Royce Brook features 36 holes designed by Steve Smyers, and the West course is reserved exclusively for the club’s members. Those who have played the public-access East course know that it is no pushover, at more than 6,900 yards and featuring large bunkers.
The architect takes both elements to further extremes on the west side of the property, extending the back yardage to nearly 7,200 yards with exaggerated sand hazards. Players will get a quick idea for what to expect when they arrive at the No. 2 tee and see three colossal bunkers in an amoeboid style that Smyers has used elsewhere in his portfolio. The green at this hole is almost as well-armored as its fairway.
These huge sand complexes take on a more intriguing role at No. 13 where Smyers pursues a “Bottle” strategy...those who choose to fly the bunkers and arrive at the left fairway will have a short and straight look at the green. Those who take the opposite approach will need quite the accurate fade to find themselves putting for birdie.
To get through a round at the Royce Brook West Course without finding a single bunker is worth celebrating, regardless of score; almost every green is well-defended.
The hardest aspect in designing a course is when one must overcome nearly dead flat land. Architects usually go in either one of two directions -- inserting a plethora of concocted elements that are clearly eye-sores and detract from the experience. Or, they go with "less is more" approach and the net result is a "less is less" outcome.
You don't get an immediate sense of the West Course from the opening hole. Smyers eases golfers into what lies ahead but rest assured the intensity meter goes up -- dramatically.
The par-4 2nd is a certain "wake-up" call for all players. The hole turns right in the drive zone and the grouping of bunkers on the inside portion of the dog--leg is just the opening onslaught of large bunkers that will be front and center for the rest of the round. Smyers permits players to take a bold line of attack but the execution must be there to secure the reward for a much shorter approach. The green complex is also done well. Pin placements can be quickly tucked mandating the most skilled of approaches.
One of the more pressing issues players face during the round is determining one's site line and being able to deliver. The lack of serious ground movement makes that an ongoing item of concern -- especially for the holes that have turning points when standing at the teeing areas.
Although the inward half is a bit shorter than the front side -- I see the closing nine holes as presenting the much richer array of shotmaking challenges.
The split fairway at the par-4 13th is marvelously done. Players can take the safer right side and are then left with devilish approach to a green well-protected from that side. Those driving down the left have to be ever mindful of losing a shot too far to that side and thereby either encountering deep rough or even out-of-bounds.
Smyers deserves credits for his varying shapes and contours with a number of the putting surfaces. There are subtle fall-offs in certain instances and when pins are placed in far corners that need for precision clearly rises.
Initially, the West Course was open to the general public but is now only available to members and guests. Sad to say, the footprint of Smyers in the Garden State was reduced when the vintage Blue Heron Pines East closed a number of years ago. Nonetheless, the West exposes weakness -- especially when tee shots finish up in less than desirable locations. Smyers deserves credit for having to overcome a land site that offers few features of note but still calls upon players to show dexterity with the widest array of clubs throughout the round.
M. James Ward