Review: Red Tail Golf Club

Course Name: Red Tail Golf Club

Designer: Brian Silva (2002)

Location: Devens, Massachusetts

History: Situated about 40 miles northwest of Boston, Red Tail is located on Fort Devens, an old Army barracks. Architect Brian Silva weaves this military history into the design seamlessly with a lookout tower on the 18th tee and old ammunition bunkers on the sand-filled 17th. Since its inception in 2002, Red Tail has quickly become one of the best public courses in both Massachusetts and New England, winning the following accolades:

  • #2 Best Public Course in Massachusetts – Golf Magazine (2016-2017)
  • #7 Best Public Course in Massachusetts – Golfweek (2017-2018)

Having played several highly ranked public courses, I can say with confidence that Red Tail absolutely deserves more national recognition and perhaps an addition in a Top 100 Public ranking. More national championships like the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship might help achieve this.

Conditions: 8/10, Tee-to-green, Red Tail was in fantastic shape with well-manicured fairways, lush rough, and beautifully sculpted bunkers. My only complaint when I played has to do with the greens. They were clearly recovering from aeration, but that doesn’t account for numerous unfixed ballmarks and slow speed that made putting difficult.

Value: 7/10, Given how impressive the course is, Red Tail is reasonably priced. Peak weekend fees will cost you $105, but the course offers great deals for off-season, twilight, and weekdays. We were able to play on a weekday afternoon with a cart and range balls for $69 – an absolute steal.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           7006               72.7              135

Silver                      72           6694               71.0              133

Gold                        72           6292               68.5              126

Green                      72          5654               66.2              115

Blue                         72          5049               69.2              123

Best Score: 80 (Silver Tees), 9/12/2017 with George W. and two others we met at the course

Front 9 Best: 41 (Silver Tees), 9/12/2017 with George W. and two others we met at the course

Back 9 Best: 39 (Silver Tees), 9/12/2017 with George W. and two others we met at the course

Hole Descriptions: Looking back at my round at Red Tail, the first thing that jumps out is the astonishing number of great golf holes. This is not to say that every hole is fantastic, but I can think of at least twelve holes that would easily be the signature hole at other top New England tracks. Brian Silva did a fantastic job with the property, making a fair, yet challenging course characterized by giant waste bunkers, tree-lined fairways, and unique green complexes.

Although not an incredibly tight golf course overall, Red Tail puts your accuracy to the test immediately with the intimidating 375 yard par 4 1st. This medium-length hole snakes to the right around a series of bunkers on the left and OB in the form of an environmentally-sensitive area on the right. Compounding the difficulty, this hole requires a forced carry over brush and a bunker that’s more there for visual intimidation than strategy. This green is narrow and guarded by two large bunkers on the left.

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A high cut should do the trick on the tight opening hole

For those keeping score at home, the 1st is not one of the twelve spectacular holes at Red Tail. However, the next six holes are, beginning with the 568 yard dogleg right 2nd. Requiring a drive of at least 275 yards to reach the dogleg, this is another difficult driving hole with OB left and tall trees on the right. The interesting part of this hole comes with the lay-up, as two giant bunker complexes squeeze this fairway about 120 yards before the green. In particular, the left bunker complex is a behemoth, with six giant bunkers rising out of the ground like a mountain. While most of these bunkers should never be in play, they certainly are visually intimidating. This green is giant and features several different plateaus making for a difficult two-putt, especially considering how slow the greens were when we played. Fun note – this hole is named “Tanks Crossing” because military tanks used to cross this fairway at Fort Devens.

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The giant bunker complex on the left side of the lay-up area

The collection of par threes at Red Tail is splendid beginning with the 170 yard 3rd. Aptly named “Fade,” this medium-length one-shotter features a narrow green guarded by a steep embankment and bunkers on the right. This green runs hard left-to-right and a mound to the left acts as a backstop, propelling balls onto the green.

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Don’t miss right on the par 3 3rd

At 525 yards, the 4th is a striking par 5 that immediately catches your eye from an elevated teebox. With bunkers and trees beautifully framing this teeshot, a drive of about 265 yards is needed to thread the needle between the bunkers. From the bottom of this fairway, the hole runs completely blind uphill and to the left to a large unprotected green. This green acts as a punchbowl, funneling balls towards the middle and giving players a good chance at birdie. I made my only birdie of the day here.

The 161 yard par 3 5th is another fantastic hole, and one that illustrates Silva’s genius at Red Tail. Nicknamed “Draw”, this one-shotter plays exactly opposite the 3rd with a forced carry and bunkers on the left and a mound to the right of the green that kicks balls left. Just two holes apart, Silva designed two attractive holes and forces the golfer to shape his/her shot both ways with the same club.

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The par 3 5th is a beautiful, yet dangerous hole

The downhill par 4 6th is nicknamed “Discussion” because golfers are meant to discuss going for the green on the teebox, but at 365 yards, I fail to see how 99% of golfers can even entertain the idea. The hole itself is pretty, though, with a forced carry of 140 yards, and a giant bunker complex guarding the left side of the fairway. I think this hole would benefit from additional fairway bunkering on the right because it’s too easy as is to pound a 5-iron out to the right side of the fairway. This is exactly what I did, leaving an easy wedge shot into this receptive green.

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The par 4 6th from the tee – “Discussion”
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Don’t miss right on the 6th approach

Nicknamed “Long” for good reason, the 427 yard par 4 7th is the longest par 4 at Red Tail and a deserving of its number 1 handicap. Playing straight downhill and tree-lined, this is another great driving hole. A long bunker lines the right side of the fairway for the final 140 yards and wrecks havoc with those trying to lay-up. This green slopes hard back-to-front and a false front guards short. Par is a very good score here.

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The downhill par 4 7th – “Long”

After six great holes in a row, Red Tail finally relapses with my least favorite hole on the course in the 323 yard par 4 8th. This confusing dogleg right is more-or-less target golf, as a drive of about 220 yards is needed to reach the dogleg but avoid running through the fairway. This narrow green is perched with two deep bunkers guarding the left side.

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The par 4 8th from the tee – “Shiloh”

Running parallel to the 1st, the 9th is a long, tight par 4 that plays 418 yards. Bunkers flank this fairway about 200 yards off the tee and misses too far on either side will be lost in environmentally-sensitive area. This approach runs straight uphill to another large back-to-front sloped green.

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From the Back tees, the 9th is a tough teeshot through a chute of trees

The shortest par 5 on the course is also the toughest in the 520 yard 10th hole. With a fairway that walks a tight rope through trees and bunkers, this is a difficult driving hole. Although trees line both sides, the left is more open while OB lines the right. For the final 200 yards, this fairway constricts even more with a large fairway bunker lining the left and giant greenside bunker on the right. Hit three straight shots here and walk away happy with a par.

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The par 5 10th is tighter than it looks and requires a forced carry

Nicknamed “Gravel Pit”, the 169 yard 11th is a gorgeous one-shotter and one of the more dramatic I’ve played. Requiring a forced carry the entire way over a giant valley of waste bunker, this green rises out of the ground and actually plays level with the teebox. Deep bunkers short right and short left might actually be more devastating than the waste bunker itself.

The 12th and 13th comprise easily the worst stretch of holes at Red Tail not because they’re poor designs, but just because they’re pretty boring. Running parallel to each other, the 12th plays 362 yards while the 13th plays 367 yards. The 12th is a slight dogleg right with a bunker 260 yards out on the left and multiple bunkers guarding the green on the left and the 13th is a tree-lined slight dogleg right with a bunker 260 yards on the right and a large green. Neither challenging nor exciting, these holes fail to stick out amongst Red Tail’s otherwise great designs.

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The par 4 12 from the tee – “Slide”
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The par 4 13th “Narrow” is not all that tight

After a few average holes, Red Tail finishes in style with one of the most iconic finishing sets of holes I’ve ever played. It begins on the 14th, a wonderfully scenic downhill 399 yard par 4. This landing area is quite generous but narrows around 240 yards with a bunker jutting out on the left. The approach to this hole runs back uphill and is almost completely blind, hence the nickname “Disappears.” Like the 4th, this green is a bit of a punchbowl with a backstop, so don’t be afraid to go long.

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The par 4 14th from the elevated teebox
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Side view of the unique 14th green

There’s no denying the par threes at Red Tail are drop-dead gorgeous, but I think the course would benefit with having a long or short one. When you account for wind and elevation, all par threes at the course were the same club for me, even the longest one – the 181 yard 15th. This is another fantastic downhill par 3 that plays over a valley of waste bunkers. This large green is fairly receptive and runs back-to-front.

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The par 3 15th makes you really ponder club selection

At 411 yards, the par 4 16th is an interesting dogleg right that turns sharply about 250 yards off the tee. Bunkers and trees line both sides of the fairway, but any straight drive should find this wide fairway. From here, the hole turns sharply right and downhill to a two-tiered back-to-front green guarded by a giant waste bunker on the left. I hit my approach to the back tier with a front pin and had to grind for my bogey.

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The approach on the par 4 16th – “Willies”

Standing on the elevated 17th teebox at sunset is an almost holy experience as you look down at the most attractive hole at Red Tail. This sleek 390 yard par 4 slides to the right with a fairway rising up out of a huge sandy waste bunker. This hole gives players options off the tee – the further right you go, the more you have to carry the bunkers. Distracted by the beauty, I hit my worst drive of the day here but was able to make par from the bunker, which play almost like hardpan.

The finishing hole at Red Tail is pretty epic in its own right as a strategic 572 yard downhill par 5. This drive is blind and treelined, with bunkers on the right at 200 yards and a tiny one on the left at 230 yards. From here, the hole becomes interesting, and requires a carry the entire way over water to a tiny well-protected green. Those opting to lay-up must lay-up about 120 yards short of the green to avoid the water and a fairway bunker that lines it. I went Driver-wedge-wedge and just narrowly missed a birdie because I don’t think the reward justifies the risk of going for the green in two here.

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The view from the 18th teebox – “Temptation”
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The approach on the finishing hole – I caught a baby coyote crossing the fairway

Best Par 3: 11th Hole, “Gravel Pit”, 169 yards, 18th handicap. On a course with strong par threes, none are better than the breathtaking 11th. Playing over a valley of sandy wasteland, this Pine Valley-esque one-shotter requires a well-struck mid-iron to safely land on a rather undulating green.

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The par 3 11th is one of the most attractive holes at Red Tail

Best Par 4: 17th Hole, “Bunkers”, 390 yards, 14th handicap. This hole is named “Bunkers” not just because this fairway is surrounded by a moat of waste bunker but also because military ammunition bunkers can be found to the right of this hole. Make sure to get your group photo on this picturesque hole that’s both beautiful and well-designed.

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The sandy waste bunkers on the 17th frame this fairway magnificently

Best Par 5: 4th Hole, “Collection”, 525 yards, 9th handicap. Narrowly beating out the strong finishing hole, the 4th hole doubles as both a great design and visually stunner. Playing from an elevated teebox, this is one of the most fun drives of the day to a tight fairway framed by bunkers on both sides. From here, this hole runs completely uphill to a receptive punchbowl green. I always love holes that incorporate multiple elevation changes and this hole does it quite tastefully.

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The par 5 4th from the tee

General Comments: The practice facilities at Red Tail were pretty standard for an upscale public course, with a grass range and practice green near the 1st tee. Pace of play was pretty average, but I can imagine this course gets swamped on summer weekends (as it should given the price and quality). Bonus points for the staff in the Proshop, who were both friendly and helpful.

Verdict: Visually stunning and well-designed, Red Tail is without a doubt the best public course I’ve played to date in New England. This course is absolutely worth the price of admission and is a must-play for visitors to Boston.


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