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When there's only time for nine

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When there's only time for nine (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

Looking at some of the area's nine-hole golf courses

Maine golf enthusiasts are in their glory as we approach mid-summer; a nice mix of sunny and rainy days have left area courses in great condition. Since golf is a seasonal sport in this neck of the woods, it is imperative for golfers to get out on the links and swing those sticks!

As a golf enthusiast as well as the host of Chip Shots on 92.9 FM The Ticket and a regular contributor of a Chip Shots column to The Maine Edge, my main focus is to share my love of golf and help grow the sport in Maine.

Unfortunately, golf as an industry has been on the decline over the past decade in the U.S.; this despite the fact that America is the largest golf market in the world, with around half the world's courses and an impressive contribution margin of approximately $70 billion to the economy, according to a 2014 article in The Economist. That same article pointed out that in 2013, 18 percent fewer people played golf than did so in 2006, although the population grew by six percent. Additionally, the number of courses that close every year far outpaces the number of new ones opening.

Two of the primary factors that have been identified as culprits in this negative trend are time and money. Critics say golf takes too long and is too expensive for most people; however, I believe this is where golf in Maine has the advantage over other parts of the country. There are many courses in the Greater Bangor area that offer very affordable greens fees; many of these same courses happen to be nine-hole courses, which only take two hours or so to play on average.

So for less than it costs for a dinner and drinks and the same amount of time it takes to sit and watch a movie, you can enjoy nature, get exercise, socialize with friends (and make new ones) and enjoy the mental and physical challenges provided by a wonderful sport.

On that note, I invite you to join me in exploring a few of the area's nine-hole courses that you either may not know much about or may not have considered trying.

We'll start in West Enfield at Barnes Brook Golf Course, then head to Traditions Golf in Holden before ending up in Bangor on the Kelly Nine at Bangor Municipal Golf Course.

Barnes Brook Golf Course West Enfield

If you've ever taken Route 2 on your way to Lincoln, you may have noticed a white house on the left with a golf course located across the road on the right, located in West Enfield. Barnes Brook is a beginner-friendly nine-hole course owned by Michael and Nicky Clendenning.

I played there recently with my wife Christine; we had a lot of fun rediscovering a course we hadn't played for a couple of years. From the white tees, where I played, the course measures 2,897 yards. The red tees, where Christine teed up, measured 2,464 yards. It's a par-36 for nine holes; it starts out with a wide-open par-5 at 490 yards from the white tee box. Hole #2 is a challenging par-3, measuring 172 yards. The par-4 holes range from a drivable 238 yards (#4) to 382 yards on the finishing hole.

The majority of the course features very open fairways and relatively few areas in which to lose a ball. An exception to this would be hole #5; according to Michael, it is one of the toughest par-4s in the state. Why? Well, it has a nearly 90-degree dogleg left that requires the correct distance off the tee (about 185 yards from the whites); that leaves you with a long, slightly uphill approach shot on the course's narrowest fairway to a tiered green protected by sand traps on the front left and right sides. It's a challenging hole, for sure, but a few good shots will give you a chance at par.

I follow Barnes Brook on Facebook and they always seem to have something fun going on, like leagues for couples, juniors, men, women and even people 50 and over. I noticed they also do something called a Cry Baby Scramble every once in a while (where they make things a little tougher for those playing; all in good fun), and there is even the occasional Glow Ball Scramble (yes, that's night golf with glow-in-the-dark balls; a unique experience!).

The course was in nice shape; the greens were healthy - some feature sand and a bit of slope and undulation to make them fair but interesting. There is very little rough to speak of, so errant shots are not punished badly on most holes. There's a lot of room to recover, which certainly makes for a relaxed round. Of the three courses highlighted in this article, it is the one that breeds the greatest confidence for new and recreational golfers.

Michael is a golf teaching professional who does a lot for youth golf in the region, coaching the PVHS Howlers golf team and coordinating a junior golf program and tour. The clubhouse features a home-like restaurant, while the Pro Shop sells a variety of equipment and clubs. There is a driving range and practice putting green; the course also has an indoor golf simulator for use in the offseason. They also open the course for cross-country skiing in the winter.

Barnes Brook is a great example of a family-owned business that not only offers a welcoming and affordable golf experience, but is an integral part of their community. And with the new speed limit on the highway, you can get there from Bangor in around 30 minutes.

Traditions Golf Club and Learning Center Holden

This is a course that you have probably driven by many times; it's the facility on your right just after you leave Brewer heading to Ellsworth that features a mini-golf course and go-kart racing track. The golf club can be found behind these more visible features and is worth checking out.

Traditions is a great example of good course design making the most of a short layout. From the white tees this par-35 course plays 2,501 yards and from the red tees it measures 2,027 yards. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. The course is situated on 50 picturesque acres and has a surprising amount of variety to offer golfers of all levels. What it lacks in distance, it more than makes up for with ample rough and sand traps, tight fairways and plenty of water - four water hazards in all.

Christine and I played there recently and we were greeted at the first tee with a short, but very pretty, par-4; it features a small pond framing the tee area with a slightly elevated fairway that finishes with a bowl-shaped green. Off the red tee it measures 200 yards and Christine started her round off right with a straight blast that ended up just yards short of the green. The first four holes are all fairly short; I didn't use my driver for any of them. I found the second hole to be quite easy, but the third and fourth holes both featured doglegs that needed to be thoughtfully considered and approaches to greens that were challenging due to elevation and some trees.

The 244-yard par-4 fifth is what I would consider the course's signature hole; it features an island green. I hit two shots off the tee; the one I played was a mid-iron hit to where I thought I'd have the best chance to hit over the water and have my ball hold on the green. I also hit my three-wood for fun, trying to drive the green, and wound up with a predictable result: just short, to the rightand wet.

From there we played the par-5 sixth hole followed by two short par-3s (one uphill, the other down). The finishing hole was interesting there's a water hazard down the left side and a bailout area to the right. I ended up hitting my five-iron, hoping to play it safe and land in a spot that would give me a good approach shot distance. I played for a fade but hit it straightinto the water hazard.

Traditions is a great shot-maker's course and is also good for folks who may not hit it long, but hit it straight. Big hitters with poor control will definitely lose a few balls while playing, but they might not mind, as the course is very pretty and well-maintained. Also, because of the length, playing nine holes will go by quite quickly.

Collin Gillies and Tim Roggero are the PGA professionals at the course. They have a well-stocked pro shop and offer lessons. There is a practice putting green and very well-marked driving range that is more appropriate for iron work than driving. They have two well-appointed golf simulator bays for the winter months as well. And finally, a real upgrade to this facility is the fact that Pat's Pizza is now the onsite restaurant, which makes the idea of a round and a meal very appetizing indeed.

Kelly Nine at Bangor Municipal Course Bangor

I'll be honest - there was a time when I avoided playing the Kelly Nine, located at Bangor Municipal Golf Course on Webster Avenue (named in honor of former head pro Austin Kelly). I'm not sure exactly why, but I preferred playing the other 18 holes at Bangor Muni. Well, I'm here to tell you that I've had a change of heart.

I have some friends who are members at Bangor Muni and my place of employment has been organizing an employee scramble on weekday evenings this summer, so I've played the Kelly Nine more than a few times this year. I've come to appreciate the challenge and variety offered by this relatively new track.

First, the Kelly Nine is usually not as busy as the Muni 18, which means easier access and faster play. Second, it offers a distinctly different look than the 18, with smaller, more undulating greens, narrower fairways and more green-side bunkers that are waiting to grab poorly hit golf shots. But I've come to realize that even with these more challenging attributes, the course is rather player-friendly. It will require a little more shot management, but the Kelly Nine is sure to improve your game over time.

The white tees play 3,003 yards, while the red tees are 2,473 yards. There are really two signature holes. The second hole is a sharp dogleg right with several terrain changes. The course designer Geoffrey Cornish has stated that Kelly #2 was among the favorite 18 holes that he ever designed. Considering he has over 200 courses to his credit, that is very impressive. That said, the true signature hole from most people's point of view is #5. It is a long par-4 that offers several challenges along the way. Many good rounds have been squandered on this tough start to the final five. The tee shot must be in the fairway, or just off, to leave yourself a potential 200-yard shot to the green. The fairway is tree-lined for its entire 430 yards. The green is fairly friendly, but for most people a par equals getting up and down. Manage this hole from the tee shot to the green and you may escape with a par.

I also like the seventh hole, where the perfect tee shot is something less than driver for most, with a slight fade that accommodates the late dogleg to the right. This somewhat short par-4 is followed up by a pretty tough par-5. It's a sharp dogleg right that again requires the correct club off the tee. If you aren't able to fade it around the dogleg, you are left with a pretty intimidating second shot that most likely won't reach the green.

Now that I've developed a bit more confidence in my game and have played the Kelly Nine more consistently, I realize that while there are some tough holes, quite a few of them are no more difficult than any other course. Not to mention the fact that it is quite beautiful, especially holes 5 through 9.

Rob Jarvis is the head professional. Bangor Muni has a great practice area with two greens and a nice driving range. They also have a small green around the back of the clubhouse that features a practice sand bunker (I should spend more time at that one!). Bangor Muni is a wonderfully appointed municipal course with a nice pro shop and locker rooms, golf instruction school for all ages and a restaurant which is now run by Hero's Sports Grill. So don't be shy - give the Kelly Nine try!

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Well, there you have it - three nine-hole courses in the Greater Bangor area that are worthy of your time. And there are plenty more that I enjoy playing, too. Other nearby nine-hole courses include Hampden Country Club, Hidden Meadows Golf Course in Old Town, Lucerne in Maine Golf Course and Pine Hill Golf Club in Brewer. Why not make an effort to try them all out this season?

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Hidden Meadows no longer a hidden gem

Many of the area courses do a great job when it comes to course maintenance and improvement. My wife and I have been members at Hidden Meadows in Old Town for the past two years, where owners Joe Perdue and Rob Olsen have quietly made this course into arguably the most improved track in the region. Word is getting out, with increased membership and growing interest among local golfers. So what's been going on the past few years?

1. Improved greens/turf management.

2. Effective drainage.

3. New driving range. This has allowed for a more robust lesson program and the ability to properly fit clubs, as well as letting area golfers - including the Old Town High School Golf Team to practice. This range is the first in the area to open every spring.

4. New tees for each hole, allowing for an alternate tee set-up for playing 18 holes.

5. Junior tees - the only ones in the area. The yardages for these tees are based on the recommendations of U.S. Kid's Golf, and their Level 1 and Level 2 junior programs.

6. Clubhouse addition.

7. Full service pro shop. The course now has the largest selection of new and used clubs in all of Maine.

8. Putting green expansion/new practice bunker.

9. Additional and renovated bunkers.

10. Green expansions. Greens #6 and #7 now have extensions on their front faces, which has added three or four hole locations to each green. In addition, they have begun work on the expansion of the third green, which will be open in the spring of 2017. It will be turned into a double green, so that people will play the original portion of the green when playing their 'front' nine, then play the new portion of the green when playing their 'back' nine. The new portion of the green will bring a pond into play. This will be a very unique hole in the state of Maine.

11. Improvements on the #5 hole. During the 2015 season, a hedge row down the first 200 yards of the right side of the fairway was taken out. Then the last 75 yards down the left side, all of the underbrush and trees were cut back, widening the fairway and greenside area by 20-30 yards.

12. New carts. All of the carts were replaced in 2010, and they have now upgraded the carts again in 2016. The fleet now features 98 top-end carts.

If you haven't visited Hidden Meadows for a few years, do yourself a favor and check it out. It will be vastly different from what you remembered!

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 14:15

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