Joel Moore, the owner and driving force behind The Ridge at Back Brook, considers himself to be rather a lucky man because he’s realised a personal ambition of establishing an exclusive private golf club in New Jersey that’s home to a course designed by one of America’s top modern architects, Tom Fazio.
The property that Moore acquired extends to around 300 acres and it’s characterised in places with prominent red rock outcroppings that have been brought into play at a number of holes, most notably on the par five 7th and par three 8th, where an 80-foot wall of stone forms a dramatic backdrop at the short hole.Other notable holes at The Ridge include the par four 3rd, with water running all the way down the left flank from tee to green and the par five 5th, played to a raised green on the other side of a gully. On the back nine, the par three 12th is a tough short hole as its green juts out into a pond, leaving little margin for error from the tee.
Tom Fazio has clearly made his mark in designing courses throughout America and in certain locations globally. The key dimension with a Fazio design rests on whether the final product is tilted more to the predictable formulaic or truly demonstrates a detailed thought provoking effort.
The Ridge at Back Brook is located on rolling terrain and that dimension really helps with the overall flow of the holes. The routing is quite good -- never missing an opportunity to change directions and shot mandates.
While the opening hole is fairly benign -- matters ramps up considerably with the 2nd and 3rd. The former is a picturesque par-3 with water to be carried.
The latter is a demanding two-shot par-4 with plenty of pressure on the tee shot and approach with water lurking nearby. There's sufficient room but just the idea of the water in the golfer's mind can make for a mental obstacle to overcome. There are few architects, in all of golf, who can create a "look" that captures a golfer's eye so well. The issue with many Fazio courses is whether there's meaningful substance beyond the pretty picture provided. The Ridge at Back Brook does provide plenty of instances where the "look" and how it "plays" works very well. Think of going with a "less approach" that generates a more natural connection.
Unfortunately, Fazio and his team excel to the point of excess with the ultra-manicured look and sometimes that stylish appearance can superimpose itself on the land. Think of adding make-up when there's really no need to do so given the attributes of the site. The more natural appearance can actually add strategic calculations that serve to enhance the overall design.
The Ridge at Back Brook possesses a quartet of exceptional par-5's. They are all done well -- with the 5th and closing hole truly standing out. Far too often par-5 holes can be easy fodder for quick and easy birdies. That's not the case here by any means unless the execution is provided.
The Ridge at Back Brook finds itself in a very competitive mixture of courses throughout New Jersey. The golf scene is extremely competitive here and while a position in the top ten is hard to crack - a position in the top 15 is certainly well within reach.
M. James Ward