Date played: 4/6/2021
I was invited out for a weekday round at Running Deer by Chuck Wanamaker, who also had me out at Scotland Run in 2019. The course is just a 3.5-mile drive from Centerton Golf Club. In fact, if you walked off the 12th green at Running Deer and headed west-northwest through the forest, it’s only about a third of a mile to reach the 11th green at Centerton. As close as they are geographically, these two Salem County courses are worlds apart in terms of quality.
One thing about this journey that I’m not ready to burden myself with is ranking the courses I’ve played. For one thing, there are 169 public courses (as I’ve defined them) in New Jersey. I couldn’t possibly tell you the difference between what might rank a course 38th as opposed to 37th, let alone 138th as opposed to 137th. The gradations over 169 courses would become extremely fine.
Having said that, what I am comfortable doing is maintaining an unranked list of “must plays”. These are courses that immediately come to mind when I think about my journey. Running Deer absolutely makes that list with an indelible first impression. One of a handful of Ron Jaworski golf properties in New Jersey, it is far and away the best of the ones I’ve played to date.
Many public courses suffer from a lack of variety. Whether it’s multiple adjacent holes that just run back and forth like the line for an amusement park ride, or flat, unappealing terrain, you sometimes feel like you’ve seen the hole already. At Running Deer, you may not be able to find two visuals on the course that are similar.
There are short par 4s, forced carries for par 3s, water featuring in a number of places to make you tentative, and par 5s that are reachable in two but require excellent approaches. Whether natural or not, the end result of the terrain gives every hole a unique look. The bunkering alone really allows for even the straightaway holes – like 4, 6, 8, and 10 – to appear incredibly different.
The stretch from 9 to 12 are some of the most memorable in the state. Here’s a look:
To top it off, the green complexes are incredible. Many of the putting surfaces have significant undulations, some funnel-esque slopes, backstops, and tiers. Surrounding them are excellent bunkers and run-off areas. They’re also likely to be some of the biggest you’ve seen on a public course that isn’t a resort. Even if Running Deer were as flat and open as a parking lot, the greens alone would make it a great course.
If I haven’t made it clear already, let me be explicit: I highly recommend this course.