A Quest to Play Them All

A Quest to Play Them All

A Maine couple takes on every golf course in the Pine Tree state

By Rick and Sara Barry

Mark Twain famously said, “golf is a good walk spoiled.” No disrespect to Mr. Twain (because maybe he had just shanked an approach shot), but we’d have to disagree.

Golf brought us together as a couple many years ago; it’s our shared passion. We even played golf on our wedding day in Hawaii, dipping our toes in sand in the morning (with golf shoes on) and then again at sunset (barefoot). We consider ourselves average golfers (Rick’s handicap is 14, Sara’s is 18); both of us optimistic and realistic when we hit a new course (it’s why we’re not opposed to taking a mulligan now and then but only if people aren’t waiting behind us).

We enjoy golf and traveling so much that we set out on a mission to play every Maine course. It took us more than eight years of long weekends and vacations to accomplish our goal. We played all 147 courses (135 public, 12 private, 68-18 hole, and 79-nine hole). We travelled 23,000 miles, visiting every corner of Maine.  

Rick and Sara Barry at Sugarloaf GC

We’d like to share a few highlights and special memories of our adventures so that other golfers can learn about some of our state’s amazing golf courses, and a few gems that should not be missed. We hope we can entice you to travel Maine to enjoy more golf!

When people find out we’ve played every Maine golf course, the first questions is always, “what is your favorite?” We have lots of favorites, for different reasons – scenery, course conditions, is it challenging but fair, are there amenities (i.e. potties on the course), is it walkable, and how’s the value for the price? We’ll share a few of our favorites and a few of the unique.

Sugarloaf Golf Club in Carrabassett Valley overlooks the majestic Bigelow Mountains and delivers awe-inspiring views and impeccable conditions – we consider it the best and toughest course in Maine! Narrow fairways, undulating but true greens, over water, blind tee shots, uphill, downhill – we used every club in our bags (and a lot of golf balls). The elevations are exciting and fun, especially the dramatic tenth and eleventh holes! Bring extra balls in case the vistas distract you from your “A-game”.

We fell in love with Mars Hill Country Club in Aroostook County, and it has become a fall tradition to play. Tucked into Mars Hill Mountain with its towering windmills and interesting holes, the course is worth the three-hour drive from our central Maine home.

We can never get enough of Maine ocean views, and golf courses up and down the coast give us what we crave. Every one of them is beautiful, but we especially loved North Haven Golf Course with its granite, rugged outshoots, wavy fescue, and views of Penobscot Bay. A few holes feel like you’re in Scotland at a traditional links course. You’ll need to plan a full day to play this nine-hole course as the ferry schedule from Rockland is limited. We walked onto the ferry with our push carts for the 90-minute ride, then walked 20-minutes through the quaint village to the golf course. Afterwards, we parked our golf carts outside one of the local art galleries and enjoyed a tour and some ice cream. Perfect day!

Awesome lake views are also plentiful at Maine golf courses. Mt. Kineo Golf Course in the middle of Moosehead, Maine’s biggest lake, really wowed us. This day of golf involves more planning for the boat ride over from Rockwood to the island. Mt. Kineo is a stunning backdrop on almost every hole, especially the scenic fourth that challenges your nerves over water.

Other island courses include Frye Island in Sebago Lake, and Great Chebeague Golf Course on Chebeague Island – all accessible by ferry. Chebeague has a tee box on the ferry dock where you shoot over an inlet to a sloping green 110 yards away. Be prepared to be heckled by seagulls who seem to take joy in ruining your concentration.

Belgrade Lakes Golf Club is one of our favorites with friendly, attentive staff. We enjoy views of nearby Great Pond and Long Pond and the pristine conditions regardless of the season. The layout uses the beautiful natural terrain with huge boulders that line fairways and sometimes act like ball magnets. The subtle, undulating greens protect the course from really low scores (which was never a risk for us). We love sitting on their deck overlooking the combined 9/18 greens, enjoying a fantastic lobster roll and an adult beverage, while reminiscing over our best (and worst) shots.

Other courses we thoroughly enjoy and highly recommend include Waterville Country Club, Nonsuch River Golf Club in Scarborough, Old Marsh in Wells, Samoset in Rockland, Boothbay Harbor Country Club, and Clinton Golf Course (where 20-minute tee times give you time to breathe).

Maine’s oldest course is Kebo Valley in Bar Harbor. We played Kebo during foliage season and appreciated the bright colors and also the gigantic greenside berms on the thirteenth hole. Honestly, fall-time golf on just about any Maine course is a treat for the eyes. Waterville Country Club’s seventh hole is a beautiful example. If you’re firing on all cylinders, you can get over the pond and on in two and leaf peep on your way to birdie!

One of Maine’s newest nine-hole course is home to our favorite and most feared sand trap. “Hell bunker” on the sixth at Diadema Golf Course in North Anson is 12-feet deep (we estimated the height with a sand rake). Conveniently, or maybe on purpose, we both hit into hell bunker and enjoyed getting out and on the green in one shot – only to three-putt for bogey! Still fun as hell!

Another one of our favorite Maine public courses is Cape Arundel for its interesting challenges that meander along tidal creeks. It’s the home course of former President George W. Bush #43 (and his father #41). One day when we were playing there, we noticed six golf carts in the group ahead of us. They weren’t playing slow, so we just kept moving, only to learn afterwards that it was #43 flanked by his secret service team. We’re so glad one of us didn’t accidentally hook a ball into his direction, especially knowing that husband would’ve blamed wife for such an errant shot.  

We have enjoyed the small, personal touches at many courses that make a round memorable in different ways. We love the layout at the Biddeford-Saco Country Club and enjoyed the wisdom etched on granite benches. “Hit it straight but more importantly enjoy your walk with friends.” How true! Fortunately, we got paired up with a super nice couple who helped us with their course knowledge.

The fun Jato Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln supports breast cancer awareness with a unique pink ribbon cart path and the tiny chipmunk mailboxes on tee boxes make you smile.

Golfers are a sentimental bunch. It was touching to see so many courses pay respect to the dearly departed with memorials and tributes on favorite holes. At Northeast Harbor Golf Club, one plaque on a huge, beautiful rock read, “He spent more than his share of time in the rough and kept his sense of humor.” We giggled a few times that round as we found plenty of rough ourselves – and we enjoyed it immensely.

There are plenty of quirky features at Maine golf courses, including in West Appleton where one of the fairways doubles as a community airfield. Low flying aircraft could have been in danger when one of us hit a low stinger. The state’s only par six (660 yards) is a unique challenge at Lakewood Golf Course in Madison. Be quiet on the seventh hole at the St. Croix Country Club in Calais where eagles are nesting above the green.  

It makes perfect sense that a good number of Maine golf courses have been built on or around farmland. A nine-hole course in Jonesboro, Barren View Golf Course, was constructed near some blueberry barrens (thus the name “Barren”). It was a fun, fair, short course. We learned that they proudly accepted an award years ago for the worst golf course name in America. The name certainly could have described the absence of our golf skill that day. Check out the unusual and interesting Wild Blueberry Land a bit down the road to make your trip to blueberry country complete.

We found painted beer bottles as tee box markers at more than one course, and lots of creative names for holes. The eighteenth hole at Rocky Knoll in Orrington reads “Happy Ending”; we debated whether we were happy because of how we played or happy the round was almost over because of how we played. We can say that we found something to enjoy about every one of Maine’s golf courses.

There are a handful of little courses that are more pitch and putt types where you pay on the honor system by stuffing your $10 into a potato barrel or mailbox. Mars Hill’s West Ridge Par 3 made an impression on us with its welcome sign that listed rules, including No whining about course conditions” and an ancient vending machine that sold single golf balls, tees, and Snickers bars. The only thing we whined about that day was not having enough bug spray.

Speaking of bug spray, we stopped to play the nine-hole Moose Meadows Golf Course after playing Sugarloaf one day, excited to possibly catch a glimpse of the course’s namesake, only to find the black flies and mosquitos to be large and in charge. Tip: Always have plenty of bug spray in your bag every day at any Maine golf course.

Maine’s twelve private courses were a challenge to get on, so we enlisted the help of many friends, work colleagues, and even a few club golf professionals who put a good word in for us. We found that people were very happy to help us achieve our goals and dreams. We dropped into the private Union Golf Course to check it out when a couple who was searching for their balls near the first hole, encouraged us to stay and play after hearing about our mission. A few attorneys we met at a healthcare conference invited us to play at the bunker-rich Woodlands Club in Falmouth. The then president of the Portland Country Club, who is a work colleague, hosted us at his beautiful course and then got us on the Abenakee Golf Club in Biddeford Pool – an iconic Maine, ocean view course surrounded by impressive summer homes. Our local PGA pro at Waterville Country Club helped us get a tee time at what turned out to be our favorite private course — Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth. There we experienced a love/hate relationship with the course’s bunkers and multi-level greens that demanded you hit below the hole or else. We’re grateful to have connected with so many fellow golf addicts who helped us sample the private courses.

While we have fun challenging each other to get birdies (and pars!), to us, golf isn’t always about scoring well. It’s about the experience, being in nature, walking amongst old pine trees, and relishing the views. It’s appreciating that we can still walk five miles (18-holes) and want to play more. It’s about meeting really nice folks and sharing a love for golf. We got paired up with young kids in their early teens and adult kids in their mid-90s; one gentleman told us he was dying of kidney failure and planned to keep playing until he couldn’t walk anymore!

Our love of golf is also about travelling to new communities and finding a new restaurant if the clubhouse doesn’t fit the bill. Or the simple pleasure of enjoying a hot dog on the turn and laughing about how it may be the best part of the round.

One of the world’s best golf course designers, Pete Dye declared, “The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody put a flagstick on top.” Yup, it’s funny because it’s true! We’ve already expanded our mission to play the top three courses in every state, and we will keep returning to play our beloved Maine golf courses – where we will relish a good walk spoiled.

Rick and Sara Barry live in Waterville.

*The couple used the book “The Greens of Maine” by Dennis Walch as their guide to Maine golf courses. The book is available in many pro shops around Maine.