Red Tail Golf Club

6,694 yards, 133 slope from the Silvers

Course:  In Devens, MA, approximately an hour north of Boston, is Red Tail GC.  While the course design is credited to the architectural firm of Cornish, Silva & Mungeam on the scorecard, it appears the design credit went with Brian Silva once he left Cornish and Mungeam.  Silva is one of my favorite contemporary course architects.  There is an emphasis on variety, visuals and character, as there is no doubt you are playing on a one of a kind course.  He maintains classic design themes throughout, so there is a level of familiarity when you are playing the course, but the character and variety of the holes also make them distinct.  Silva is also heavily influenced by Seth Raynor (his tribute course to Raynor, Black Creek, will be reviewed soon), which further emphasizes rigid geometrical features and angles mainly with the green complexes and bunkering.  Silva has also done quality restoration work at a number of courses designed by the greats, including Raynor, Bell and Ross.

As for Red Tail, the course occupies what was once Fort Devens.  The course is set on hilly and wooded terrain, with enough open space to allow for creative bunkering and mounding.  The course features an abundance of variety, as the holes rise, fall, turn and writhe.  Trees come into play appropriately while water is rarely a hazard (except for the Eighteenth, where it is prominent on the approach shot).  The conditions were fantastic and the course certainly challenged you in a number of different ways.  It is currently ranked the Eighth best public course in Massachusetts by Golfweek and was heralded as one of the best courses you can play by Golf Magazine.

After my spectacular round at Equinox, we drove a couple hours to Red Tail the next day.  Let’s say there was a bit of an over serving issue the night prior, which made the drive, and the whole day actually, a bit of a struggle.  Despite what was a long day, I really liked the course and sorely wished I had more of my A game.  I think some of that is also the course rewarding repeat play, so I would like another crack at it, and that is one of the strengths of the design.

As I limped off the Eighteenth with my double and virtually sprinted to the bar to lick my wounds, I was already growing fond of the place, with only memories of the nice shots remaining.

The First is a 375 yard par 4 (from the Silvers).  From this first tee shot, you realize this course will be a bit different.  The fairway runs from 7:00 to 2:00 from the tee, with a long trench bunker lining the right side of the fairway and bunkers scattered on the right side.  There is some thought as to how to approach this tee shot; do you draw it along the fairway?  Hit a shorter club than driver to stop short of the bunkers on the right?  The fairway then tilts and sways to the green, which is fairly tame compared to the rest of the hole.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 568 yard par 5.  The hole is a dog leg right and another example of the fairway getting pinched by bunkers before running out to the green.  There is a literal hill of bunkers off to the right that honestly seems to serve no real purpose but to pose an intimidating visual.  I’m all for it though, just couldn’t figure out how they come into play, unless you are extremely long off the tee or you hook your second shot severely.  After the dog leg, the hole runs out to the green, which is slightly raised from the fairway.

Near the tee landing area of the Second

Closer to the dog leg

The Third is a 170 yard par 3.  Yet another example of the hole not fully revealed off the tee, as the raised green is shrouded by the hillside on the right, as well as bunkers that encroach and almost hover over the green.  The drop off on the right side of the green is severe, but recovery shots are possible.  Staying on the left is safer, but putting becomes much more difficult, as this is the first green I felt undulated with subtleties.

The Third

The Fourth is a 525 yard par 5.  The theme here becomes apparent with the tee shot, as the dog leg left with bunkers on each side narrows the permissible landing area and dictates your line to the green.  As the hole climbs to the green after the dog leg, an extremely large false front and green, almost a reverse punch bowl, appears.  While hitting the green is fairly easy, putting from one side of the massive green to the other is not easy.  A very well done par 5.

The Fourth

The green

The Fifth is a 161 yard par 3.  A valley is between the tee and green, which sits on a bluff of sorts, with a trench bunker protecting the front left side and a bail out area over on the right.  Get on the green because anything else is going to be difficult to scramble.

The Sixth is a 365 yard par 4.  Similar to the Fifth in that there is a forced carry off the tee, the tee shot is a little more straightforward, as the left side is covered with a waste bunker while the right side slopes towards the center, with the fairway then running slightly downhill and sweeping slightly to the left before reaching the green.  Any approach shot too far off line to the right falls off into a steep embankment, so good luck with that.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 427 yard par 4 and is the number 1 handicapped hole.  The tee shot is fairly elevated and it is difficult to see, but the fairway starts much further out than it appears, which essentially means you can’t afford to lay off the tee shot.  There is a large waste bunker off to the right all the way to the green that sits below the fairway and with the tree line on the left, it certainly comes into play.  The semi amphitheater green seems like a reprieve from the perils of actually getting to the hole, but it rolls pretty fast and is certainly a challenge unto itself.

The Seventh

Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 323 yard par 4.  It’s a dog leg right around a fairly large tree, with a bunker on the inside next to the tree for good measure.  The approach shot is pretty gentle, but off green gets penal quickly.  I learned the hard way when my shot went far right of the green and I was in 3-inch deep rough.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

Closer to the green

The Ninth is a 418 yard par 4.  Once more, the tee shot confounds those who are playing the course for the first time, as bunkers and the dog leg obscure a complete view of what the fairway is doing.  The fairway bottles up, pinched by bunkers on the left and a drop off on the right, until opening up against to a sizable green, which is multi tiered and has fairly generous bail out areas on other side.  It was a very cool par 4.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine is full of character, evincing strategy off the tee and then gradually afterwards while setting forth some very unique visuals that enrich its unique theme.  Ranking them, I’d go 9, 4, 7, 6, 5, 1, 3, 2, 8.

The back nine starts with the 520 yard par 5 Tenth.  A forced carry over a ravine to a fairway that is defined with tree lines on both sides, with a larger bunker lining the left side on approach of the green while another large bunker is on the right side of the green.  I found the hole awkward, as the hazards were all peripheral and the trees a tad overgrown, which narrowed the flight the ball could take to the green.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 169 yard par 3.  A fun par 3 where a bunker ocean sits on the right side and way below the green, forcing you to heavily consider aiming towards the left side.  A false front snakes along a ride line to the green, providing a narrow landing area before the green, which widens but remains deep.  It was fun watching where everyone’s tee shot ended up.  I chose the bail out area directly to the left of the pin and that seemed to work out ok.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 360 yard par 4.  It’s a slight dog leg right, with a lot of room towards the outside of the turn.  The Twelfth and Thirteenth are fairly standard parkland holes, parallel to each other and tree lined.  Getting past the turn from the tee shot is necessary for a clear shot to the green, so play accordingly.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 364 yard par 4.  Very similar to the Twelfth, but the fairway dog legs slightly left. The same strategy applied here as the Twelfth; ensure the trees won’t block you out from your approach shot.

The Fourteenth is a 399 yard par 4.  Out of the woods, the tee shot is elevated to a fairway that banks left and cross bunkers are near the tee landing area, once again emphasizing a challenging tee game.  The fairway then turns slightly to an elevated green, with a large false front area.  It’s a nice hole that I wish I took more photos of.  At this point, however, a thunder storm rolled in and things became dicey for the next couple holes.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 181 yard par 3.  The tee shot is elevated and bunkers are along the right side.  It’s one of the more isolated areas of the course, so in addition to the trees surrounding the hole, it is fairly quiet, before you turn back in the direction of the clubhouse.  The hole is fairly straightforward though.

The Sixteenth is a 411 yard par 4.  The tee shot is relatively blind, but the fairway descends to the green as a double dog leg, with the green directly to the right of the fairway on a right to left slope.  It’s a cool hole and makes for a tricky approach shot even if you hit it in the middle of the fairway, as you still have a downhill fairway and will be hitting to the right, setting up hitting across the ball in a lot of instances.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 390 yard par 4.  The course starts to gain momentum after a rocky period in the middle of the back nine, as this hole featured a spectacular tee shot, elevated, to a fairway set off to the left, surrounded by a vast waste area, which creeps up the right side of the fairway as well.  The green is slightly uphill and while the landing area for the approach shot is much tighter than it was for the tee shot, it is still pretty generous.  It’s a great tee shot for sure.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 572 yard par 5.  The tee shot starts on a fairway that is tree lined and fairly narrow, with bunkers along the right for good measure, then proceeds downhill to a green that is protected along the right with water.  The area from the fairway to green is very small, so the approach is essentially a forced carry to the green.  The contours of the fairway facilitate some tricky lies, even if you stay on it, combined with the the length, it is a relatively tough hole.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory

Looking at the fairway in the direction of the tee

The back nine has some very good holes, but the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fifteenth take away the consistent the front nine has in terms of interest and character.  The other holes of the back nine, however, are pretty good.  I’d rank them 17, 16, 18, 11, 14, 10,  12, 13, 15.

Generally, Red Tail is course brimming with character, which creates interesting play and provokes a few situations calling for course management and strategy.  The visuals here are terrific and combined with conditioning, makes for a great public course.  Good shots are typically rewarded and bad shots normally have a chance at redemption.  Occasionally, the visuals are only window dressing and when taken out, a rather straight forward hole remains, but in my opinion these types of visuals will still effect play in terms of how they intimidate or distract.  The vast displays of bunkering remind me of a few Dye courses, as well as Scotland Run, but I feel they’re a great way to create challenge without over complicating the design.  For the most part, Silva does well to provide a balance between quirk, classic design and playability to provide a very well done track.

The service was friendly and accommodating, even giving me a discount a shirt, more to humor me than anything else.  They were able to facilitate our group, which was about 5 or 6 groups, rather easily.

Gripes:  The clubhouse, while adequate, is not of the same level as the course.  It appears to be an after thought and while I appreciate an understated structure, is so much so that it detracts a little from the experience.  There’s nothing sub-standard about it, just fairly generic.

Bar/Grill:  Despite what I said above, the patio is covered and has a nice view of those playing into the Eighteenth.  Still though, I think it’s a missed opportunity to do something memorable.

Practice area:  A nice range and putting green.  Good enough.

Nearby:  Yet another course where I am useless.  My friend drove us to the course and we left after the round.

Getting there:  I am likewise useless here.  Get a friend to drive you like I did.

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