We hated to leave Coastal Maine but the two-hour route through dense forests to Mahoosuc Mountains was refreshing, skirting many lakes and streams with little villages popping up, then the impressive capital of Augusta, more streams, and finally signs to Sunday River Golf. But right before the golf turn, we took the right at the Y in the road, to visit the 1872 covered bridge. It’s a northeast thing we still love to do. We stretched our legs on the trail through the woods along the river, sat on a rock and watched a fly fisherman casting for luck.
A few minutes’ drive ahead, and we arrived at the Robert Trent Jones II design that is Sunday River Golf, where Jerry Roman would make RTJII proud, as Golf Director, caring for his course. Jerry spent time working at Boyne Resorts in Petoskey, Michigan, a favorite destination of ours. Life separated him from the Boyne organization for just a bit and when they called to offer the position in Maine, he said, “Yes, I’ll be there in two weeks.” He is right at home in these beautiful mountains and in his third season, has made a significant difference.
“Timing is everything” is a truism that applies to golf and travel. We had a tee time the next morning, Monday at 8:30 but Jerry suggested we play on Sunday afternoon if we had time because heavy rain was forecasted for the morning. It was the first Sunday not rained out this season. But the Chondola ski lift up the mountain wouldn’t run on Monday, so we should experience that on Sunday too. Luckily there was time for both. It’s a Chondola because you ride a chair lift up the mountain and take a gondola down for safety logistics. Assistants are friendly and helpful with advice on hiking trails. Wildflowers are in full bloom from the July rains. At the base of the Chondola, Southridge Lodge provides accommodations convenient for skiers. 15 lifts rise to the ski runs or hiking trails in the summer, with a view of the Golf Clubhouse far below.
The Sunday River Golf Course is navigated by carts, no walkers, because the distance and slopes are almost as extreme as the ski slopes above. And ski lingo is noted on signs. Number one is labeled Alpine Start. The blind design makes the yardage book a good idea for your first round on the course to know which flag to target. From there it is a quick pace through the woods, up and down, with striking mountain views and wildlife.
Again, timing is everything and if you visited before, you might have advised as some did that the grass was brown, the menu limited and grill hours short. One friend said we’d be attacked by black flies. We were not, and the July rains have course conditions and surrounding vegetation reflecting every shade of green. Plus, the clubhouse restaurant is now open with a full menu until 8pm.
As it turned out, that Sunday, we got a little wet from the rain, gear on, gear off, but happy as larks with the dimension of scenery, fresh air and exhilarating ride over RTJII’s wilderness. After the round, a fish and chips order overflowed the dinner plate, and a lobster lust was fulfilled by a roll on a crispy grilled bun on the upper deck of the clubhouse with incredible views and lively conversations with members. One shared her video from last year of a mother bear and two cubs frolicking on a green. Elizabeth and Kurt are Mountain Mainers with a friendly attitude to serve and advise members and tourists alike.
What a fun Sunday on Sunday River Golf Course. Now it was time to retire at Jordan Hotel and Conference Center. We turned right and climbed up the mountain a few minutes. A road sign appears, “You can get there from here,” and another, “Almost there, we promise.” The immense Jordan Hotel looks like an alpine lodge with old time posters inside and a welcoming water dispenser with floating cranberries. Our room was apartment sized with full kitchen, king bedroom, living room and wall bed to pull down – great for ski or golf friends or family. The heated pool and jacuzzi outside are situated by the Northern Lights Cafe for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Pool access is through the health club with exercise equipment and steam and dry saunas. The spa and shops are open Friday through Sunday so plan ahead. In the evening, a fire pit is lit by request.
We returned Monday morning for a second round, without any rain. Forget the forecast, get ready to play. In the northeast you’ll know at the end of the day what the weather was. Since Jerry took over, membership has increased from 77 to 300 and it was ranked #1 public course in Maine by Golf Digest. Steve Brown is the maintenance director and snow groomer who was watering greens in March.
Families were splashing in the heated pool as we soaked in the hot tub with a view of the ski runs above. Another family was playing Frisbee on the hill, and another was hitting balls on the range. Couples from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Texas were finding their space in new homes, nearly off grid and chilling, literally while the rest of the country pretends not to swelter in the summer heat. A new gated development is selling lots for $750k-$2.1m with a chair lift being built to serve that community. Head to the hills and plan for your provisions when you go; know what’s open, when, and be patient with cell and wifi signals or turn it all off and enjoy nature. Every day is a fun day at Sunday River Resort. www.sundayriver.com