From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
Fort Devens in Massachusetts was an army facility dating back to 1917, once a city unto itself, housing 10,000 soldiers, with its own water and sewer systems, its own schools, its own airport. Just 35 miles west of Boston, it was both a training ground and stopping-off point for troops fighting in both World Wars. Before heading to Europe in 1942, General George Patton taught tank maneuvers there.
In the late 1980s, much of the soil beneath the fort's thousands of acres was found to be contaminated with the residue of war: arsenic, chromium, nickel, lead, asbestos, battery acid, waste oil and incinerator ash. It became the focus of an enormous (and enormously expensive) clean-up, first by the military and, after the fort was decommissioned in 1995, as a federal EPA Superfund project.
The community is now called Devens, Mass., offering a commerce center, business park, private residences, wildlife refuge and a public golf course. The course is Red Tail Golf Club, and its creation in 2002 demonstrates just how dramatic the redevelopment of the old fort really was. Fairways on the front nine run atop old barracks foundations, although you'd never guess it. The back nine is partly on an old ammunition storage site, where the Army had stripped the topsoil to eliminate mowing and thus potential sparks from mower blades.
Red Tail was designed by Brian Silva and is one of the most imaginative products by the Boston native, in part because of the constraints of the property (two nines separated by a good quarter mile) but mostly because he has always delighted in pushing the design envelope. He'd previously done courses inspired by Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and even Pete Dye. Red Tail seems inspired by Alister MacKenzie, particularly in the spectacular nature and placement of its bunkers and the extraordinary contours on some of the greens.
The course opens boldly with the first tee shot over the corner of a gravel pit and slender diagonal cross bunker. The next several holes work through rolling, tree-lined terrain to the sixth, where a deep bunker on the right front edge of the green dictates the tee shot. The more you hug a buffer bunker and deep chasm on the left, the more the approach to the green opens up. Hit to the right and you must carry that deep bunker at the green.
After a good strong par 5 to start the back nine, the par-3 11th demands a shot down into another old gravel pit to a pedestal green. It's a quarry hole reminiscent of the 17th at Black Diamond Ranch.
Red Tail's last five might be Silva's best stretch of closing holes. From the elevated tees on the par-4 14th, the entire hole is visible, including its gigantic green. But once you've reached the fairway, the green has disappeared beyond the shoulder of a hill. You hit over it with blind faith and find when you reach the green that it's an enormous punchbowl of bent grass. Anything fired within 25 yards of the correct line will likely bounce and roll onto the green. There's no guarantee of an easy two-putt, but at least you're putting.
The 406-yard 17th doglegs to the right, but the fairway here is girdled by broad waste areas of coarse sand. Off to the right are genuine ammunition bunkers, Quonset-type huts covered in soil, each with a concrete "blast wall" meant to contain any explosion. They're empty now, of course. A wicked slice could end up against, or even atop, one of them.
Red Tail's 18th is long but a reachable par 5. Crank out a tee shot to catch a downslope and you might have an iron into the green. But it must clear the natural kettle hole pond that protects the putting surface.
I want to reiterate how spectacular the bunkers are. The fairway bunkers are big and bold with long fingers of grass, but you don't have to challenge them unless you want to shorten a hole. Silva used only a dozen bunkers around Red Tail's greens, but each is big and deep and has influence on how you'll play the hole.
So high tail it to Red Tail. Between its MacKenzie-inspired bunkers and its military ones, it's a blast to play.
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