Given the game’s origins along the windswept landscapes of Scotland, golf and the seaside seem to be a natural marriage. And in New England, where the seashore is such a wonderful attraction from northeastern Maine to southwestern Connecticut, myriad golf opportunities offer a chance to mix ocean breezes mixed with stunning courses. The sheer assortment is remarkable — there are five island courses in Maine alone. Here are a few favorites, from north to south.
Some say “antique,” I say “vintage.” Dating back to 1888, the Kebo Valley Club (kebovalleyclub.com) in Bar Harbor is the oldest golf club in Maine and the eighth oldest golf club in the country. Designed by one of the earliest “star” architects — Herbert C. Leeds — Kebo Valley has tested the skills (and nerves) of many of the country’s finest players and influential politicians. In 1911, President Taft made a 27 on what was then the “Elbow Hole,” which is today’s 17th hole (now known as the “Taft Hole”). Golf great Walter Hagen played here, as did Billy Casper and Scott Simpson. Hagen, who called the signature 8th hole one of the toughest par 4s he’d ever played, had much better luck than President Taft, carding a course record of 67 on this par 70 tract, a score that stood for 50 years. The par-3 9th hole, in the shadow of Cadillac Mountain, is a highlight, as is the par-4 8th hole, a 435-yard dogleg left that winds around a marsh.
The tailored course at the Samoset Resort (samosetresort.com) in Rockport, Maine, offers a terrific test of any golfer’s skill-set, but is so captivating — with one of the most stunning finishing holes in the Northeast — that I almost don’t mind when my game doesn’t measure up to the fabulous views. Situated on 230 oceanfront acres, Samoset was ranked in Forbes’ “Best Resorts for a Golf Vacation” in 2019, offering guests of every age a seemingly endless array of resort activities, making it a great choice for families. Samoset’s golf complex also features a clubhouse with a golf range, practice green, short-game facility with bunkers, pro shop and restaurant. But it’s got history, too, dating back to 1902. The golf course was expanded to 18 holes in 1974 by architect Robert Elder, who also modified the existing course. And there have been several modifications since, including Geoffrey Cornish’s improvements in 1990. Today’s tract includes two of the best par 5s you’ll ever play — the dogleg-left 4th hole that bends toward the historic Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, and the 14th, which opens up to the Atlantic on the downhill approach shot.
Guests visiting the Black Point Inn (25 rooms and suites) in Scarborough can enjoy the bonus of playing the beautiful oceanfront Prouts Neck Country Club (proutsneck.com), a private 18-hole tract dating back to 1907. In 1924, Boston-based architect Wayne Stiles was brought in to redesign the 9-hole course, adding another nine holes to created a jewel of lowland forest and coastal golf. Bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens run alongside the lovely Scarborough River nears its end point at Saco Bay.
Closer to Portland, I have to mention Great Chebeague Island and Great Chebeague Golf Club (chebeagueislandgolf.com), one of only five courses in Maine listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. This vexing 9-hole, links-style course features views of the Atlantic from every hole. The 2,239-yard layout is entertaining for new golfers, yet still challenging for low handicappers due to its minuscule greens. The storied 7th hole is the most difficult, a 110-yard par 3 that requires a precise shot from the Stone Wharf over Casco Bay to the course’s most difficult green. The big, yellow Chebeague Island Inn, with its inviting wraparound porch overlooking the course, is a great option for an overnight stay.
Though it has the shortest coastline of any New England state not named Vermont, New Hampshire is home to several exceptional seaside courses, including the private Wentworth Country Club in Newcastle, and the Abenaki Country Club in North Hampton. I prefer the less exclusive Portsmouth Country Club (portsmouthcc.net). A member-owned club founded in 1901, and bordering the naturally striking Great Bay, this Robert Trent Jones course is consistently ranked as one of the best in New England. The club is semi-private, but non-members are welcome. Translation? You also get to grapple with the unpredictable winds that sweep in off the bay, and give this gorgeous tract its distinctive flare. The club traces its roots to 1901, when the founders bought a piece of farmland and hired Alex Findlay to build a 9-hole golf course, with another nine holes added three decades later. In the 1950s, the federal government took the property by eminent domain to build an Air Force base (the original course is now the Pease Golf Course). The present course was built in 1956 and opened for play the following year. The current clubhouse was erected in 1998 and houses the wood-paneled Clipper Grille, a nice spot for post-round libations. The sunsets here can be breathtaking.
Across the border in Massachusetts, Bass Rocks Golf Club (bassrocksgolfclub.com) on Beach Road (of course) in Gloucester is a hidden gem. With the possible exception of the Myopia Hunt & Polo Club in nearby Hamilton (another spot where our rotund President Taft made a name for himself), you’d be hard-pressed to find a course that resonates with the history of the game quite like this true Scottish tract that dates back to 1896 and overlooks the Atlantic. Situated on the Commonwealth’s “other” cape — Cape Ann — Bass Rocks Golf Club offers exceptional links-style golf right along the water. This beautiful-but-demanding course (par 69, 71 for women) offers eye-popping views on almost every hole. Established in 1896, the Herbert Leeds-designed course (there’s that name again), offers a wide variety of shot-making challenges due to the ever-changing winds off the Atlantic Ocean, tear-drop mounds, slick greens and ball-devouring fescue patches.
To the south of Boston, Farm Neck Golf Club (farmneck.net) in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard boasts the quintessential New England landscape. The epitome of seaside Massachusetts, Farm Neck Golf Club features a variety of terrains — woodlands, salt marshes, open meadows and open views of the ocean. The course itself looks a bit more pedestrian than you might expect, but looks can be deceiving. The 6,807-yard course, designed by Geoffrey Cornish and Bill Robinson, makes nice use of rolling woodland and meadowland and the proximity of Sengekontacket Pond. The course features a back nine that is undeniably tougher than the front, so plan to finish strong. Water hazards guard each green, giving pause to any golfer who plans to shoot for the pins placed by the banks.
Nantucket Island’s only 18-hole public golf facility, Miacomet Golf Course (miacometgolf.com) isn’t exactly “seaside,” but it’s close enough, located a mile from the ocean and three miles from town. This links-style course is owned by the Nantucket Island Land Bank and was named after an area of the island once inhabited by the Wampanoag Tribe, who referred to it as “Miacomet” or “The Meeting Place.” You and your golf buddies will love getting together here. Built as a 9-hole course, Miacomet was expanded to 18 holes in 2003 by architect Howard Maurer. In 2008 the original holes were renovated by Maurer, resulting in one of the top public courses in New England. The refurbished course offers ample fairways and a mix of green sizes ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet.
Around the geographical corner, in Rhode Island, Newport National Golf Club (newportnational.com) in Middletown is the Ocean State’s finest coastal public golf course. Don’t take my word for it. Newport National is rated the best public-access course by GolfWeek and Gold Digest magazines and the best public tract in all of New England by New England Golf Monthly. That’s high praise for the course that first opened in 1890 on the grounds of a former 200-acre nursery. Famed golf architect Arthur Hills designed the demanding 18-hole 7,244 yard Orchard Course, a links-style course reminiscent of courses in Ireland and Scotland, complete with sloping fairways, marshes and strategically placed bunkers. The setting boasts views of the Atlantic Ocean and Sakonnet Passage, while steady winds coming off Narragansett Bay offer an extra challenge. A new clubhouse and 9-hole Vineyard Course are coming soon.
Meanwhile, Jamestown Golf (jamestowngolf.com) in Jamestown is proof that good things sometimes come in small packages. This delightful 9-hole pubic course on Narragansett Bay is only minutes from Newport. The layout features rolling fairways and generous driving areas, but the well-manicured greens will test your ability to “putt for dough.” The course’s history is evident throughout the windblown layout. The original 9-hole golf course was established in a cow pasture near the Dumplings in 1895 and was in use until late 1904. Known as Conanicut Golf Club, it was one of the first in New England. In 1901 a new clubhouse was erected on the south side of the course (moved in 1951 to Conanicus Avenue), and links were laid out across the Littlefield-Clarke farm. Today, Jamestown Country Club boasts 75 acres, with nine holes weaving through a number of attractive but environmentally sensitive areas.
Finally, Great River Golf Club (greatrivergolfclub.com) in Milford, Conn., is a first-class experience for golfers of all abilities, named one of America’s Top 100 courses by Golf Digest. The Tommy Fazio-designed championship course features a wooded parkland front nine and a deceptively difficult water-focused back nine. Situated along the banks of the Housatonic River, this championship course also provides an incredibly picturesque setting for weddings, showers, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate events and parties. ′