Shaker Farms CC, Westfield, Mass. (front 9 reviewed October, 2010)
On several occasions, Sherpa Matt (2007 Goat Tracker of the Year) has enthusiastically recommended Shaker Farms CC. "It's a dump; just a couple miles from here (Edgewood GC; Southwick, Mass). You have to play it." It's tough to ignore that kind of ringing endorsement, so a review of Shaker Farms became imminent.
On the way to the Shaker Farms course, one may notice a few horses hanging out in pastures along the winding back roads, hinting that there's some good rural Tracking to be had nearby. Upon arrival, one can see that Shaker Farms is in a country setting and that it offers memberships...therefore, by definition, that makes it a Country Club.
The entrance to Shaker Farms Country Club is impressive. The crumbling asphalt parking lot, trying to return to its original gravel form, with an old carriage (minus the horse) as its centerpiece, lets you know that you're about to experience some "rustic" Tracking. The gateway through the three arbors leading to the pro shop, one decorated like it's waiting for a wedding, doesn't exactly scream "prime Goat Tracking," but is just odd enough to pique our interest as Goat Trackers. Why not just go with it?
When you peg up on the flat-out, slice-friendly par-5 first hole, you just can't help but be encouraged and enticed by this Goat Track. If you can't grip it and rip it here, it probably just isn't in you.
Moving slightly further along the front 9, one of the features we liked best at Shaker Farms was "tree roots a-plenty," starting near the 2nd green...and they run throughout, as they should at any respectable old-school Goat Track. If you find yourself in a match at this course with money on the line, there is no doubt that someone, possibly yourself, will be stitched on a tree root ten or so feet from the fringe after barely missing what seemed to be a dead-on approach shot; left to contemplate a "preferred lie" to get up & down.
True to good Goat Track form, Shaker Farms has a couple of "Oh, shit, I'm stuck golfing in a thunderstorm, where do I go?" shanties built into the course. Not that they're pictured well here; they look like the Goat Tracking equivalent of a pic from Electric LadyLand, but they are quintessentially old school Goat Track...and earn high marks here.
One has to respect the par-37 layout on the front 9 at Shaker Farms. What's not to like about the "Grip and Rip" sendoff on #1 and the "Bail and Wail" that follows? Even though the second two par-5's on the front are set up for a draw (wtf?!?), feel free to hammer away.
To a seasoned Goat Tracker, the layout on the front nine at Shaker Farms may seem pretty predictable, but it does feature a monstrous par-5. Monstrous. We recommend playing from the back tees on #6 (614 yards, per the pic at left) so you can say you played a 600-yard hole at your next social gathering with other golfers; no need to mention how you may have played it. We also recommend hitting the green, if not in regulation, at least on your fourth shot for a quick up and down. Why?
The Gallery/Mr. Goldthwait? We're accustomed to hearing some verbal jabs on finishing holes with beer gardens and peanut galleries overlooking the greens; E. Gaynor Brennan in Stamford and Long Hill in East Hartford come to mind. Shaker Farms threw a new wrinkle on it; not having the gallery on a finishing hole, for starters.
There are some condos behind the Monster par-5 6th; kind of a tight space, so the gallery apparently had to relocate from behind the green to a more convenient location, the sunken wooded area just short and to the left of the green. A much better vantage point, to be sure.
What we didn't realize was that the gallery would consist of one angry bobcat. Even after playing nearby Edgewood a couple weeks prior, with a confirmed sighting, we knew no better and/or didn't realize they were patrolling the local Goat Tracks. So, there it was, growling from cover in the woods on #6, saying in bobcat-ese (loosely translated), "How the hell could you miss that easy approach shot, you jackass?!?" It was quick to criticize any misguided approach shots with its growls. One can only hope that said bobcat is making use of, nay stylin' with, the GT hat and GT bag towel that were accidentally left on the course by Golfer Number Two.
That said, it's good to find a different source of criticism on the course.
In Summary: In our Goat Track reviews, we try to keep the bar at limbo level and Shaker Farms did not disappoint. It was hyped as a complete train wreck of a golf course...and that's a tough standard to live down to. We generally try to avoid using the word "uninspired" in our reviews, but aside from the potential meet & greet, meet & eat, or meet & maul with the bobcat, it's a fair assessment. As advertised though, Shaker Farms provides a truly representative Goat Tracking experience.
We'll give Shaker Farms a out of 4 GT rating. Maybe it can be upgraded to 2 1/2 on a future visit with Sherpa Matt riding shotgun.