Eager to get going, we approached the starter next to the first tee.
Sizing us up, he got right to the point: “Did you bring plenty of balls?”
A quip ever at the ready, I told him I only brought one ball. Why would I need more than one?
Inside, however, my bravado was nowhere to be found. Gulp. What exactly were we getting into?
As it turned out, our introduction to Shaker Hills Country Club in Harvard was a fun-filled four-hour journey highlighted by hitting on fairways greener than anything outside of Ireland.
As someone who has lived 42 of his 52 years in Massachusetts, I’ve been lucky enough to have teed it up at nearly every public and private golf course in the Lowell area.
But never at Shaker Hills — until last Thursday, when my nephew Ryan Scanlon and I tested our skills by playing the back (6,431 yards) tees. (The championship tees, at 6,910 yards, were too daunting a task, at least for me).
It was our first foray to Shaker Hills, a terrific layout located just a couple of well-struck 3-woods from the Ayer border. But it won’t be the last.
The course was in impeccable condition, helped along, of course, by this summer’s frequent rains. Shaker Hills features plenty of elevation, plenty of picturesque holes, and plenty of challenges.
Spraying tee shots all over the place is not advised.
The highlights were many. Here are a few:
* No. 3, 186 yards, par 3: Great hole. Teeing off 100 or so feet above the green, it’s a great view from the tee box — and an intimidating shot. A pond lies on the left and the water protects a good portion of the green. Club selection is paramount. Luckily for us, the pin was on the right side of the green.
* No. 5, 558 yards, par 5: Wow, what a test. This hole plays longer than Manute Bol. It’s easy to see why it’s the No. 1 handicap hole. Danger lurks everywhere and the fact that the fairway climbs upward and curves to the right adds even more distance to an already long hole. And the green is one of the toughest on the course. Bogey is a strong score.
* No. 8, 393 yards, par 4: The No. 3 handicap hole offers trouble off the tee. A pond lurks to the left, trees on the right. Further up, four sand traps are strategically placed as the green sits perched on high like it’s unreachable. For a while it was. Strong hole.
* No. 15, 520 yards, par 5: Despite the dire warning of the starter about the severity of the course and the need to have plenty of balls at your disposal, I left the 14th hole with my original ball in my pocket. Two shots later, I was in perfect position to at least earn a par. Take that, Mr. Starter! From 80 yards out, however, I chunked a chip which hit the cart path and lurched into the teeth of a waste area.
* No. 18, 522 yards, par 5: Just a great way to end a terrific day of golf. The tee shot is not for the feint of heart. It requires a 180-yard carry to reach the fairway from the back tees. Once over safely, a fairway that looks like the Fenway Park outfield greets you. The hole features clusters of rock formations and pretty undulations. The majestic clubhouse awaits and the round comes to a close.
Our egos intact, and our shirts a bit wet from some brief showers, Ryan and I laughed as we walked off the 18th hole.
Hats off to owner Fred Curtis Jr. and the 2012 renovations to the course done under his watch.
Shaker Hills is located just over three miles off Route 495 even though it offers a serenity that makes it feel like you’re in the middle of Montana.
I’ll bring my ‘A’ game the next time I take on Shaker Hills. I’ll also bring more than one ball.
Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun