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Three Maine Golf Courses Worth an Autumn Visit

While water (yes, water) put Poland Spring on the map, golf, fall's foliage and a good deal are three compelling reasons to make a visit.
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Harry Vardon prepares to tee off in front of the Poland Spring Resort.

Harry Vardon prepares to tee off in front of the Poland Spring Resort.

What do such kings and counselors as U.S. Presidents William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy or Babe Ruth, Sonny Liston, Joan Crawford, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Alexa Stirling and Genna Collett have in common?

They all stayed, or played golf, at the Poland Spring Resort in Poland, Maine. (Spring, mind you, not Springs.)

They probably drank the water, too, though Ruth likely mixed something stronger into his. The resort’s long history can be traced back to George Washington’s Presidential term in the 1790s, when the Wentworth Ricker Inn served as both inn and stagecoach stop. But it wasn’t until 1844 that then-innkeeper Hiram Ricker went out in the fields of the property to oversee some work activity.

Hiram, who had been suffering from dyspepsia, drank from a nearby spring. His indigestion vanished, he proclaimed it was from the water, and believers rapidly multiplied, especially after Hiram began bottling and selling the stuff. Doctors began prescribing draughts of Poland Spring Water to cure all sorts of maladies and requests for rooms at the inn overpowered the supply.

Poland Spring's original Spring House.

Poland Spring's original Spring House.

By 1876 the deluxe Poland Spring House opened, attracting the well-heeled and glamorous. The grande dame resort flourished and by 1896, in addition to taking the waters, visitors could try their hand at golf.

As with many gilded age resorts, Poland Spring’s fortunes rose and fell; a major blow was the largest structural fire in Maine history in 1975, destroying the classic Poland Spring House structure.

But 50 years after she started at the resort as a waitress Cyndi Robbins is still there, and so is the resort and golf course. Robbins went on to marry her boss, Mel Robbins, who passed away in 2007, but both labored mightily to keep the property alive.

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. On site is the handsome Maine State Building, built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) and later exported brick by granite brick and reconstructed back in Poland. A museum and gallery, the building also houses the Maine Golf Hall of Fame.

The original Poland Spring Water bottling facility and springhouse have been faithfully restored and now serve as an intriguing museum on the property. (The Poland Spring Water brand is now owned by Nestlé).

Fox Ridge Golf Club may be the best of best C. Lennie Myshrall course designs.

Fox Ridge Golf Club may be the best of best C. Lennie Myshrall course designs.

Best of all, the resort acts as the acommodations headquarters for the Maine Trifecta — two nights at the resort and three rounds of golf for about $300 (depending upon the rooms chosen at the resort), one each at the Links at Poland Spring, the Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray and the Fox Ridge Golf Club in Auburn. A sweet deal, especially with fall colors beckoning, the latter two courses both fewer than 20 minutes from the resort.

THE LINKS AT POLAND SPRING

The Trifecta’s further inducement is that each course has a distinct personality. As with the resort, the Links at Poland Spring oozes history. Aside from those who have trod the greensward, its very pedigree hearkens back to golf’s beginnings in the U.S., Arthur Fenn laying out the first nine holes, and believed to be the first U.S. resort to have featured golf. Fenn set the course record of 47 on the first day of play on July 30, 1896. He lowered it to 45 the next day.

Donald Ross came along to add the second nine, which opened in 1915, and Walter Travis tinkered some more just a few years after that. The course remains largely unchanged since, short at 6,156 yards from the tips, but still a 125 slope challenge, with intriguing historical signage on various holes. Adjacent to the first tee is a gorgeous putting green, complete with nearby gazebo.

SPRING MEADOWS GOLF CLUB

The Spring Meadows Golf Club was named the 2021 Course of the Year by the New England Golf Course Owner’s Association, the first time a Maine course was so selected. A former Pollard family dairy farm, the 21-year-old course is still run by the Pollard family.

The Bradley Booth design starts off with an eye-opening elevated tee shot that has to negotiate a large pond, and ponds and wetlands characterize the entire course, particularly on the par-3 13th, virtually surrounded by wetlands.

FOX RIDGE GOLF CLUB

The par-3 5th hole at Fox Ridge is an even more daunting island green, with a hefty 190-yard carry from the middle set of tees. (Some 16,200 balls go into the fronting pond in a year’s time.) Though the grand old man of New England golf, the late Geoffrey Cornish, is listed as a consulting architect, the truth is that Fox Ridge will probably be one of the best C. Lennie Myshrall-designed courses you’ll ever play.

There’s great variety, from wide open holes to ribbon fairways through the pines, numerous elevation changes and a sturdy collection of par-3s. At 20 years old, Fox Ridge is the youngest course among the Trifecta, but it’s easy enough to make the historical nod by slipping a bottle of Poland Spring Water into your bag.