Review: Royce Brook Golf Club (East)

Course Name: Royce Brook Golf Club (East)

Designer: Steve Smyers (1998)

Location: Hillsborough, New Jersey

History: Royce Brook Golf Club opened in 1998 with 36 holes from architect Steve Smyers. Initially both courses were open to the public but soon after opening, the West Course became fully private. The East Course is still open to the public and is considered one of the better public courses in New Jersey, earning the following award:

  • #55 Best Course in New Jersey – (2020)

Conditions: 8/10, Despite playing after a huge rainstorm, Royce Brook was in overall good shape with lush fairways and teeboxes, thick rough, and greens that rolled true. I have heard the course has some drainage issues, but any course would be soaked on the day I played.

Value: 6/10, Royce Brook East maxes out at $99 during peak weekend times but is only $49 to play on weekday afternoons, representing fair value.


Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                          72           6946              73.7                136

Green                       72           6447              71.2                130

White                       72            5935              69.0               127

Red                            72           5062              69.6               124

Hole Descriptions: Located in Central Jersey about midway between Philadelphia and New York, Royce Brook is a 36-hole facility designed by Steve Smyers. The private West Course is considered superior, but both courses are respected, with the public course ranking #55 in the state at the time of this review. For most states, 55th means nothing but for a state with as much quality and depth as New Jersey, I simply had to see this public course. My initial impression was one of mild indifference. The course is certainly a nice public option with good conditions, fair value, and a decent collection of holes with no real bad ones. With that being said, Royce Brook is built on a very boring flat, farmland property and this is a real detractor. For this reason, there is very little memorability here and the holes tend to blend together. You could certainly do worse and this is an above average public course, but for me it is not nearly as good as nearby Heron Glen and Neshanic Valley and doesn’t crack top 15 public in the state. If you want to play here, you better hurry, as rumors of housing developments taking over one of the courses have been heating up.

Royce Brook East is not a particularly challenging course, but it begins in difficult fashion with a 437 yard straightaway par 4. The longest par 4 on the course, this hole features a forced carry of 180 yards just to reach the fairway and fescue down both sides. This green is on the flatter side, but you’ll want to avoid large bunkers right and short left.

The par 4 1st

The 2nd hole is one of the better and more interesting holes on the course as a semi-blind 374 yard dogleg right par 4. This teeshot gives the golfer the option to either lay-up down the left or play a power fade over the righthand trees to cut the corner. Surrounded by four bunkers in all directions, this green contains a middle ridge and yields some tricky putts.

The intimidating teeshot at 2
The approach at 2

The 3rd hole is likely the easiest at Royce Brook as a flat, 155 yard par 3 featuring a green surrounded on all sides by bunkers. This green contains multiple plateaus but par should be easily attainable here.

The par 3 3rd

At 524 yards, the 4th hole is Royce Brook’s only par five stretching over 500 yards and features a tight, snaking fairway. This teeshot is quite intimidating, as bunkers dominate your view and occupy much of the landing area between 140 and 220 yards with little fairway between this point. Those who are able to carry these bunkers should have a chance to reach this green in two, but those laying up will need to be wary of another trio of bunkers down the left about 100 yards short of the green. This putting surface slopes back-to-front and is lined by bunkers on either side.

The tricky par 5 4th
The 4th approach – look at the rainwater in the bunkers

The 5th hole is the shortest par 4 on the course at 320 yards and is a fun hole, especially for longer hitters who can reach this green. Playing slightly downhill, this hole is tempting, but the fairway narrows progressively with trees down the right and sequential bunkers down either side between 185 and 270 yards. Those who miss this left-to-right sloped, narrow green will pay dearly, as a bunker lines the left and a steep swale guards the right.

The par 4 5th is my favorite hole at Royce Brook East
The downhill approach at 5

The 6th hole is a straightaway 360 yard par 4 with a generous fairway and OB left the entire way. There’s not much to this hole until you reach this elevated green which is notable for a significant right false front and deep bunkers long, left, and right.

The par 4 6th
A closer look at the tricky 6th green

Officially 475 yards, the 7th hole is a quirky par 5 that I am not terribly fond of. This hole begins with a straightaway teeshot to a fairway lined by OB left and a trio of bunkers down the right between 155 and 220 yards. At around 210 yards, the fairway turns hard right and anything straight longer than this may be lost.  Longer golfers with local knowledge can cut the corner over these bunkers but this teeshot will be confusing to first time players. Even cutting the corner here does you little good, as this fairway again snakes left about 100 yards short of the green with multiple bunkers down the left for the remainder of the hole. Most golfers will be forced to lay-up regardless of their teeshot. This green is two-tiered and slopes front-to-back lined by three bunkers right. There are just too many sharp angles here that the hole simply does not work.

Taking on the right side is quite intimidating at the 7th
Trees down the left should be removed to give the aggressive golfer a better chance to reach in two
The final approach at 7 is littered with bunkers

The 8th hole is another strange one as an 172 yard par 3 that feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the course. This teeshot plays over fescue and a small creek to a Redan style green defended by bunkers on either side short.

The forced carry here makes the hole feel disconnected from the rest of the course

At 430 yards, the front side closes in strong fashion with the dogleg left par 4 9th. Playing somewhat like a Cape hole with a significant forced carry and fescue down the left the entire way, the golfer can choose how aggressive to be off the tee here. This green features a left plateau and slopes left-to-right, defended extremely well by multiple deep bunkers short, left, and right. Par is a great score here.

The par 4 9th

The 10th hole is a 401 yard dogleg left par 4 featuring a generous fairway that turns left around 240 yards. There’s really not much to this hole, which also features a relatively flat green defended by bunkers right.

The par 4 10th

Yet another dogleg left, the 11th hole is a 359 yard par 4 that plays tight and quirky. This hole plays slightly uphill on the teeshot to a very tight fairway with OB left and a sharp turn at only about 215 yards. It’s conceivable to cut the corner here over the trees, but I don’t see much advantage to this on an otherwise short hole. This green is very small, likely the smallest on the course, and is lined by bunkers on either side.

The par 4 11th
The approach at 11

At 479 yards, the 12th hole is a short par 5 and another dogleg left. Playing slightly uphill on the teeshot, this hole features OB left the entire way and turns 90 degrees left at about 250 yards with multiple bunkers down the left at this point. Almost certainly reachable in two for many golfers, this approach continues uphill to a multi-plateau green defended by bunkers on either side. A string of five bunkers runs down the left for much of the lay-up area and should be avoided.

The par 5 12th
The approach at 12

I’m not exactly sure what Smyers was thinking when he designed a fifth straight dogleg left in the 13th on a course already devoid of defining land features. At 352 yards, this hole is fairly easy featuring a very generous fairway lined by three bunkers down the right. At about 280 yards, this fairway narrows and turns left. Those who lay-up here might face a semi-blind approach over a mound to a flat, narrow green guarded by four small bunkers short.

The par 4 13th
The approach at 13

The 14th hole is a monster from the Blue Tees but is very manageable from the Green Tees as a 389 yard straightaway par 4. Running along the edge of the property, this hole is fairly tight and features OB left the entire way with tall trees. This approach runs downhill towards a back-to-front sloped green flanked by bunkers.

The par 4 14th

At 182 yards, the 15th hole is Royce Brook’s longest par 3 and likely its best running slightly uphill to an elevated green. This green is on the flatter side but is well-defended by five bunkers that surround it short, left, and right. I remember this hole well for the strange Osage orange tree to the left of the teebox.

The par 3 15th requires a good strike

The 16th hole is one of the stronger par fours on the course at 415 yards playing straightaway. After a brief forced carry, this fairway is quite generous lined by forest on both sides. Golfers will be left a mid- to long-iron into a relatively flat green lined by bunkers on either side.

The par 4 16th

The 17th hole is a nice little par 3 at 141 yards featuring a large, flat green sitting on a pedestal surrounded by bunkers on all sides.

The par 3 17th

Royce Brook East’s closing hole is a fun one and gives you a chance to get a shot back as a risk/reward 482 yard reachable par 5. This hole initially features a generous, fescue-lined fairway that plays semi-blind and slightly uphill. At about 300 yards, multiple bunkers run through the center of the hole that you must carry on your second shot. This green slopes left-to-right somewhat like a reverse Redan and is lined by two bunkers left.

The par 5 18th
From just short of the “Great Hazard” at 18

General CommentsFor a 36-hole semi-private club, I expected a nicer clubhouse, but the practice facilities are strong with a full grass driving range and short game area. Pace of play was fantastic on a dreary Fall weekday.

Royce Brook’s range

Verdict: Royce Brook East is a solid course with good conditions, fair value, and a decent collection of holes. However, a very boring property fails to leave a strong lasting impression and for this reason it is not among the Garden State’s elite public offerings.

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