Best Overall – Sugarloaf Golf Club (Carrabassett Valley)
As one of Maine’s many ski and golf resorts, Sugarloaf Golf Club sits at the foothills of a mountain and features challenging elevation changes. Each hole is individually carved into the woods, meaning there are no adjoining fairways. It also means that if you miss the fairway off the tee, you’ll likely be reloading.
Evidence that the golf course is on a mountain could not be clearer than with the 11th hole. The tee sits more than 120 feet above the green making club selection nearly impossible. At this elevation, even the treetops are below you, providing a view worthy of a postcard.
From the tips, Sugarloaf checks in just shy of 7,000 yards. Considering the total length and all the elevation changes, taking a cart should be an obvious choice. Given the terrain and tight open spaces, control is a top priority.
Since space is no issue in the wilderness of Western Maine, you can warm up on a sizable driving range. After your round, it’s easy to sink into a chair for hours on end, replaying the highlights (and lowlights) of your round, and enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds Sugarloaf.
Best Private Course – Portland Country Club (Falmouth)
What started as a golf club at the tail end of the 19th Century would hardly be recognizable to its founding members today. Okay, we admit that the course having moved locations has something to do with that, but that’s hardly the only reason.
Beginning as a golf-only facility, today Portland Country Club supports a variety of leisure activities. Members have access to swimming, tennis, pickleball and paddle/platform tennis, in addition to a premier golf course. Portland Country Club has also been certified by Audubon International as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since the 90s.
As many courses in the Northeast are doing, Portland has been steadily removing trees from their golf course. In doing so, they have restored much of the original Donald Ross design. With tees ranging from 5,200 to 6,400 yards, and a par of 70 (72 from the front tees), players of all calibers can excel here.
Breathtaking views are available from the clubhouse as well as the course. Members can dine indoors or outside, perched on a hill that overlooks the course and nearby Casco Bay. Only the tree line separates a few of the holes from the water. A bit further away, the Portland skyline is visible showing you the best of both worlds that Maine has to offer.
Best Value Course – Kebo Valley Club (Bar Harbor)
Kebo Valley Club can trace its roots back to 1888. During this time, they have played host to many notable figures including Harry Vardon, William Howard Taft and Walter Hagen. Local golfers have passed down tales of each of these “celebrities” rounds, including a 27 by President Taft on the 17th hole.
It’s not often that you get to walk on a course with the history of Kebo Valley, but when the chance comes along, it’s best not to pass it up. The pride of Kebo Valley is its greens. Rolling consistently fast, a putt that slips past the hole from above the pin is likely to continue back on into the fairway.
As a shorter course (6,100 yards from the tips) inexperienced golfers can get around without much difficulty. On the flip side, low handicappers can freely go driver-wedge on many holes in pursuit of a low score. While the course is surrounded by forest, much of the interior is open.
When most people think of Maine golf, they picture a course that goes up and down more than anything else. Located on Mt. Desert Island, Kebo Valley plays mostly flat. Offering a complete experience, playing here is like taking a walk through a history book.
Most Challenging Course – Sunday River Golf Course (Newry)
If a challenge is what you want, a challenge is what Sunday River Golf Club will give you. The course layout not only plays into the natural topography of the area, but truly embraces it. Each hole presents a different set of challenges, all the while masking its true difficulty with picturesque views of the Mahoosuc range.
Besides having holes that change in elevation from tee to green, the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design also features many side-sloped fairways. In other words, prepare yourself for a steady supply of shots where the ball is above or below your feet. It wouldn’t be a review if we didn’t mention the bunkers. Both deep and many in number, the sand traps here provide more than adequate greenside protection.
Just because Sunday River Golf Course is our most difficult, it does not mean that lesser skilled players should avoid it. Instead, they should play forward tees to alleviate the distance burden and hope for the best around the greens. From the front tees, Sunday River is 4,900 yards; a full 2,000 yards less than from the tips, cutting off many of the forced carries from rear tee boxes.
Most Scenic Course – Samoset Resort Golf Course (Rockport)
What better way to improve your mood than having a glorious look at the Atlantic Ocean for 14 holes—not that your mood will need any improving, of course. At the Samoset Resort Golf Course, the beauty of the golf course is second only to the beauty of your surroundings.
Perched on the edge of Penobscot Bay, sweeping breezes make even shots from the middle of fairways unpredictable. Aside from water hazards and the wind, the rest of the course plays straightforward. From the tips, Samoset measures 6,500 yards and 5,000 from the front.
The great thing about playing at Samoset is that you never really forget where you are. Besides having seven holes seaside, each of the interior holes share some semblance of the coastline. Rather than growing in fescue, marsh grows freely creating natural boundaries. While few trees remain, those that do play a key role in guarding various parts of the course.
The clubhouse and restaurant overlooking the course are straight from a resort catalogue. This makes sense given that Samoset is a resort first and foremost a resort. For those that sample all of the facilities offered here, a weekend at Samoset passes by in a flash.