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Convenient as can be-it’s an hour west of Boston and 15 miles east from Wachusett Mountain-Red Tail Golf Club marches to the beat of its own drummer. History was made in nearby Lexington and Concord, where the “shot heard round the world” was fired and where the American Revolution was born. Red Tail only opened last year, but still has history of its own.
The 7,006-yard course, laid out by Bay State native Brian Silva, occupies portions of Fort Devens, a former military base and artillery range where soldiers trained for combat from World War I until the 1990s. Gen. George Patton taught tank maneuvers here, and one of the roads leading to the club is named for him. After the base closed and a lengthy cleanup was completed, Devens emerged Phoenix-like as a residential community with a business park, wildlife refuge and a superb daily-fee golf course.
Glaciers passed through this region eons ago and deposited quite a bit of rock throughout the Greater Merrimack Valley, but Silva unearthed only a couple of basketball-size rocks on this rolling, sandy terrain, where long ridges are dotted with huge oaks. Before development began, the 185-acre site was combed for munitions-a handful of bullet casings and a discharged hand grenade turned up. Silva then set about creating a newfangled links with vintage characteristics. Incredibly, several of Red Tail’s fairways are routed atop former army barracks foundations. Others skirt old ammunition storage bunkers. Vast sandy wastelands, created when the military denuded the landscape, pinch a few fairways. Abandoned gravel pits separate tee and green on a few of the par threes.
Traditional parkland-style holes are balanced by stark desert-style creations that would look more at home in the Southwest than New England. Many new courses claim to be “multi-themed,” but Red Tail, which plays through several distinct ecosystems, is the real deal.
The course gets off to a rousing start with a 410-yard, par-four first hole that asks players to fly their drives over a gravel pit and an imposing trench bunker that crosses diagonally in front of the plateau fairway. The long par-five second, called Tanks Crossing, is well-named: The area between the first and second landing areas was previously used as a bypass for heavy armored vehicles. The par-four sixth, only 365 yards from the back tees, is typical of Red Tail, demanding accuracy and the ability to shape shots left and right to score. Silva’s landing areas are sufficiently wide-there’s ample room to play golf here-but the designer holds nothing back on the greens. Some of the putting surfaces are as domed as a soldier’s helmet; others are shaped like punchbowls to gather slightly errant approach shots. But all the greens have significant slopes, ledges and undulations, and most are defended not by punishing bunkers-sand is a ticking bomb for most duffers-but by pronounced swales and hollows. Needless to say, the putting stroke is fully tested at Red Tail; reaching the green in regulation is only half the battle.
The closing sequence is brilliant. The 406-yard 17th plays from a platform tee to a boomerang-shaped fairway encased in tawny sand, with former ammo storage units-basically Quonset-style huts covered in earth-located to the right of the green. Harvey Penick, the legendary golf instructor, advised his pupils to “take dead aim.” Here’s the place to heed his advice. The closing hole, a par five that plunges downhill and swings to the right, can be reached in two-if you’re skillful enough to whack a fairway metal from a sidehill lie over a waterfall-fed pond that fronts a narrow, angled green.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Silva muses, “that this land, which is so magnificently suited to golf, was once the site of military exercises.” Though still haunted by the ghosts of war, today Red Tail is a member of the Audubon International Signature Sanctuary Program and follows environmentally responsible ppractices in course maintenance. Which is not to say the red hawks who nest here are about to welcome doves into their neighborhood anytime soon.
GREEN FEE $70-$80, with a cart. Walkers welcome.
THE DEAL The Holiday Inn Boxborough Woods features 143 renovated rooms. Rates start at $119. 978-263-8701.
CONTACT Red Tail Golf Club; 978-772-3273; redtailgolf.net.