NORTHEAST HARBOR, May 15, 2020 – I started playing golf at Age 47 in 1997 at the nine-hole Causeway Club where even a hacker like me can’t do any serious damage. My 75-year-old father sat in the cart while I toured the course trying to learn the game.
“Hit the ball straight, Linc! Hit the ball straight!” my dad intoned as if I had any control over where the little orb was heading.
But as anyone who’s played the game may attest, it’s addictive. That summer I tried to play Kebo, the massive tract carved out of Acadia’s majestic mountains where there is a hole – the 17th – which legend has it that President William Taft took 27 shots to get out of that sand trap which resembles a gravel pit on the side of a hill. I’m sure it’s apocryphal but the locals love the lore. Plus it’s good marketing.
My most memorable moment at Kebo was when I stepped on a mound of fire ants looking for my ball on the 12th hole. Those buggers are hard to shake off, and they sting like crazy.
Kebo gets a lot of attention among the Mayflower class for its founding date, 1888, which legitimizes the silly and annualized debate over which are the oldest golf clubs in the country. The Dorset in Vermont, 1886, lays claim. But there are many caveats. When did the course actually open? Was there a club before a golf course, etc.
For me, the tract on the island which challenges the imagination and has its own lore is the Northeast Harbor Golf Club. That is a course where golf balls go to die. In the late Nineties, I actually had a boy who sold me back the same ball I hit into the woods in the front nine on the back nine. The ball had a distinctive logo.
NHGC is mystical and an alluring place with a dab of secrecy like Skull and Bones. They seem to change the rules every year. One year there was a facile two-week membership for summer people. Next year they revoked that. This year there is no public play, owing to the pandemic, a reasonable response from a club which seems to have its own business model.
Me, I’m just grateful for an off-season membership which dis-invites me in July and August. But that’s okay. I haven’t played golf for five years. I’ve enjoyed the turtle soup at Pine Valley, the horrendously long Par 4s at Winged Foot and the hilly Olympic in San Francisco.
But it’s Northeast Harbor Golf Club where the memories run deep and the echo of the mountains are resonant when a ball caroms off a granite ledge into the abyss like no other place on earth …