Maine Gives U.S. Golfers a four-corner bingo
Golfers are the type of folks who'll travel to the four corners of the earth to play great courses. When American devotees of the game head to the four corners of their own country, the obvious choices are the great desert and seaside tracks in sunny Southern California and the tony resorts of Florida. The more well-read among us are now also clued in to the spectacular layouts in the great Northwest.
But what about the country's fourth corner? You know, the one that, if seen as a silhouette, looks vaguely like America's high-hands follow-through?
We're talking, of course, about Maine. Traditionally overlooked by golfers, this summer vacationland's appeal is growing in direct proportion to the number of low-cost, uncrowded, visually stunning courses that have opened over the past several years. Duffers from all over the Northeast are discovering that Maine offers sweet respite from the six-hour rounds and $100 green fees of courses less than two hours to the south.
Maine might not look very big on a map, but with a population of only 1.2 million, there's room for golfers, fishermen, and moose alike to roam free. In the summer, the population doubles as tourists flock to the woods, beaches, and lakes, but you'd still be hard pressed to ever call it "crowded." And with over 20 courses within 45 minutes of Portland, you aren't likely to find a crowded course, either.
If there is a metropolis in Maine, it is Portland. With 100,000 residents, Portland is the state's largest city -- one with a decidedly small-town feel. After the fishing bust 20 years ago, parts of the city sank as low as the North Atlantic salmon population. But a dramatic revival has taken place, especially in Portland's Waterfront district, where the pubs, shopping, art galleries, and Children's Museum are second to none.
Retooling a former fishing city into a tourist destination is not an overnight process, and the city is still working to build new attractions. An aquarium is in development, and the once-commercial fishing fleet is slowly morphing into a charter fishing business. Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough Beach, two of the best in the state, are less than ten miles from downtown as well.
The worst things about Maine golf are probably the black flies and mosquitoes. The best things, though, far outweigh the bugs. According to Peter Webber, executive director of the Golf Maine Association, "There are currently more golf courses in Maine than there are golfers. This means that the green fees are very cheap compared to southern New England, and the courses are much more accessible." Walk-on singles and twosomes, even during peak season on weekends, are usually not a problem. Another plus is the northwoods hospitality. "Owners enjoy having players at their courses," says Webber, "again, unlike many places in southern New England."
Dunegrass G.C. (dunegrass.com, 800 521-1029) in Old Orchard Beach (20-25 min. from Portland's Waterfront) sprawls over a 300+ acre property. The Dan Maples design boasts what many consider the best greens in the state, often running about 12 on the Stimpmeter. (6,656 yards, $39-$59)
Sable Oaks G.C. (sableoaksgolf.com, 207 775-6257) in South Portland (5-10 min.) opened in 1988 and set a new standard for daily fee golf in the state. Still one of the premier public layouts, it is somewhat tight, with woods and ponds in play throughout. (6,357 yards, $25-$50)
Spring Meadows G.C. (springmeadowsgolf.com, 207 657-2586) in Gray (20-25 min.) meanders over 190 acres of farm- and woodland. Designed by Maine golf course architect Brad Booth (who works with PGA Tour pro Brad Faxon), the layout contains a nice mix of long and short par 4s. It also boasts one of the best 19th holes in the state. (6,637 yards, $33-$36)
Fox Ridge G.C. (foxridgegolfclub.com, 207 777-4653) in Auburn (40-45 min.) is a newly opened track in the middle of no where, but it is well worth the hike. There's no development, and the holes are mostly isolated, featuring old stone walls and island greens. (6,800 yards, $30-$38)
Nonesuch River G.C. (nonesuchgolf.com, (207) 883-0007) in Scarborough (15-20 min.) is a walkable course designed with the average golfer in mind. The conditions are immaculate, and the Nonesuch River runs through the layout, creating lots of wetlands hazards. (6,300 yards, $34-$39)
Lodging and Dining
When the rich and famous come to Maine, they are more than likely to stay the Black Point Inn (blackpointinn.com, (800) 258-0003) in Scarborough. The AAA Four-Diamond inn is located on Prouts Neck, a scenic escarpment that was home to renowned painter Winslow Homer. Legend has it that Roosevelt and Churchill met here toward the end of WWII and burned sensitive documents somewhere along the inn's three-mile beach. More recently, both senior and junior President Bush have stayed here.
Although suitable evening wear (jackets for men, skirts for women) is required in public spaces in the evenings (and denim is forbidden), Black Point Inn is becoming more family-friendly, according to sales manager Bill Daniell. The indoor and outdoor pools, kayak and bike rentals, and children's dinner and movie nights give youngsters plenty to do, and ensure that their parents get some quality adult time to enjoy the sumptuous amenities.
Room rates ($450-$630, high season, double-occupancy, inclusive of gratuities and taxes) include breakfast, tea, and gourmet dinner in the inn's formal dining room, overlooking the ocean. Guesthouses are also available for rental (you might find yourself neighbors with a movie star). Best of all for golfers, guests at the inn are entitled to tee it up at the adjacent, and very exclusive, Prouts Neck C.C., a historic, walking-only track with five holes running along the sea. This is as close to links golf as you will find in Maine.
For luxury closer to the Waterfront, the Portland Regency Hotel (theregency.com, 800 727-3436) is ideal. Housed in a former National Guard Armory, the Regency offers brand new spa facilities and an outstanding menu (do not miss the bacon-wrapped scallops appetizer). Packages for two begin at just $129/night with breakfast, $179/night with breakfast and dinner. Black Point Inn and the Regency are two of three Maine hotels listed in the 2004 Directory of Historic Hotels of America.
For more relaxed dining, The Stadium Bar & Grill (504 Congress St., 207 772-4263) is a golfer's dream. Not only is this cavernous sports bar chock-a-block full with televisions and good food, there are three golf simulators in the lower level. So even on rainy days, you can bring your clubs and play great courses, all while eating hot wings, drinking beer, and staying dry.
If the idea of BBQ in Maine doesn't give you a case of gastro-cerebral vertigo, check out Norm's East End Grill ((207) 253-1700). And for the obligatory Maine chowder and/or lobster, Gilbert's Chowder House (207 871-5636) and Joe's Boathouse ((207) 741-2780) come highly recommended. The latter offers a spectacular view of the city across the bay.
So if you're one of those devoted golfers who'll travel the four corners of the globe to explore wonderful new golf destinations, the fourth corner of America is right up your alley. What Maine lacks in accessibility is made up for ten-fold in great food, golf, and natural splendor. Just be sure to bring the bug spray.
Higgins Beach Inn: (800) 836-2322 ($90-$160)
Best Western Merry Manor: (800) 528-1234 ($89-$149)
Granny's Burritos (very cheap and very, very good): (207) 761-0751
Fore Street (expensive Maine game): (207) 775-2717
Gritty McDuff's (brewpub with good pub fare): (207) 772-2739
For more information on Golf in Maine, visit: www.golfme.com
November 30, -0001