The Ridge at Back Brook

6,654 yards, 139 Slope from the Blues

In Ringoes, NJ, Tom Fazio built The Ridge back in 2002. The owners, Joel and Pam Moore, wanted a golf club that fit their vision and ideals, with Joel famously quipping, “I was going to have a Tom Fazio course or I wasn’t going to build it.” The club is upscale yet is a golf club only; no tennis, pools, etc. The club boasts a fantastic practice facility, the course and a chique log cabin chalet of a clubhouse with views of the course, along with the gorgeous scenery that encapsulates it all.

The beauty and conditions here are mesmerizing. Red rock shows off some of the cliff faces and hills within a few fairways, babbling brooks and water mirror the towering pines that give the whole place an aura of evergreen as you cascade about the hills offering soaring views of it all. There’s a Pine Valley feel here in terms of the isolation of each hole, which isn’t too surprising considering Fazio’s involvement there. The course is well regarded and everyone I’ve ever discussed it with gushes. I believe it’s in the top 200 of Golfweek’s modern courses, even though in many ways it’s a well kept secret. Challenging, beautiful, scintillating; it’s a heavenly golf experience for many.

Just not me.

It happens. You can’t, or least I can’t, fall in love with every course I play. Some times you need more rounds there, some times it’s bad timing, some times a course doesn’t make sense to you and other times, you think there are ways a course can be considerably improved. I don’t believe in bashing courses, or looking at them and refusing to play them, or focusing on whatever bad traits I feel exist. All I can do is explain the reasons why the course didn’t do it for me, but I always encourage anyone who will listen to go check it out for yourself and make your own judgment or opinion.

In full disclosure as well, I didn’t play well here. At all. It was my worst round in years. I also had some other issues going on that were interfering with the round. While I do my best to stay objective and focus on the design, it’s worth putting that out there. If someone reads this and wants to dismiss everything written because I didn’t play well, that’s fair. I wouldn’t agree with it, but understand. All I can say is I love courses I’ve never played well and I do not like others that I play well on. The score is rarely if ever a consideration. Anyways, my thoughts are in the minority. Most I know love this place and I’ll get to that in a bit.

Mostly, the firm and fast conditions didn’t make sense to me. There were slopes, cut offs and forced carries that the fairways would feed into, so you were almost penalized for using the terrain and instead, needed to get your ball to stop on them instead. Perhaps that was part of the challenge that was lost on me. The greens were also too fast for the slopes. Many times, green speeds seem to be a badge of honor and something many consider a desired trait but here, the contours and slopes were overwhelmed by that speed. Other holes were more just rote, spruced up from the scenery. Mainly, however, the course does things extremely well that are coveted and valued by many. Spectacular visuals and ambiance that transport you into celestial isolation, uncompromising difficulty that challenges in degrees of execution rather than strategic complexity and of course green speeds one normally sees on television during the majors. Fazio has always been genius at giving the client what they want and I suspect that based on when it was built, he once again succeeded admirably. But for me, it was very one dimensional and didn’t harmonize as well as it could have.

The practice area is a very good one. After seeing the expansive mountain chalet clubhouse, I took full advantage of the range, short game area and putting green. I was feeling good and even found my bunker game. At the tail end of summer but still a lot of warm weather left, we embarked.

The First is a 381 yard par 4 (from the Blues). There is in fact a Back Brook and it’s off to the right of the First fairway. The opening tee shot is an elevated one, to a fairway that slopes from left to right. The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green and water then comes into play on the right side. Staying left is the play here. The right side results in less preferential lines into the green and brings the water and greenside bunker into play. I liked the green, which slopes towards the water in spots but deceives in others by moving in other directions with subtle internal contours.

The First
Approach shot territory
The green

The Second is a 160 yard par 3. Water asserts itself now as this is a complete forced carry over it to the green. The green presents a large landing area and while there is bail out area off to the right, it’s a delicate shot to avoid the water on all sides of the peninsula green.

The Second

The Third is a 389 yard par 4. A narrow fairway that gets narrower and tilts wildly to the water. Similar to the First, there is rough and a bunker on the high side where tee shots should go towards to accomodate the cant of the fairway, so the area of acceptable landing is even tighter. The firm and fast conditions here push balls towards the water, so even shots hinting to the left will end up in it or so close to it that you’re now faced with the ball severely above you. The approach is to an uphill green and is blind, with a steep fall off on the left towards the water. Nailing the tee shot is important to set up the challenging approach but may be an even more challenging tee shot.

The Third
Approach shot territory
A fantastic clubhouse, seen from many parts of the course

The Fourth is a 410 yard par 4. Passing the rear of the perched clubhouse, we start to get into some higher ground. The tee shot is a forced carry over a ravine, the fairway on the other side seemingly falling into it as well. Like the prior holes, there’s a good side and a bad side to be on. Here, the right side is bad and telegraphs that to you off the tee. The left side is higher and gives you a better line and view of the green. As is the theme here, it’s a matter of execution in making sure you’re on the correct side. The fairway feeds downhill to the green, which sits perpendicular to it. Pins on the right side of the green may be tempting but ultimately there’s a lot of risk and not that much reward. The green moves from left to right as the slope indicates. I actually like the approach shot. Using the side board on the left to kick balls on to the green is fun, but again, those who try to use the ground will likely pick up too much speed and overshoot to the far side.

The Fourth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 521 yard par 5. The tee shot is blind as the fairway rises from the tee , then dog legs left and down hill. The ideal tee shot hits the downhill portion of the fiarway, which will propel the ball further towards the hole. Those that hit that tee shot, however, aren’t really rewarded at all. With a downhill lie, you can try to go for the green in two, which is on the other side of the ravine and uphill. Or, you have to lay up, further down the hill, whch can be a rather short shot if you did your job off the tee. The firm and fast conditions seem to work against this hole. It’s a good looking green and is fairway wide accompanying the ridge on the other side, but the laying up off the tee might be the best option to fully utilize the second shot.

The Fifth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
From the left side

The Sixth is a 394 yard par 4. Switching back over the ravine, the tee shot is similar to the Fourth except the fairway continues to climb uphill on the other side of the ravine. The fairway narrows a bit as it bends slightly to the right, with trees on both sides. The green continues the curve to the right, long, deep and narrow. The left side is the best side. In fact, the right side is flat out bad.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 568 yard par 5. Coming out of the trees, the elevated tee shot is to a fairway that plateaus before terracing downhill to the green. The fairway ends where some red rock is exposed on the hill, which is also where the cart path crosses over the entire width of the hole. From there, there are two fairways, thhe lower left and higher right. Hopefully they are in view for your second shot and the left is the better option, which should leave you a shorter approach into the green. The right fairway presents the problem of being above the green. As everything runs from right to left, even the most delicate shots will blast off to the far side from the right fairway. There really is no reason to use the right fairway unless you need to reach it after a recovery shot off the tee. But the right fairway is wider and a more enticing target, so there’s a trade off if you decide for the easier second shot to that side. A nice looking hole.

The Seventh
A good look at the two fairways and green
A little closer
Even closer amongst the bedrock

The Eighth is a 150 yard par 3. A drop shot par 3 with a nice backdrop of a redrock cliff and A stream running along the foot of it. There’s a lot of bail out room short of the green that cannot be seen from the tee and also over on the right side. In fact, going left or long are the only bad places to be. The green is a good one, subtle with its movement, appearing not to move towards the cliff but in reality, I kind of think it does.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 371 yard par 4. Now running along the cliff and stream, the water pools into larger ponds on the left side up to the green. The fairway rises up and over a ridge, making the tee shot blind. The right side away from the trouble is where to be, which leaves you with a nice approach into the green. As for the green, it’s a forced carry from the fairway. more red rock on the far side and water on the front left. Angles could have been emphasized here a bit more, as the wide arching green moving towards the water is a good one. As it stands, it’s a good hole, its challenge dependent on how well your tee shot is.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory

The front nine loops back to the clubhouse, finishing on its rear low side. Forced carries, red rock and nice shaped greens abound. I would rank them 4, 9, 7, 6, 2, 8, 1, 5, 3.

The back nine starts with the 384 yard par 4 Tenth. A forced carry tee shot over the creek, the fairway dog legs right, with bunkers off to the left for those who try to clear the treee on the right too abruptly. The left side is ideal, in both view and line to the green. The green ramps up from the fairway, moving in general to the right.

The Tenth
Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 516 yard par 5. Straightaway with a fairway that goes up and over a ridge, creatinng a blind tee shot. The other side of the ridge reveals the reat of the hole in its entirety with a good amount of width, interspersed with bunkers. The green sits above the fairway, the entrypoint off to the left and bunkers at the front and right. It’s a free flowing hole, with no awkward forced carries or slopes that seem to work against the terrain. It’s a nice par 5 ad we’re off with a good start to the back nine.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 175 yard par 3. An elevated tee shot to the green, with water on the right and the terrain sloping towards it. There’s some room to miss near the front left but otherwise, there’s not much tolerance for shots that miss the green. Another scenic backdrop here, so soak it in once you tap in for that birdie.

The Twelfth
Loooking back from the green

The Thirteenth is a 347 yard par 4. As we’ve seen, the ideal side of the fairway usually is on the high side of the terrain so fighting the slope is necessary to get to that spot. Here, that is the case with the fairway tilting left to right. The width here, however, means that thhose who end up on the right still have a good shot at the wide green that’s perpendicular to the fairway. Depending on pin position and club selection, the right side may even be a better side to be on. The green sits on a terrace at the top of the hill with some terrific undulations and expansive tiers. There are several areas to miss, which then provide varying degrees of recovery challenge. It’s a very solid hole.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 544 yard par 5. Heading downhill with the fairway sloping from right to left. Fairway bunkers on either side tighten things near the landing area so decide how to handle that, as using the terrain on each shot should be in the forefront of your mind. The area near the green actually widens and is all short grass, with a centerline bunker keeping you honest. The tilt of the green and bunker placement make the approach a calculated affair but with the terrain helping on the lastt two shots, there’s a lot of opportunity to set it up to your liking. My favorite par 5 on the course.

The Fourteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 201 yard par 3. A variation of a Redan, the green sits well above the tee with the entrypoint on the right, which leads downwards to the green that keps moving from right to left. Bunkers occupy the left hillside below the green, taunting those who opt to go for the pin instead of using the entrypoint to feed their ball on instead. It’s a great par 3 and my favorite hole on the course.

The Fifteenth
From short right
From the left side

The Sixteenth is a 419 yard par 4. Now going uphill and still wide open, just mind the bunkers on the right. The fairway narrows after the right side bunker before opening up again near the green, which has a bunker on either side of the entrypoint and tilts from right to left. A nice approach and green here.

The Sixteenth
Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 179 yard par 3. A nice site and configuration of tee, green and terrain but an example of the green speed, at least on the day I played it, overwhelming any interest here. Only shots that hit the center of the green where it sloped from back to front had any chance of the ball holding while all others saw their ball race across off the back. I was lucky, aiming for the very start of the green and had my ball stop at the rear, at which point a slight rap on the ball for my putt sent it darting back the other way and so on. The rear of the green falls off suddenly and is the cliffside we see in the background of the Eighth. While being able to use the sidebar on the front left creatively would have been awesome, the speeds here bring that back ridge too much into play so instead, a hit it and stick it shot is all that works. Could be a lot better and maybe it is at other times.

The Seventeenth
The view off the rear of the green, which is the Eighth
Same spot but off to the left, which is the Ninth

The Eighteenth is a 526 yard par 5. Running parallel to the Ninth but starting on the higher ridge line, the fairway moves downhill from the get go, leaving you with a chance to unwind the tee shot. While the green is below you in view at the second shot, its temptation is too dangerous for all of those except a select few. Bteer to take the next stroke to further bound down the hill, getting in better position for the approach. With the green on the other side of the creek and above you, the exposed red rock and majestic clubhouse all in view, it’s a pleasant sight to behold. Again, however, the green speed is overhwhelming. Moving from back to front, only shots to the very back were holding and only by rolling all the way down to the front. Shots to the center or front of the green were lost in the creek. I opted for the back left side, deciding to take my medicine with putting. My shots stayed up there in the patch of rough but that was fine with me. Taming that slope would make a world of difference, opening up the green and adding intrigue to some positional strategy and taking advantage of the terrific landscape in not just visuals, but in field of play as well.

The Eighteenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
From the left

I enjoyed the back nine more. The width of the meadows and how it was used with the slopes works much better in both play and ambiance. My ranking is 15, 13, 14, 11, 10, 16, 12, 17, 18.

Generally, the Ridge is a wonderful setting within which to golf and does many things well but the strategic components have more to do with degress of execution than options while the playing conditions and slopes are exaggerated in spots, which takes away a lot of interest and sense. Most of the greens are quite fun when not over done and there are some interesting holes on the back. The Ridge was built when playing conditions and difficulty were revered over other traits and it certainly excels there. But what you see is what you get and while a scenic gauntlet of execution, there wasn’t much to hold interest here or figure out. That’s what I enjoy in my golf. For others, it’s different. An immersion into the wooded countryside and meadows with impeccable conditioning and slick greens is what many prefer in a relaxing day of golf and here, they will get that. It’s a red carpet experience where the main question asked of you on the course is if you can pull off the shot or not. I see golf as an adventure, where improvisation, randomness and a multitude of options are before me. Yet I appreciate not every course should emphasize those traits. In any event, it’s certainly worth checking out if you get the opportunity.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Very well done and adds to the rustic evergreen feel of the place that hits you as soon as you get out of the car.

Pratice area: Carve out some time to spend here. A scenic range, comprehensive short game area and putting green. Likewise very well done.