The “rusticators” started to come in Maine in the late 1800s. In search of an escape from the bustle of the city to the uncomplicated beauty of the rough coastline, they arrived by steamboat from New York, Boston, and other distant locations. In search of clean air, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, and the Rockefellers all arrived. Picnics, boat rides Blueberries.
They had learned what the rest of the Northeast would in the century that followed: that August in Maine is the epitome of a simple summer.
E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, spent his boyhood Augusts on family vacations in Maine and New York. Years later, when he was considering going back to his old haunts, he wrote the following:
As I kept thinking back on everything, it seemed to me that those days and those summers had been immeasurably valuable and worthwhile of saving.
When I was younger, I would spend several weeks in Maine every summer, staying with my grandparents in their worn-out vacation home in the small coastal community of East Blue Hill. There, on a small stretch of time-honored coastline idyll, I played my first round of golf with a set of short clubs in the gravel driveway before moving on to the nine-hole club in town.
This summer, we did not travel by riverboat on what may be considered a “business trip.” Sean Zak, Claire Rogers, and I travelled from Chicago, Rhode Island, and Seattle to come by aircraft and rental car. Instead of looking for walks or picnics, we were looking for other extremely valuable and worthwhile pursuits, such as boat excursions, blueberry muffins, and the greatest golf the greater Portland area had to offer.
We played three 18-hole and one amazing nine-hole courses over the course of three days. Every major course stakes some kind of claim to being “Maine’s best course.” Each could go to downtown Portland in less than one hour. They were all uniquely Maine. Additionally, they were all utterly unique. Here’s what happened:
THE COAST CAPE ARUNDEL GOLF CLUB ON THE FIRST DAY
There is a tempting version of this sentence where I suggest Cape Arundel as a possible PGA Tour location, mostly based on clout and pedigree. After all, it is where the Walker/Bush family and former president George W. Bush call home. Walter Travis was the designer. The course record belongs to Phil Mickelson. The clubhouse walls are covered with pictures of Bill Clinton, Greg Norman, and Fred Couples. Babe Ruth, Francis Ouimet, and Arnold Palmer have all traversed the fairways.
We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon stroll through the fairways, but we won’t hold it against them if they don’t hang pictures of Rogers, Zak, and Dethier. Arundel is a sophisticated and challenging course, but it’s quite playable, making it the ideal place to begin when you’re sore and possibly exhausted from a cross-country flight. You’re more likely to leave with three putts than lost balls. Most drivers are not required. Precision is necessary, but only if you want to receive a high grade. Otherwise? Enjoy your stroll.
Although Arundel couldn’t host a PGA Tour competition, this is actually a significant part of its attractiveness. Nearly 5900 yards separate the tips from the ground. The holes overlap, cross, and intersect one another. Some balls are directed toward the hole by the bouncy greens, while other two-putts seem impossible to make. It has eccentricity, spirit, a succession of just trials, and healthy opportunities for glory—or a birdie.
In a recent article, my colleague Michael Bamberger stated that Maine was “our version of Scotland, golf-wise and otherwise.” That happened following a game at Arundel. And if Scotland channels Maine, then Arundel channels Scotland. Historic. Scenic. a little worn out. And exactly how they prefer it.
THE LAKES BELGRADE LAKES GOLF CLUB ON DAY 2
$110 to $160 with cart
More Maine than this, what? There are no online tee times at Belgrade Lakes. They only really sort of have tee times. Make like it’s 1998 and phone the pro shop and speak to a real person to reserve your spot on the course.
This minor inconvenience has the delightful side effect of allowing you to get to know your hosts before you even arrive at their home. Behind the scenes, they arrange their tee sheet according to their needs, setting aside 15 minutes between tee times, and placing an emphasis on quick play and happy golfers.
Although Belgrade didn’t actually open until 1998, making these the most recent holes we played by about 50 years, the course insisted on adopting Kennebec County’s pace of life, with just a few lively touches, like the music that welcomes you upon arrival or the cutting-edge brand selection that is waiting in the pro shop.
Despite having lived close to the Maine coast, E.B. White, the author of the remark that served as the piece’s opening, described the state’s contrasts as follows:
“I have now become a salt-water man, but there are days in summer when the unpredictability of the tides, the terrifying cold of the sea, and the relentless wind that blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me long for the tranquilly of a lake in the woods.”
the tranquilly of a lake surrounded by trees. That’s what we discovered after leaving our motel in Freeport (a little town just north of Portland), trudging up I-295, and turning west, into the woods. The motivation changed me. Also, it only took a little while.
Three things were present when the course’s creators arrived at the location: trees, rocks, and hills. If someone asked you to describe the course today, 25 years later, you might still use those same three words, but today’s fairways have been carved out of the trees, the rocks that frame your target have been painstakingly piled to the side of each, and the clubhouse is perched atop the highest hill, providing sweeping views of the lakes themselves. One of the last of its kind, Belgrade’s mail boat, can be seen in motion if you look at the appropriate moment.
Belgrade Lakes is a fairly new golf course that is content to be frozen in time.
THE ISLAND ON DAY 3 AND THE LUXURY GREAT CHEBEAGUE GOLF CLUB
Island of Chebeague
$50 gets you all-day fun.
We were able to board the first ferry of the day from Cousins Island to Chebeague Island, where the Great Chebeague Golf Club is located, by getting up at 5:30, which was the perfect time. The 2,239-yard, nine-hole course, which was “organised” in 1920, is located only a few feet from the ferry terminal, and the 7th tee is situated right on the dock.
The only thing I’ll add is that parking for the ferry to the mainland goes all the way up Wharf Road, which cuts the course in half. My co-author Sean Zak is preparing another piece about the pleasures of Great Chebeague. As a result, between two and four times per round, you actually play OVER a line of parked cars, which has been agreed upon as best practise by both the car owners and the course. (A one-shot free drop is also permitted by local law, which Claire used to prevent further dents from appearing on that silver Subaru Forester.) The cars roll down their windows to prevent any broken glass; it makes sense that they are more worried about thin 8-irons than small-time theft.
BOOTHBAY HARBOR C.L.U.
We drove an hour to Boothbay Harbor in the afternoon, stopping along the way for ice cream and lobster rolls. All in the name of regional research in Maine.
Boothbay transmits the opposite energy from Belgrade Lakes, which is a new course with an old vibe. This year marks the course’s 100th anniversary, but the original nine-hole Stiles and Van Kleek charmer has grown to an 18-hole luxury destination resort. It reopened in 2016 and now offers a sizable contemporary clubhouse, a top-notch restaurant, a gym, a pool, a tennis centre, villas, and a variety of stay-and-play packages via their nearby resort or new six-bedroom villa.
We made hotel reservations at the resort and showed up for a mid-afternoon tee time at Boothbay, a private course that allows public play in exchange for resort stays. When we arrived, the course was in excellent condition, and the first tee rolled more quickly than an usual Maine green.
Boothbay Harbor offers luxury in Maine. Its stretches include lakeside tee shots, water views, and, my personal favourite, a few greens on the back nine that look out over huge leafy ravines. Off the tee, your objectives are rather wide, but if you miss those passageways or land on the wrong side of a few treacherous slopes, trouble could await.
As the shadows became longer on our final nine holes, Claire found her groove. Flushing motorist storing putts for par. discovering a small portion of the fairway magic that is depicted in the video below.
Maine, we’ll be back soon. And when we do, we’re confident that you’ll still look the same.