AYER -- For several years, the Ayer-Shirley Panthers' golf team has played at the Groton Country Club.
Now, the Panthers finally have a course they can call their own. Shaker Hills Golf Club in Ayer has offered its facilities to the team for all of its matches and practices.
In 2012, Ayer-Shirley backed out of its partnership with Groton. The nomadic Panthers are happy to have a place in town to call home.
"We were kind of road warriors," Ayer-Shirley head coach Randy Richard said. "Starting just a few weeks ago, Justin Lamoreaux, the old AD and the new AD, Jon Sweeney, were able to coordinate with the golf club. They are allowing us to call it our home now. I believe it is around 10-12 years since Ayer-Shirley has played at Shaker."
Richard's team was not happy with playing on the road last season; playing at Shaker Hills is a welcomed change.
"They (Shaker Hills) are really helping us out," Richard said. "For the past couple of years, you could tell they were a little disappointed to always play on the road. They didn't have the opportunity to be recognized by people and have the conversations when the members ask 'how the season is going?' That was lacking. I am glad that we are able to get that relationship back."
Richard is hopeful that over the next several years the positive relationship with Shaker Hills will continue. The Panthers are granted access every Sunday for practice. On Tuesday's, Richard's team can use the state-of-the-art putting green, chipping center and driving range.
"I would like to blossom that into a relationship where these kids will maybe work at the golf course or become members," he said. "Their friends and family will recognize the good things coming out of it. It will produce a full circle of great relationships in the community, which is good for our kids. These kids don't usually have access to these resources on their own. The fact that they (Shaker Hills) are extending all of this effort to help us out has definitely gone noticed."
The Panthers finished collectively at 0-14 on the season, but Richard has a pair of golfers who have vastly improved their game from a season-ago. Junior three-sport varsity athlete, Christopher Patano, is one of those players for whom Richard has very high expectations.
"He is the kind of the kid who if my two small children grew up to be like Chris, I would be very happy," the coach said. "He has improved his game so much. It is unbelievable. He is now shooting in the high 30s for nine, which will let him compete head-to-head with any high school golfer he'll go up against. That's an improvement of 10 strokes-per-nine-holes for him."
Over the summer, Patano worked to improve all areas of his game. "I am blown away with what he has been able to accomplish," Richard said. "He shot a 38 on the back-nine at Shaker Hills. That's an incredibly difficult course. To shoot three-over-par is pretty remarkable for a high school kid."
Due to Ayer-Shirley's regional branding and the relationship the middle school has with the high school, Richard is able to include seventh- and eight-graders on his varsity team.
One of those eighth-graders is Alex Schefeule. Schefeule is not very big in stature but he has come a long way from where he was last season
"He is hitting the ball straight each time," the coach said. "He is not able to hit it nearly as hard as Chris because he is half his size, but his improvement from last year is just remarkable.
"He and his father are at the golf course working together all the time. He and Chris have proved that if you put the time into anything you're into, you will see positive results."
Patano has secured the number-one position in the Panthers' line-up. He will represent Ayer-Shirley at the league meet in October at Townsend Ridge. In addition to the league match, Patano, will represent the Panthers at districts held at Green Ridge Golf Course in Worcester.