Brian Silva carved the fairways at Red Tail Golf Club out of the forest on the old army base at Fort Devens. The 17th hole is not called “Bunkers” because of sand traps found on the hole; instead, the name refers to old ammunition bunkers situated at the side of the green. Just a few yards further on, another military reminder looms over the 18th tee box in the form of an old guard tower. The US Army post closed in 1996 after 79 years of operation but part of the site is still used as an Army reserve installation.
Commissioned into service in 2002, the course at Red Tail is a Brian Silva production that sits lightly on the landscape and it boasts New England’s first Audubon International Signature Sanctuary designation. Red Tail hosted the 33rd edition of the US Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in 2009 and Jennifer Song, who also claimed the US Women’s Amateur the same year, won this event.
Holes such as the par three 11th and the par four 17th at Red Tail are characterised by sandy waste bunkers whilst others, like the par four 4th and par five 18th, assimilate dramatic elevation drops into the design. And with blind approach or tee shots required on the par four 14th and 16th, there is certainly plenty of variety to be found here.Red Tail’s most attractive design feature may well be its green sites, all of which fit beautifully into the surrounding terrain. From the plateau greens at the 2nd and 9th to the semi-punchbowl putting surfaces on the 4th and 14th, the absence of water and sand hazards at many of Red Tail’s holes allows golfers the option of indulging in low running approach shots if they so decide.
I just played my first round at Red Tail. Can’t wait to come back. The layout was so interesting and varied. The greens were sloped and fair. Overall it was among the most fun I’ve had on a golf course in a while. Strategy is important and there are certainly some trees that define ideal tee shot lines. The par 3s all play differently and have their own personality. The third hole was the most exciting par 3. And the 17th hole has a signature bunker/waste area. The finishing hole is iconic and every shot has to be hit with a purpose. Pay attention to pin placements and make sure to carry the false fronts. I think I experienced everything Red Tail has to offer. I even saw Roscoe, The Red Tailed Hawk.
Interesting design. Very pretty with some fun holes, but not that much character. One of the best public courses in the Boston area.
Brian Silva comprehends the meaningfulness of classic elements of golf architecture but is fully able to ensure playability is maintained. At Red Tail you have a wide variety of hole variations -- bunker placements and types - and a myriad of different green shapes and contours. When creating something in the public lane space it's of necessity that a good bit of elasticity is included so rounds can finish within a reasonable amount of time. Red Tail accomplishes that without becoming redundant, contrived or worse yet -- boring.
One of the main attributes is how the property is not bombarded with all the intrusions found at a number of other public courses. When you step on the tee the golf dimension is front and center. The routing is also done well -- moving about the property and using all the attributes it possesses.
Red Tail is not as intense a design as Silva's private Great Horse -- some may say thank heavens for that -- but there's sufficient challenge and shotmaking situations that will keep one's interest. Massachusetts is rightly feasted for the contributions it provides on the private side of the golf ledger. Red Tail is clearly a public offering of consequence and should be sought out for those heading to the Bay State.
M. James Ward
M.James - Would you rate Red Tail as the best public option in the state? Any other contenders you liked?
BB: Red Tail is a quality public course and candidly architect Brian Silva has a great feel in creating challenging courses with plenty of design heft. He understands the nature of what a public facility has to provide from both the strategic and pace of play side of the aisle.
In regards to the best public options in The Bay State -- I would place Red Tail among my personal top five. Crumpin-Fox is quite good in the northwest corner of the State. Cape Cod National is also quite good but one must stay at the resort to gain access.
I really like George Wright because it's a municipally-owned layout and therefore provides ready access at a reasonable fee.
The issue with many of the Northeast States is the gross imbalance between what is offered on the private side versus what's available for the masses to play. No State has such a major distinction as New York but Massachusetts is not that far behind on that front either.
Hope my answer is satisfactory to you.
I was surprised not to see Taconic on Mr. Ward's list, but looking at my research, it's one of only seven American courses on this site that he hasn't written a review for! It should be noted, BB, that the Boston area's Fergal O'Leary gave it a 5-ball ranking.
Most satisfactory M. James, many thanks for the advice. Sounds like Ryan Book has just issued you a challenge - incredible that there are only 7 US courses featured here that you have yet to review.
Red Tail’s architect Brian Silva isn’t that widely known but seems to do interesting work - and he appears to like working in New England.
Ryan - good point on Taconic. Just had a look and see that Steve MacQuarrie - who’s played a few courses in the area - even gave it a lofty 6 balls
In regards to your reply -- I have not played Taconic in many years so a return visit is in order. Keep in mind, when I mentioned Red Tail and opined on its public stature -- there are other courses in the Bay State that are open to the public but with clear stipulations. Cape Cod National is one of them. Taconic is affiliated with the University and neither Golf Digest nor Golfweek consider it "public" in the purest sense of the word. In fact, Golfweek has a separate listing for courses that are college related. Should semi-private layouts be defined as public? That's a matter of reasonable debate.
The issue of public is always a matter of contention. Is Pebble Beach public? Sure. Once you plunk down almost $600 ! I've always believed assessing public courses according to price is a better way in knowing what you can expect for the money you're forking over, More of an "apples to apples" comparison, Sometimes you get a bargain -- see George Wright as a clear example. Other times -- you get fleeced and are paying more for the stature of the facility than the architecture that is absent. Using a price ceiling is akin to segregating boxers according to weight limits. How much bang does one get for the buck is often overlooked and not weighed accordingly. My golf involvement began playing such taxpayers-owned courses such as Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, NY.
Taxpayer-owned facilities are at a far different level than those which are privately owned and operated on a daily fee basis and grouping them together often means a heavy dosing of the privately owned daily fees because of budget capabilities over taxpayer-owned courses.
In terms of reviews there are more than seven courses I have not opined on this site. As I stated, there are a few which I have played but the time frame was from years ago and likely matters have changed since that time so therefore I have not put my pen to paper on those.. I endeavor to provide comments as near as possible in real time in fairness to the facility being examined and those reading my observations.
Hope this info has been helpful to you.