In the late 1800s, “rusticators” began to arrive in Maine. They arrived by steamboat, from New York and Boston and beyond, seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city to the simple beauty of the rugged coastline. The Rockefellers came, the Carnegis and the Vanderbilts too, in search of fresh air. Boat trips. Picnics. Blueberries.
They had discovered what the rest of the Northeast would learn over the next century: this Maine in August is unadorned summer perfection.
EB White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, spent the August months of his childhood in family retreats from New York to Maine. Decades later, envisioning a return to his childhood haunts, he wrote this:
“It seemed to me, as I remembered it all, that these times and summers had been infinitely precious and were worth saving. “
I spent several weeks in Maine every summer as a kid, staying with my grandparents in their weathered summer cottage in the small coastal town of East Blue Hill. I played my first golf there, down the gravel driveway with cut clubs and eventually at the town’s nine hole club, a small strip of seedy coastal idyll.
This summer, on what can technically be called a “work trip”, we did not arrive by steamboat. We arrived by plane and rental car, Sean Zak, Claire Rogers and I, coming from Chicago, Rhode Island and Seattle. We weren’t looking for hikes or picnics, but we were looking for other things that were infinitely valuable and worth saving: boat rides, blueberry muffins, and the best golf Greater Portland had to offer. to offer.
In three days we played an unforgettable nine hole course plus three 18 hole courses. Each of the great courses claims to some extent the title of “best course in Maine”. Each was less than 75 minutes from downtown Portland. Each was distinctly Maine. And each was completely and totally different. Here’s how it went:
DAY 1: TO THE COAST
CAP ARUNDEL GOLF CLUB
There is a tempting version of this paragraph where I pass off Cape Arundel as a potential PGA Tour site, based primarily on influence and pedigree. It is, after all, the journey of former President George W. Bush and the entire Walker / Bush clan. Walter Travis designed it. Phil Mickelson holds the course record. Photos of Fred Couples, Greg Norman and Bill Clinton adorn the walls of the pavilion. Arnold Palmer, Francis Ouimet and Babe Ruth rode the fairways.
We won’t blame them if they don’t add pictures of Rogers, Zak, and Dethier on the walls, but we walked the aisles nonetheless, enjoying a lovely afternoon hike. Arundel is smart and delicate, but he’s eminently playable – the perfect course to start with, steep and potentially sleepy after a trip across the country. You will likely come away with more than three putts than stray balls. The pilot is largely optional. Precision is key, but only if you want a good score. Otherwise? Enjoy the walk.
Arundel could not hosting a PGA Tour event, but that’s actually a big part of its appeal. It’s just less than 5,900 meters from the peaks. The holes intersect, overlap and intersect. The wild greens send balls to the hole and make other putts unworkable. He’s got a quirk and wit and a fair series of challenges interspersed with good chances for fame – or birdie.
Last month my colleague Michael Bamberger wrote this sentence: “Golfing and otherwise, our version of Scotland is Maine. It came after a trip to Arundel. And if Maine is channeling Scotland, well, Arundel is channeling Maine. Historical. Scenic. A bit shabby. And just the way they like it.
DAY 2: TOWARDS THE LAKES
BELGRADE LAKES GOLF CLUB
$ 110 to $ 160, cart included
What could be more Maine than that? Belgrade Lakes does not have online tee times. They kind of only have departure times, period. To reserve your spot on the course you have to pretend it is 1998 and call the pro shop and talk to a human.
The effect of this slight annoyance is something quite pleasant: you have established a personal connection with your hosts even before entering the property. Behind the scenes, they build their tee sheet however they see fit, setting 15-minute intervals between tee times, prioritizing fast play and content golfers.
Belgrade only opened in 1998, making it the most recent holes we have played in half a century, but rather than bringing modernity to Kennebec County, the course insisted on soak up the pace of life of the surrounding towns, with just a few touches – like the music that greets you when you arrive on the property, or the selection of cutting edge brands that awaits you in the pro shop.
EB White, the citation architect who directed this piece, lived near the coast of Maine but summed up the state’s duality as follows:
“Since then I have become a saltwater man, but sometimes in the summer there are days when the hustle and bustle of the tides and the frightening cold of the seawater and the incessant wind that blows in the afternoon and evening make me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods.
The placidity of a lake in the woods. This is what we found when we left our hotel in Freeport (just north of Portland), fitted I-295, and turned west, into the trees. The reader was transformative. It also took less than an hour.
When the founders of the course arrived there, they found three things: trees, rocks and hills. If you were asked to describe the course today, a quarter of a century later, you could use those same three words – but now fairway strips have been carved through the trees, rocks have been meticulously stacked to the side. of each, framing your target, and the clubhouse sits atop the highest hill, offering stunning views of the lakes themselves. If you watch at the right time, you can see the white interruption of the Belgrade Postal Ship in action, one of the last of its kind.
Belgrade Lakes is a relatively new golf course, fortunately frozen in time.
DAY 3: TO THE ISLAND – AND TO LUXURY
GRAND CHEBEAGUE GOLF CLUB
$ 50 to play all day
Waking up at 5.30am was the perfect time to take us on the first ferry of the day from Cousins Island to Chebeague Island, home of the Great Chebeague Golf Club. The 2,239-yard nine-hole course, “staged” in 1920, is a short walk from the ferry dock and the 7th tee is actually on the dock itself.
My co-conspirator Sean Zak is writing another article on the charms of Great Chebeague, so I’ll leave you with just one detail: the parking lot for the ferry to the mainland stretches out to Wharf Road, which cut the course. As a result, you’re actually playing MORE than a row of parked cars two to four times per turn, and vehicle owners and the course have chosen this as the best practice. (A free one-shot drop is also available via the local rule, which Claire used to avoid adding bumps to this silver Subaru Forester.) Cars lower their windows to avoid any broken glass, naturally more concerned with irons thinned only by the small vol.
BOOTHBAY PORT CAMPAIGN CLUB
In the afternoon, we boarded to Boothbay Harbor, interrupting the hour-long ride with separate stops for lobster rolls and ice cream. All in the name of local Maine research.
If Belgrade Lakes is a new course with an old vibe, Boothbay channels the opposite. The course celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, but the original nine-hole charmer Stiles and Van Kleek has expanded to a luxury 18-hole destination resort, which reopened in 2016 and now has a huge modern clubhouse, upscale restaurant, gym, swimming pool, tennis center, villas and a number of stay and play packages through their nearby resort or a new six bedroom villa .
Boothbay is a private course that allows for public play via resort stays, so we booked rooms at the resort and showed up for a mid-afternoon check out time. The course was in world class condition when we arrived, with a first tee rolling faster than a typical Maine green.
Boothbay Harbor is the luxury of Maine. Its stretches include water views, lakefront tee shots, and my favorite, backyard greens overlooking huge leafy ravines. Initially your targets are quite wide, but there are issues if you miss those lanes or find yourself on the wrong side of several slippery slopes.
In our last nine, as the shadows grew longer, Claire hit her stride. Flushing pilot. Canning by putts. And discover a little slice of fairway magic that you can see in the video below.
We’ll be back soon, Maine. And we know you’ll look the same when we do.