Gone from the landscape are Delaware Valley courses such as Blue Heron Pines East, Warrington, Laurel Oak, Ponderlodge, Woodbury and Center Valley among others have gone the way of the dinosaur in recent years. Remember the Bristol Golf Ranch? Just a memory.
So what the heck is former NFL quarterback, ESPN analyst, co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League and Delaware Valley businessman Ron Jaworski doing?
Expanding his golf course footprint, that’s what. He recently added the Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel to a stable that includes six other venues. Also owned and managed by Ron Jaworski Golf (RJG) are New Jersey’s Blue Heron Pines, RiverWinds, Running Deer and Valleybrook, along with Pennsylvania’s Downingtown and Honey Run.
“I believe I have good business instincts, and golf courses have always intrigued me after my playing days. I'm not a trained golf-course operator. My college degree isn’t in golf course management. I was a football player who loved the game of golf and when you are writing the checks you learn quickly what works and what doesn’t,” explained the man nicknamed “Jaws” by NBA great Doug Collins.
Jaworski recognized early on in his professional football career that football wasn’t necessarily a lifetime opportunity, especially since the average career is less than four years. “It dawned on me back then that not only was succeeding as a professional football player a difficult task, it was also dangerous to one’s body.”
That realization sparked his appetite for the business world, and that led to a game he’d loved for years – golf.
Jaws has owned several courses over the years, trading up or out of them when it made sense. Abington, Twining Valley and later Tall Pines (which became Eagles Nest) were his initial forays into the world of course management or ownership. Those have all been dealt – at a hefty profit - but have been replaced with other courses that he’s upgraded into facilities that have margins which are the envy of the business.
Jaworski Golf has found a niche, taking its experience and parlaying that knowledge into ensuring its properties make financial sense. Ron Jaworski, wife and company president Liz Jaworski, son and Executive Vice President B.J. Jaworski and their team examine each opportunity from soup to nuts to examine the full opportunity before investing.
Once they’ve selected a property, they go all out to enhance it. No stone left unturned in finding ways to augment the experience whether it be on the golf course or with its food, beverage and hall experience. By adding to their portfolio they can use the economy of scale in using that buying power to allow the customer to have an affordable price point and the Jaworski group a profit.
“We believe we have a strong business model,” explained the former NFL quarterback. “We look for the right kind of properties, those which we can enhance and offer our customers value and challenge. We want to be part of the communities we serve, and strive to be good corporate citizens.
“It’s a business, of course, but we’ve been at this for decades and we know a good product at an affordable price and great atmosphere will attract customers. Fact is, when I see my name associated with a course I want to be proud of my involvement.”
The mission statement of the organization is simple and to the point: “We will create memorable experiences for all by having passion and dedication to quality in all areas, perform to the highest level possible, consistently strive to be unique and lead the pack, and drive a ‘Wow Factor’ for our guests.”
That mantra has been developed and honed in the years after Jaworski’s 17-year National Football League career came to a close. His first acquisition was the 9-hole Abington Club in Jenkintown, Pa., and over the years his passion for golf matched his passion for football.
“I love the game of golf, and to be part of the golf business is perfect for me,” explained Jaws, taking him away from his ESPN analytical duties. “But it’s not just golf, it’s the whole package, from weddings to meetings to a friendly local watering hole. No stone is left unturned as we attempt to give our customers what they want, when they want it and at the right price point.”
His golf team navigated some bumps along the way, learning by doing, and perfecting what it could. By keeping to its core principles, success followed.
Any potential acquisition starts with the golf course itself. What can be done to improve the property? Are their areas we can easily upgrade? How can steps be taken to ensure a successful outcome?
“Quality breeds success,” said Jaworski, who is especially proud of business achievements that linked with community involvement objectives. “We want the underlying layout to have improvement under our watch. What can we improve, what can we do to make the entire property better?”
The critics have spoken, as numerous articles have praised the outstanding work the Jaworski team has done at courses under its watch, especially New Jersey’s Running Deer, RiverWinds and most recently Blue Heron Pines. The latter had lost much of its luster after hosting the 2003 USGA Public Links Championship (won by Brandt Snedeker) and going through a succession of owners.
Jaws learned the golf business from the ground up. Whether it be in the pro shop, food and beverage arena or on the golf course itself Jaws developed a keen eye toward enhancing the customer’s experience from the moment they arrive in the parking lot until their leave.
Knowing that the right opportunity at the right price can become successful, Jaworski has bought and sold various properties over the years.
“There are a lot of golf courses that come onto the market. We look at everything, all aspects of a deal, and make sure it’s an opportunity which is right for us. We might pass on 20 potential acquisitions before we do a deal. But when we do that deal, we know our organization can make it work.”
Given his recent deals, including Ramblewood, the Stephen Kay designed Blue Heron Pines and the George Fazio designed Downingtown (Pa.) Country Club, there is no question Jaworski and his partners believe golf is alive and well in the Delaware Valley.
“At Ramblewood, we have 27 good golf holes in a great demographic area,” commented Jaworski, who partnered with NFL quarterback and South Jersey native Joe Flacco on the endeavor. "We believe it is a great facility even beyond the golf course. The new Seven Tap & Tavern is an awesome spot to visit before or after your round. It fits seamlessly into our portfolio, as we can offer the public great golf under quality conditions and at an affordable price point.”
As with his other acquisitions, players will soon notice the improvements being made to the facility.
“On the course, renovations include an extensive bit of work on the irrigation and drainage systems, extensive bunker work and immediate review of our trees to ensure optimal sunlight and air movement,” said Jaworski.
Adds BJ Jaworski: “The work we are doing will enhance turf conditions and result in consistent, premium playing conditions for our customers.”
Downingtown C.C. held its grand opening in 1967 off the drawing board of George Fazio, a noted PGA professional who was runner-up to Ben Hogan at the 1950 U.S. Open at nearby Merion (East) Golf Club. The uncle of Tom Fazio, George was once the touring PGA pro from the prestigious Pine Valley Golf Club.
The course offers ample fairway room and its greens are large. But don’t let those two attributes lull you into thinking you can whack away with abandon as Fazio strategically placed bunkers and used several ponds to torment wayward players. The greens have subtle breaks that confound even good putters who aren’t paying close attention to the deceptive pitches.
Jaworski’s team immediately recognized Downingtown’s attributes and set out to bring them back to their once owned luster. Shortly after the acquisition of Downingtown, the entire bunker complexes were reworked to rave reviews. What was Downingtown clay morphed into crafted bunkers that drain well, are visually effective and challenging to evade.
At Blue Heron Pines the Jaworski team upgraded the food and beverage operation along with the golf course. It removed some of the overgrown fescue that added minutes to playing time but little to enjoyment of the game. Under his watch BHP has regained much of its luster. The location has become a popular destination for shore golfers, but for weddings and groups as well.
“We take a holistic look at each opportunity, reviewing each and every facet or the operation, and then do our best to make improvements,” said the 1980 National Football League most valuable player. “Nothing is easy, but when you put your mind behind things you can make it happen.”
Along the way Jaworski practiced what he preached, ensuring the local community benefits from the businesses he oversees. On the philanthropic front Jaworski received the Pinnacle Award for his volunteer work and service to the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the United Way has honored him with its Volunteer Leadership Award. His annual Celebrity Golf Classic benefits the United Way Jaws Youth Fund, which has raised more than $3 million for charity.
“I’m not out looking for publicity or recognition, but out team does want to do what it can to help the communities we serve. We love our customers, and we want our customers to develop a relationship with us that brings repeat business.
If anything is a given, it’s that Ron Jaworski and his team do its best to provide its customers with what they want. It’s a proven concept which works.
Jack Welch would be proud.