Part I: The front 9.
There are more than 100 golf courses in Maine and if you ask 100 golfers what they believe is the most difficult hole in the state, you are likely to get 99 different answers.
This summer, the Bangor Daily News has solicited the input of golfers from throughout Maine to identify the state’s toughest 18 holes. All distances cited are from the white tees, unless otherwise noted.
The Samoset Resort in Rockport, Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor and the Sugarloaf Golf Club placed multiple holes on the leaderboard.
The most-mentioned hole is No. 8 at Kebo Valley, which from an elevated tee, is a 413-yard par 4.
“It’s a very slight dogleg left, but enough to give you concern with a hazard [stream] all the way up the left-hand side and bushes and woods down the right-hand side,” said Ned Collins of the Eastern Maine Seniors Golf Association.
“That is a brutal par 4,” said Basil Closson, a member at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, another Ross course. “The green pitches from right to left. If it happens to stick above the pin, you’re screwed; it’s an impossible par.”
Don Doyon, the Maine State Golf Association’s Director of Member Services, provided statistics showing that during MSGA tournament play in 2013, players averaged 2.01 strokes over par on Kebo’s eighth hole — the highest score on any hole all year.
Kebo’s ninth hole also gives golfers fits. The 161-yarder is one of only two par 3’s that made the cut.
“There’s water in front and along the left side of the green,” which slopes from back to front, explained former New Hampshire pro Bill Hamblen.
“The green looks like an elephant burial ground with demanding slopes,” he added.
The Samoset Resort course ranked second hardest overall for MSGA members last year (plus-19.0). Its 12th, 18th and first holes all got golfers’ attention.
On No. 12, players face a 494-yard par 5, a 45-degree dogleg left on which a narrow fairway is flanked by trees on the left and out-of-bounds on the right.
“The approach up to the green is very skinny and it’s guarded by bunkers, so if you go after the green, it’s very hard to hit in two (shots),” said Samoset assistant pro Ben Costain.
The 18th at the Samoset, a 446-yarder, has a reputation as a round-killer. This year, it was converted to a par 5.
“You have just played 17 ‘resort’ holes and and finish with a beast,” commented Chris Brook.
Players must carry a pond in front of the green, with a bunker between them.
“Even the long hitters from the back tees are hitting a 4- to 6-iron into the green on a calm day, let alone a day with the coastal winds,” said south Florida pro Chris Whitney.
“You can be floating on air as you approach the 18th tee and walking to the car with your tail stuck between your legs,” he added.
“It’s still a brutal finishing hole, but not quite as hard as it was last year,” Costain said.
The other Samoset hole noted for its difficulty is No. 1, a 360-yard par 4. It features trees and wet ground down the left side and a pond on the right.
“The tee box kind of aims you toward the pond sometimes,” Costain said. “It’s very hard to step up there and hit a shot right down the middle.”
The green is 60 yards deep, skinny on the front and undulated.
Sugarloaf Golf Club in Carrabassett Valley is admired for its beauty and cursed at for its elevation changes, winding fairways and rock-lined streams.
The 166-yard 11th is the other par 3 to crack the “Mean 18.” The green is located well below the tee and the “bail-out” on the right invites a shot onto a green that slopes severely from right to left toward a stream.
“If it’s calm it’s not bad, but when it’s breezy, one may find themselves short in a creek, left in a creek or long in the woods,” said Jamie Jackson, who plays at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Golfers also find themselves a wit’s end trying to conquer Sugarloaf’s ninth hole. It is a par 4, 363 yards.
“(It’s an) uphill dogleg left with a green that’s hard to hit,” said former longtime BDN golf writer Dave Barber. “(It has a) deep bunker in front and the green is hard to hold with severe undulations and very quick speed. Even a short downhill putt can roll right off the green if it misses the cup.”
Fox Ridge Golf Club is an Auburn course that cracked the “Mean 18.” It’s No. 18, a 366-yard par 4, that can cause consternation. Players must carry a ravine off the tee onto a tree-lined fairway.
“It’s menacing-looking,” said club pro Bob Darling, who said the wind usually blows into players’ faces. A good drive still means “you’ve probably got a ball that’s below your feet for your second shot,” he added.
Players must then hit over a pond, with bunkers just beyond that frame the green that features a hump in the middle.
“You can usually add a couple of clubs or a club and half there, but most people don’t do that,” Darling said, citing numerous balls in the water.
Lakewood Golf Course in Madison features the 410-yard eighth hole. It’s a left-turning par 4 on which players must hit their second shot over water to the green.
“It runs downhill toward the water,” said pro shop worker Carlton Demmons, who has played there for many years. “If you hit the ball real well (off the tee), you’re going to have a bit of a downhill lie.”
If a player avoids missing short and rolling back into the hazard, it’s a tricky green.
“There’s not a lot of flat putts on that green. It’s probably one of my favorite holes on the course, even though it gets me most of the time,” Demmons said.