Stonington, Maine, a small island community that lies 27 miles east of Blue Hill, 43 Miles east of Belfast, and 165 miles northeast of Portland, is the quintessential Maine community; but do not let this idea of seclusion deter you. With a small downtown that has freshly caught seafood, shops, and unforgettable coastal views, Stonington is the perfect Maine destination.
Stonington may not be considered a golf destination, but very little people, besides the locals, know of the 9 hole course on the island. The Island Country Club is a true hidden gem that is not only fun to play, but has the aura that every golf fanatic searches for when they play a new track. The red clubhouse is hidden behind a few fully grown Red Spruces, and displays an awesome old school sign straight out of golf’s golden age. A chalkboard with handwritten reminders to “please replace your divots, repair ball marks” is right behind the first tee, serving as a subtle reminder to treat this gem like the grade 1 diamond it is.
The track itself is not long, it’s not even 18 holes, but it proves that those two characteristics are just overrated judgements for what a golf course should be. To get numbers involved, it’s a 2376 yard par 34. The Island Country Club is a 1926 Wayne Stiles design that through the help of a financial backer, went through a massive redesign in 2009 by Ross Forbes. As explained by an employee there, the redesign came in two phases. The first phase was buying land for the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth holes to make them longer and even more challenging. The second phase was to redo the bunkering and many of the green complexes. Every bunker is lined with wispy fescue that not only makes the bunkering look phenomenal, but gives that little bit of challenge for the person who finds themselves in them. The greens are small and subtle. There are shelves, tiers, and constant movement; a putt on a direct line to the center of the cup cannot be found. The fescue is not only around the bunkers, but patches of it are all around the course to give the errand tee shot a place to land. It’s easy to get your ball into the fescue, but getting it out is the challenge. Your club is at the mercy of the fescue.
The seventh hole is the epitome of Forbes’ renovation. This short par four is one that entices the longer hitter to go for the green. With a hazard all down the left side of the hole and a bunker that sits right next to it, that whole side of the hole is dead. Right is by far the bailout area, but a shot over there can still find trouble getting to the green. The green is what makes this short hole such a challenge. A bomb onto this green may seem perfect off the tee, but this two tiered green is elevated at the front and slopes away towards the lower back half. If a pin is cut at the front of the green, someone who manages to drive the green will more often than not have a tough two putt from the back lower half. To add to the difficulties, players run the risk of coming up short because of a false front. A putt from the back of the green will more likely than not run through the top tier and off the front of the green.
The picture perfect hole, and probably the most memorable, is short par three third. Playing at 135 yards, this elevated green is protected by bunkering on both the left and right side of the green. The green itself slopes back to front, and is backed by mounds of fescue. Long is dead on this hole because the back bank is not steep enough to bounce a ball back onto the green. Instead, the bank will hold a ball in there, giving you a tough pitch back onto the green.
It’s tough to really sum up a round at the Island Country Club because playing there is more of an experience than a golf round. It’s small, intimate and just a fun place to be. Nothing beats walking down the fairway off the par five 8th, enclosed by Red Spruces and hearing the chickadees sing. What you shoot at the Island Country Club does not matter because you are on an island in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, walking and talking with friends on a unique, well constructed piece of property.