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The owners of Butter Brook Golf Club in Westford, Mass., may be in the running to purchase nearby Shaker Hills Golf Club, which will hit the foreclosure-auction block on Thursday.

“We may bid,” according to Butter Brook co-owner Betty Kennedy, who told us Tuesday that she was aware of other potential buyers but declined to name them.

In the meantime, with Betty’s husband and club co-owner Ed Kennedy and their son, head superintendent Edward Kennedy, maintaining the Shaker Hills grounds in preparation for the auction, it appears that whoever acquires the prime real estate in Harvard, Mass., will retain it as a golf course. Middlesex Savings Bank, which holds what Boston Business Journal reported to be a $2.13 million mortgage, outsourced the upkeep of the Brian Silva-designed Shaker Hills to the Kennedys three weeks ago.

Shaker Hills GC goes to foreclosure auction on Thursday (Photo: mclaughlin.com)

“As soon as the whole thing happened,” Betty Kennedy said, “we took over doing that for them.”

The “whole thing” to which Kennedy alluded began with word earlier this year that Shaker’s financial woes were far more serious than even its long-time head pro Mike Herrick knew. Herrick learned the club was headed for foreclosure auction just a week before the operation closed for good under its current ownership.

“I was told the club was in trouble and they would try to work it out,” Herrick told us Monday about the regrettable news he received in February. “But when they had one week to go, I was told it was my last week of work.”

Herrick, who was head pro for 11 of the 13 years he worked in Harvard, landed the same position with Wedgewood Pines CC, in Stow, within a week of losing his Shaker job. While keenly aware that newer courses like Butter Brook and Red Tail Golf Club in Devens (another Silva design) were attracting golfers from the metro Boston area who in years past may have played at the 21-year-old Shaker, Herrick was still stunned at the severity of the situation at his former stomping grounds.

“When you do 180 rounds on Saturday and Sunday, you figure you’re pretty busy so you must be doing okay, right?” he said.

Apparently not well enough, especially compared with newer courses like Red Tail and Butter Brook competing for the same golfers, who are playing fewer and fewer rounds per year (down to 463.1 rounds in 2011 from a high of 518.4 rounds in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation). Butter Brook, which has struck gold with its location some 25 miles from downtown Boston, and classic New England design covering 210 acres of gently rolling hills, tall pines, and the brook that splits the property, has somehow bucked the downward trend. The course packs the tees with anywhere from 230 rounds to 260 rounds on an average summer weekend day, peaking at about 300 rounds at the height of daylight savings time.

For sure, adding Shaker Hills to their portfolio would be something of a coup for the Kennedys, former pig farmers who knew little about running a golf course when they decided to change careers and jump into the game right before the bottom fell out.

The semi-private club began as a nine-hole track in 2004 and added the back nine in 2006. The par-72, Mark Mungeam-designed layout offers four sets of tees that play from 5,000 yards to 6,800 yards. The club was even one of the lucky venues to host the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup victory tour last summer.

In the meantime, the 21-year-old Shaker failed to adapt to the changing business landscape when Butter Brook, and Red Tail — a perennial award-winner and New England’s first Audubon International Signature Sanctuary golf course that launched in 2002 — opened to widespread acclaim.

All of which resulted in the bank issuing a foreclosure notice on Shaker Hills in January and the property following a seemingly never-ending line of Massachusetts courses ending up in foreclosure auctions (see: Pleasant Valley CC, Georgetown CC, Wentworth Hills GC, Sterling National CC, Hickory Ridge CC, et al, with Meadow Creek Golf Club in Dracut slated for the same fate on May 1 — more on this later).

Daniel McLaughlin, who owns Shining Rock Golf Club in Northborough and Hopkinton (Mass.) Country Club will handle the auction, which will also involve the 13,000-square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant and bar, function rooms, kitchen, locker rooms, pro shop, and lounge area. The 5.33-acre clubhouse is actually situated in Ayer, while the course is in Harvard.

Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer

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