RED TAIL and SHAKER HILLS - AYER, MA (BOSTON)
RED TAIL GOLF CLUB
Architect: Brian Silva
Par - 72
Excitement Level – 8/12
Diff. – 6/12
Conditioning - ****1/2
Cost - $90 peak, $50 reduced
Yearly Memberships – Yes, $4,250 play anytime
$3,250 play M-Th
Value - ****1/2
Tees Yards Rating Slope
Tournament 7006 73.9 138
Regular 6379 70.5 130
Senior 5654 67.7 119
Forward 5049 69.4 120
SHAKER HILLS GOLF CLUB
Shaker Road, P.O. Box 420
Architect: Brian Silva
Par - 71
Excitement Level – 8/12
Diff. – 8/12
Conditioning - ****
Cost - $75 peak, $50 reduced
Yearly Memberships – Yes, $4,495 play anytime,
Value - ****
Tees Yards Rating Slope
Tournament 6850 72.3 135
Back 6395 69.5 128
Regular 5914 67.3 121
Forward 5001 67.9 116
In the past ten years public golf in the greater Boston area has flourished. Hometown architect Brian Silva is one important reason why. Silva not only builds interesting designs wherever he goes, he has proven himself a master of several different genres of course design featuring a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of strategic design features. From his parkland gem at Waverly Oaks to his wonderfully authentic Links at Hiawatha Landing (designed with partner Mark Mungeam), to his seaside Captain’s Club, Silva has proven creative, versatile, and progressive. Most importantly, Silva courses are wonderfully inexpensive and impeccably manicured.
Two of Silva’s Boston designs stand out from all the others and, even more conveniently, are located a mere three miles from each other. In the heart of the birthplace of the American Revolution, Red Tail Golf Club (Devens, MA) and Shaker Hills Golf Club (Harvard, MA) are just thirty miles from downtown Boston and a mere drive and eight iron from Lexington and Concord, where valiant minutemen fought and died to shape the destiny of the free world.
Free spirits still abound as Silva has created two bold modern designs, inimitably Silva yet starkly different from each other. Red Tail combines classical parkland style with a good dash of “pine and scrublands” thrown in for good measure in a neo-classic masterpiece. Silva’s trademark sculpted bunkering defines otherwise wide fairways through rolling hills. Shaker Hills, while still possessing the sculpted bunkering, is a claustrophobic roller coaster ride through thick, woods and massive tall pines - a completely different feel though only three miles away from its younger sister. Both feature good alternating shots within the hole (e.g. fade off the tee, draw into the green), and have a good variety of shot shaping requirements off the tee. Most importantly, at $80 most times and $50 at twilight, they are not only the best tandem of courses in Boston, happily they are also the most affordable.
RED TAIL GOLF CLUB
Head pro Jim Pavlik simply says that “At Red Tail our goal is to be one of the best layouts in New England that can be enjoyed by golfers of all handicaps.” Red Tail surpasses all expectations. Opened in 2003 to widespread acclaim, Silva uses elevation changes, sculpted bunkers and naturally occurring pine trees in a modern design plan which insures no two holes are remotely alike to create a thrilling yet eminently playable gem, with many strategic options. Every hole is memorable - there are no weak holes or holes that seem forced or over the top. Four sets of tees offer a fair test to golfers of all skill levels without the player feeling overmatched. Contoured, slick slivers of greens guarded by fiendish drop offs into Donald Ross-like collection areas defend par well on the short par fours and frequently feature what one Red Tail course ranger described as “Sunday pin placements every day.”
The front nine may be one of the best outward nines on the entire eastern seaboard. Every hole is a unique and exciting design and never fails to impress from rolling start to rollicking finish. While many architects wish to offer an easy warm up at the first, Red Tail demands crisp contact and concentration on the first drive of the day - a cross bunker horizontally divides the fairway. Further, the shot plays over a natural hump, adding elevation to the challenge. Fade off the tee, but draw into the green, the player is required to exact various shot shapes right out of the gate. The second features a Silva staple of design, “cathedral bunkering,” a veritable pancake stack of multi-layered bunkers situated on the left side of this dog leg right par five. (Another example of a mountain-like stack of bunkers on top of one another is found at the 9th at Links at Hiawatha Landing.) The 3rd is a gorgeous par three which plays uphill to a deep green. Take enough club to reach comfortably as the fairway slopes severely to the right and shots short or right will result in an awkward uphill 40 yard pitch to the putting surface. Players can take advantage of Silva’s intentionally designed “kick slope” short and left of the green to bounce the ball onto the green and take advantage of the hole’s natural contours to feed the ball to the hole. (There is another on the left side of the seventh green as well.)
Silva loves punchbowl greens (see also # 11 at Hiawatha Landing) and gives us two at Red Tail. The first is at the uphill, yet reachable par five fourth. Better players can use the green’s natural contours to spin the ball to the day’s hole location. The stretch of six through nine features a short-long-short-long combination of stellar par fours. The sixth features the prettiest drive of the day, a long carry over a ravine with water left and trees right. The lake off to the left offers an idyllic view, but do not be distracted from the demanding drive at hand. The eighth measures a scant 306 from the Regular Tees, but the green is a mere sliver and slopes off dangerously on all sides. Nine measures 417 from the regulation tees and requires two solid shots to reach the green safely.
The 10th is listed as the hardest hole on the card and may live up to its reputation. Bending hard to the left, climbing uphill all the way, and lined by trees on both sides which make the playing area particularly narrow, one misplayed shot will damage any chance for a par. The beautiful par 3 11th follows, playing from an elevated tee to an elevated green set at the base of a steep hill. Shots short or right will either find a deep bunker or require a 40-50 yard uphill chip to a small green.
The finish is creative and memorable. After a beautiful drive from an elevated tee at the 400 yard 14th, the approach is uphill to another punchbowl green, more steeply sloped than its front side sister. 17 is the most popular hole with the players. From an elevated tee box, the cape-style hole begs for a long drive cutting the corner on this dog leg right. However, shots short or right find a waste bunker that looks straight out of Pine Valley or World Woods. Finally the 18th is a reachable par five for the long hitter who can carry the crest of a hill, but the second shot will be played from an uneven lie (at best) to a green fronted by water. The entire fairway slopes toward the water, so even third shot approaches with wedges need to be precise. A front right pin position often suckers in greedy, imprudent players and hangs a round crushing big number if played carelessly.
Players of all skill levels equally love Red Tail for its beauty, fairness and inexpensive price tag. A registered member of the Audobon International Signature Cooperative Sanctuary, Red Tail features diverse flora and fauna, including deer and the red tail hawks for which the course takes its name. Ever the historians, locals are as equally proud of the site’s heritage as the former site of the Fort Devens military base as they are of the rich colonial pedigree. General George Patton taught tank maneuvers on course land and before course building could begin the course was thoroughly searched for old munitions. Several old shells and hand grenades turned up. In fact, the storied history of the site and the need to protect the environment actually had a positive affect on Silva’s design. Silva was not allowed to remove the slab foundations of the old fort housings, so holes 2 though 8 and number 10 were built over the top of these foundations.
Luckily for Silva, he was able to use the natural flow the fairway followed over these subterranean structures to fit the shot shaping requirements he had designed for the holes. Two great examples are the draw receptive fairways at 8 and 10. “How about that!” Silva beams, “I was forced into certain parameters by site considerations and environmental limitations and it came out great. I probably would not have imagined that hole had the outside factors not imposed on my work.” Perhaps that is also the hallmark of a world-class designer – making lemonade when the world hands you lemons.
SHAKER HILLS GOLF CLUB
While the regular tees clock in at under 6000 yards, this is dangerously deceptive. The par is 71, so the course already plays longer than the listed yardage. Further, many approaches are markedly uphill, especially on shorter holes. The greens are greased lightning and often feature numerous tiers placing a premium on accuracy. Most importantly, unlike Red Tail, the course is extremely narrow from start to finish. On many holes, driver is not an option or a foolish choice. As one player remarked, “you have to walk down these fairways single file.” Finally, well placed water hazards, tough bunkers, rock walls, natural ravines and the ubiquitous trees lining both sides of the fairways defend par well. Crooked shots are severely punished as play back to the fairway may not be possible and any hole can “scud attack” a scorecard.
After a short opening two holes which should acquaint the player with the tight landing areas and targets, Silva serves up a gorgeous downhill par three guarded by water in front. Following a long par four, the mighty fifth, a massive 570 yard uphill dog leg right challenges the golfer’s length and accuracy. The course’s signature hole and a true three shotter, players must be long and straight on all three shots to reach the green.
The par fours at Shaker Hills are not outstandingly long, but feature well placed hazards as well as the ever present ball-eating woods. A terrific example is number 8, a medium length but uphill par four featuring sand and water running the entire length of the hole. Any mis-hit shot here will make par all but impossible. Similarly, the par four 11th seemingly has no place to put the tee ball except both extremely long and with pinpoint accuracy to avoid the bunker complex which pinches the fairway at the landing area on one side, and the thick woods on the other. The fairway slopes hard left so even hitting the fairway on the fly is no guarantee that the ball will stay in play. Similarly the par four twelfth, a hard dog leg right, may measure only 350 yards, but the swamp all along the right places a premium on accuracy.
The finish at Shaker Hills is thrilling. The gorgeous postcard downhill thirteenth is followed by the short, but equally pretty fourteenth, a gentle uphill dog leg left. Fifteen is easily the prettiest and arguably the best par 5, featuring a wedge approach over a rock-walled ravine to a small guitar shaped green set in its own natural, tree guarded dell. After a beautiful par 3 16th, and the short reachable risk reward par 4 17th, the long 18th requires a drive over a brush filled chasm to the fairway for a fairway wood or long iron home.
Shaker Hills may frustrate amateurs and first timers who play the wrong set of tees or who insist on trying to overpower the course. Better players love the challenge of Shaker Hills due to its demanding, but fair shotmaking requirements and difficult but wonderfully true greens. Many greens have numerous tiers and slopes which, when combined with tour caliber speed, will make good putting a requirement for a reasonable score. The par threes are all postcard gorgeous. Further, three are severely downhill making club selection tricky. Patient golfers will survive this tight, hazard riddled test of golf with a respectable score.
Both Shaker Hills and Red Tail showcase quintessential Silva design concepts. The design is strategic and risk-reward options abound, with dramatic results for both success and failure. There is a great variety of holes, both in length and shape. Finally, the aesthetics of each provide seamless harmony with nature and an atmospheric venue on which to play the game. Best of all, both can be played for the around $60 most of the time.