Course: In the heart of Southern NJ is Running Deer GC, not to be confused with Deerwood, Deerfield, or Dear Deer. True story, a few years ago my friends and I scheduled a tee time at Deerwood, but one of our foursome went to Running Deer instead, which is well over an hour away. He was not happy to say the least. At any rate, RD is one of the courses Jaworski owns and operates, along with Riverwinds, Valleybrook and Blue Heron Pines, which I had the pleasure of playing a couple months ago. Jaws has been doing a great job running his courses. The course websites are full of information and I believe they make it very appealing to book outings. Of the courses I’ve played of his, conditions and service have vastly improved, all while keeping green fees reasonable.
Entrance to the clubhouse
I had never played RD before, but always heard good things. The stars finally aligned and I found myself in the area with enough time for a round, so I was able to get out on an extremely hot afternoon as a single. The course reminded me a lot of Pine Barrens with a little Scotland Run and Pine Hill (now Trump Philadelphia) mixed in and that’s a good thing. Tree lined holes with severe bunkering and forced carry approaches all while providing generous tee landing areas while allowing lots of shot selections off the tee. Don’t forget the also severe mounds and contours that are overdone at times, but make for a few exciting blind shots. Oh yeah, and wavy greens that roll true and fast. Since Pine Barrens is private and Pine Hill also turned private a few years ago, it was nice to play a similar type of design, as I’ve always found it fun, interesting and demanding. After some time on the putting green and stocking up on water, I striped my tee shot on the First in the middle of the fairway (after whiffing badly on my first swing; don’t judge me, it was hot and I was at the beach all day).
The First is a 384 yard par 4 (from the Blues). There is a large bunker area that pretty much takes up a lot of the left side of the hole, which you can try to carry, aim to the right of or put a nice fade on the ball for us righties. Cross bunkers guard either side of the green in front and the green sets the tone early with undulating waves and moderate speed.
Approach shot territory
The Second is a 478 yard par 4. The fairway looks pretty wide from the tee area, but the rough intrudes in spots and the fairway descends a little before rising back up to the green that is well protected by mounds.
Going up the fairway of the Second
The Third is a 367 yard par 4. This is the first of many holes where driver isn’t necessarily the best club off the tee and you’re given pretty wide discretion on what two clubs you want to get to the green. The tee area is set to the left side of the fairway. A sunken waste area is to the left of the fairway, so it essentially sets up off the tee like the First. Anything from driver to a mid iron works off the tee, so figure out what type of approach shot you’re the most comfortable with, as the green is elevated and anything off the green puts you in a touch position. This hole almost screamed Pine Barrens at me.
Approach shot territory
The Fourth is a 506 yard par 5. The tee shot looks out into a sea of bunkers. A well struck tee shot can carry them, or you can lay up short. After the bunker sea, the fairway narrow considerably to a smaller green that’s surrounded by mounds. A great combination of trying to steer clear of the bunkers, getting the most distance out of your shots and staying accurate on the narrow fairway and smaller green.
Almost drowning in the sea of bunkers
The Fourth green
The Fifth is the first par 3 at 140 yards. The green is pretty much perpendicular to the elevated tee area, running at a 7:00 to 1:00 angle, sloping back to front. There’s a marsh area in the front right of the green that must be carried if you approach the green on that side.
The Sixth is a 406 yard par 4. There are cross bunkers around the tee landing area, but something less than driver is fine off the tee here. Bunkers kind of group around both the tee landing and green areas, so keep it straight.
Moving up the Sixth fairway
The Seventh is a 173 yard par 3. It’s very similar to the Fifth. The green runs the same way with respect to the tee, but it’s a complete forced carry over a waste area and anything long is very dead. I literally felt like the same shot as the Fifth and was a bit of head scratcher for me.
The Eighth is a 396 yard par 4. The fairway is pretty wide and generous. The green is pretty big and uneventful, except for a a bunker and water on the left side. Eh.
A look at the green
The Ninth is a 487 yard par 5. There is a what I’ll call an FU waste bunker that essentially stops the entire fairway and forces you to take less than driver off the tee. You then must carry the FUWB to the other side, where the fairway starts again and turns sharply right around some trees to the green. If you don’t the ball far enough down the fairway after the FUWB, you are FUBAR, as your only shot to the green is a carry over extremely tall pine trees. It was a different hole and I enjoyed it while playing it, but it felt a little contrived in making sure it remained a three shotter. Why not give some kind of chance at carrying or evading the FUWB for a little risk reward factor and making getting to the green in two a possibility if you’re able to pull off two really good shots?
Just before the FUWB
A look at the green
The front nine had some very good holes and a couple that were a little quirky. The par 3’s were decent yet repetitive and the Seventh through Ninth left a little to be desired. Notwithstanding, all of the holes demand a pretty good amount of precision and shot selection. I’d rank them 3, 2, 1, 4, 6, 9, 5, 7, 8.
The back nine starts with a 396 yard par 4. There are scores of bunkers that generally force you to draw the ball off the tee. There are also bunkers around the green to keep you honest. Really, the strength of your tee shot determines the ease of your approach on a sliding scale.
Approach shot territory
The Eleventh is a 345 yard par 4. The fairway goes from wide to narrow until it gets pretty small, then curls right and down to a green that’s situated in a little nook. The approach is tough, as any angle to the green is off kilter and brings some type of trouble into play. It’s a great strategy hole and these type of short par 4’s are what this course pretty well.
A look at the green from the left side of the fairway before it ends. The tight turn is to the right of the photo.
The Twelfth is a 430 yard par 4. It’s a big dog leg right to an elevated green that has a lot of run off and bunkers surrounding it.
Looking at the green from the far side of the dog leg
The Thirteenth is a 210 yard par 3. Obviously it’s a longer par 3 and the green is well hidden from the tee. It’s a modified Redan to some degree, as there’s a large bunker fronting one side of the green, but the green runs away from the bunker instead of towards it and it’s too level with the tee area. Regardless, it’s a nice looking par 3.
The Fourteenth is a 542 yard par 5. Trees are the star of this hole, as they crowd the left side of the fairway and loom on the right to shape a sharp dog leg left, with various hazards intruding into the fairway until the green that slopes from back to front. It’s a good hole and kicks off a nice stretch.
The Fifteenth is another of those nice short par 4’s at 343 yards. Again, you basically can decide what you want to hit off the tee to set up your approach shot, which will be over a trench bunker that runs along the entire front of the green, while the green is wide but narrow, forcing a carried accurate approach shot. Another hole I really liked.
The Sixteenth is the last par 3 at 172 yards. Another run of the mill hole with a slightly elevated green with bunkers along the sides. After the excitement of the par 4’s and a couple of the par 5’s, I expected more out of the par 3’s.
The Seventeenth is a 535 yard par 5. There is a sunken rough waste area straight in front of the tee area while the fairway pushes right to about 2:00 to a lone tall tree that you have to get to either side of so you can carry more banks and sunken areas to the fairway for a nice approach to the receptive green. Another great hole.
Near the lone tree for the second shot
The Seventeenth green
The Eighteenth is a 448 yard par 4. It’s a gentle dog leg right where cross bunkers protect the tee landing area and as the fairway proceeds to the green, where swales and mounds of rough bottleneck to the green, making any wayward shot tough to recover from. A good understated finishing hole.
Proceeding up the fairway
Swales and mounds towards the green, blocking my view
The back nine was better than the front. There wasn’t a weak par 4 and the par 5’s were also well done. The par 3’s were a let down for the most part though. I’d rank them 11, 15, 17, 10, 12, 14, 18, 13, 16.
Generally, Running Deer was a nice challenge with a lot of holes indicative of the area that have enough character to stay interesting and refreshing. Lots of different looks and the short par 4’s were terrific. Like I said, the par 3’s were a little disappointing when you see how creative the other holes were; I feel like they could have done much more with them.
The conditions were very good and the cart girl did a great job on an extremely hot day and there were water coolers to help out. The turn also had a nice hut that sold food and drinks, which also was close to the range. Good set up. The course is in a nice quiet rural area. Nice design, nice setting, nice conditions and nice service. A lot of good things going on here and based on everything, this is going around 19 in my rankings. In terms of Southern NJ’s public courses, this is worth the drive and probably where I’d go next to Scotland Run.
Gripes: It was pretty slow and there weren’t any rangers. There were twosomes and threesomes scattering the course. In fact, a twosome ahead of me didn’t invite me to join even though I was waiting on the First tee with them. Things could have tightened up here and been a little quicker. On the other hand, it was nice to play as a single if I wanted to. Not much else I noticed I can complain about.
Bar/grill: Looked nice. Couldn’t stay to hang out but wanted to.
Clubhouse: Very well stocked and a good size. Would you expect anything else from Jaws?
Practice area: Driving range was nice with grass tees. And the hut selling food and drinks nearby was clutch.
Getting there: Route 55 South, about 40 minutes from downtown.
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