- Golfer Benefits
In 2020 we began the Golf Staycation series to encourage golfers to consider taking their golf vacations here, in Massachusetts. So what exactly is a ‘Golf Staycation’ you ask – it’s simply using a vacation day (or two) to explore some of the most interesting public courses across the state.
By: Stephen Hanjack
The idea of trip number nine was born when I caught wind of a golf course that sits on the site of a National Historic Landmark. And while Dr. Robert Goddard’s launching site of the first successful liquid-fueled rocket drew me to Pakachoag Golf Course (Auburn, MA), it was the discovery of a Biarritz green that has me rushing to share it with golf enthusiasts.
To round out this day of golf, I needed to find an 18-hole course in the area that offered something unique as well. Lucky for me, just 30 miles away sits Shaker Hills CC, a Brian Silva Design. And while Silva’s welcoming layouts always catch this slicers eye, it was the new addition of a Roof Teebox that sent me racing up 495.
For six years of my life, I lived in Central Mass, and like many of you, I never even thought about teeing it up at Pakachoag. With so many public 18-hole options in the area, why would I?
Well, as I’ve gotten older and my Handicap Index® has skyrocketed, I’ve found new ways to appreciate golf. Finding interesting stories, discovering unique features, and absorbing the history of the game has helped me continue to enjoy days on the course, even if it takes me five (or ten) more strokes than it used to.
This newfound appreciation for discovery made my trip to Pakachoag that much more satisfying when I stumbled upon a mini-version of one golf’s great templates, the Biarritz green. And while it was cool to chase it around a National Historic Landmark, it was the sneaky-good course architecture that stayed with me the most. It just goes to show, if you’re willing to look past a few brown patches of grass, you can experience a solid test of golf for just $16.
I am certainly not the only person to have discovered this public nine-holer in Auburn. Upon arriving, I was somewhat surprised to see the course packed, especially since it was a Monday morning. I guess our “Make Today A Golf Day” advertising campaign really hit home this year. The course was filled with young golfers teeing it up on a weekday morning, for one of the last times before school is back in session. My playing partners, Rich and Malcom, told me that they had “Just found this place three weeks ago. And it’s already our fourth time playing it too.”
If nothing else, it goes to show, if you’re willing to try a new course, you might just fall in love.
Pakachoag GC is a nine-hole layout that sits just about a mile off the Mass Pike and I-290. Thanks to a par-5 that stretches over 560 yards, the course tips out at 3,255, giving it plenty of length for any amateur golfer. As hinted at earlier, is peppered with some really good architecturally designed holes too.
The greens and tee boxes are a vibrant green and as healthy as can be. While some might scoff at the idea of playing fairways with a mixture of brown and green, I welcome it. It’s how the game was originally played (and still is) in Scotland, and I personally appreciate the extra 20-yards of roll off the tee.
Much like the staff, and the course in general, the first hole is pretty welcoming. The only real danger is the pond straight ahead, which I obviously found with my opening tee shot. On the second hole, I started to realize, I wasn’t playing a thoughtless back-and-forth design.
Hole 2 was one of the three most memorable holes for me thanks to its proper design. With OB lining the right side of the fairway, I did what any sensible public golfer would do – blast a tee shot way left, onto another hole. Finding the ball was no problem and I had a clear look at the green with a wedge in hand. However, accessing the left hole location was impossible thanks to a grass bunker short/left of the green, and a severe slope that dispensed any shots coming in from my direction down to a lower right section of the green.
Sure, the two-putt par was easy enough, but on a short hole like that, birdie is the hope. Now I know, for any real chance at birdie, one has to take on those scary white posts running up the right side of the hole.
Hole 4 will go down, in my eyes, as the greatest discovery in the history of this Staycation series. Recently I’ve been exploring a highly regarded golf architecture book – The Evangelist of Golf by George Bahto. The book explores Charles Blair Macdonald’s influence on the game of golf through his work as a golf course architect.
In the book is a chapter labeled: Glossary of Holes and Green Complexes, where the author highlights the “recurring themes” (template holes) seen in C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor designs. One of those recurring themes is the Biarritz hole, a par-3 with a green that looks like a leatherbound book laying open on a desk.
While the par-3 at Pakachoag might not fit the mold exactly, it’s definitely worth of title “Mini-Biarritz.” The most important characteristic of this type of hole, is the well-defined swale that bisects the front and back of the green, and the 4th at Pakachoag has it.
Hole 9 is what drove me to Auburn in the first place. It’s the site of Dr. Goddard’s historic launch, one that was revolutionary in demonstrating liquid fuel’s viability. That launch eventually led to humans walking on the moon, and when you think about it, is the reason someone was able to hit a golf ball on the moon. To think that it all started in Auburn, Massachusetts…pretty cool.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. At Shaker Hills CC, the first impression is an impressive one. With towering pines lining the first and tenth teeing area, I was overcome with a feeling of “woah, what do we have here.”
One of my other early takeaways was that the maintenance staff is not only present but continually busting their tail. In a summer that has seen very little rain, over 90% of Massachusetts has been hit with Level 3 Critical Drought status. So, to see how green Shaker Hills has been able to keep their tees, fairways, and putting surfaces, is quite impressive. Sure, the rough might not be as lush as a U.S. Open setup, but if you have an issue with that, I’m not sure the Staycation series is for you.
My biggest takeaway from this spin around Shaker Hills was that Renowned Course Designer, Brian Silva has won my heart over again. His layouts seem to always invoke a mental chess game for 18 holes. Birdie holes are blended beautifully with tougher ones, and just about every hole has some sort of unique characteristic that makes it memorable.
His designs allow players of every ability level to work their way around a course. Some holes might call for a left-to-right ball flight, but that’s only to set up an easy birdie opportunity. He always leaves you a route to make par, regardless of what your preferred shot shape is. It seems that what he really asks the golfer is – do you have the ability to pick your spots.
Let’s get right to it. The star of the show. The Roof Shot at Shaker Hills.
Over the past few weeks, I probably had a half-dozen people tell me about this crazy thing they saw at Shaker Hills. “There’s this new tee box they built on the roof of this building.”
Um. What!? You just tee off from the top of a roof? As someone that’s taken pride in sharing unique golf course findings over the past three years, I knew I had to go see this thing.
What adds to the allure is the fact that they make you wait 5 holes before you see it. As you climb your way up the 606-yard 5th hole, you can’t help but peek ahead, forgetting about the task at hand.
For some reason, when you first see it, you’re left speechless. A beautiful new building, with a rustic look, seemingly built to store barrels wine. As you make your way around the building, you see another side decorated with an old carriage and a stack of firewood so big, it would make my father-in-law blush.
When you finally make your way to the roof of the building, you’re greeted with a beautiful look down at two different par 3’s. Both the 6th hole and 13th hole can be played by hitting the Roof Shot. And while I didn’t fare so well with either of my attempts, my playing partner nearly hit the most expensive shot of his life. Had his shot fallen for an ace on 13, the most memorable shot of day would have quickly become the most memorable shot of his life.
A few other spots on the course that caught my eye include the stretch of holes 7-8 and 17-18. Seven is a drivable hole with danger lurking and is followed by a winding hole that climbs a hill and requires precision to navigate it properly. Then, as your round is coming to a close, you get a nice birdie opportunity on 17, before closing with a reimagined par-5 finisher. The green on 18 is as dramatic as they come, and it leaves you with one final memory of a course you won’t soon forget.
Book A Tee Time & Play These Two Courses:
Itinerary (on a Monday in August)
9:00 a.m. – Tee it up at Pakachoag GC
11:00 a.m. – Round complete
11:30 a.m. – Lunch stop at Jersey Mikes
12:30 p.m. – Tee it up at Shaker Hills CC
4:00 p.m. – Round complete
4:10 p.m. – A quick stop at Carlson Orchards on the way home
HAVE AN IDEA FOR OUR NEXT TRIP?
Have an idea? Want me to visit your course? Send your ideas for a special day of golf and I might show up – email@example.com.
A special thank you to Katie Ryan and Andy Jordan for making this trip possible.