By Viktor Stigson
Widely regarded as one of the finest golf course designers of all time, Donald Ross had a unique ability to create challenging layouts while maintaining the natural beauty of the land. He never tried to change the landscape, instead highlighting the property’s natural contours while infusing it with his signature undulating greens, false fronts, and well-placed bunkers.
“We have all of that here,” says Paul “Hez” Haseltine, President and General Manager at Cape Neddick Country Club, just across the street from the Cliff House entrance. “Ross created a naturally beautiful golf course, typical of New England with an abundance of trees, ponds, and rock walls meandering around the perimeter.”
The course dates back to 1919, when Ross designed what was then called the Cliff Country Club for the sole use of the John Pickering family. It soon became an attraction for visitors in Ogunquit and York, eventually developing into a semi-private golf club at the height of the sport’s Golden Age.
Though the back nine was abandoned during World War II, another respected architect—Golf World Magazine’s 1999 Architect of the Year, Brian Silva—was hired in 1998 to re-expand the course in the classic Donald Ross style. Today it’s one of Southern Maine’s foremost golf destinations and a prized experience for visiting golfers from all across the country.
“Playing here is like playing in a sanctuary,” says Hez. “The course is tucked away in the woods with no residential areas in sight, so there’s no noise or outside interference whatsoever.”
For those who want to test their luck, we sat down with Hez—who has been in the area for over 45 years—to find out his favorite holes, expert playing advice, and much more. Guests of Cliff House receive preferred tee times at Cape Neddick, so please contact our concierge team for reservations in advance.
On Cape Neddick’s Overall Difficulty:
“Because there’s not an overabundance of sand traps and the greens are relatively forgiving, Cape Neddick is a very fun course to play and not overly difficult. That said, the variety of the course will certainly test any golfer’s full shot-making repertoire, meaning you need length, accuracy, and a strong short game to truly score well. We just extended the back tees in the last year, so it’s just shy of 6,300 yards.”
How to Play The Most Difficult Holes:
Hole 3: “This par 5 is the longest hole on the course (594 yards from the tips), and it plays even longer since your second shot is blind and uphill. Beyond hitting long and clean, my biggest tip is to try to avoid danger on both sides by keeping your ball as central as possible. A par on this hole is a job well done.”
Hole 6: “Don’t be fooled by the short yardage (136 yards from the tips). This par 3 has the smallest green on the course and can be very difficult to maneuver if you miss the green. Aim for right center so you avoid the bunker on the front left.”
Hole 10: “A par 5 for our women golfers, this is without a doubt our most difficult par 4 at 450 yards. There are ponds and other hazards scattered across the right, so try to favor left center as you maneuver the fairway. Five is a great score for most golfers; anything less is a bonus.”
Hole 12: “Another challenging par 5, measuring 547 yards from the back tips. Accuracy is a must here and I highly recommend keeping your first and second shots left center to avoid the hilly part of the fairway and allow a good approach onto the green. Consider clubbing up as this one features a classic Ross-style false front.”
Your Best Bets for Birdie:
Hole 7: “Most golfers lay up with a 200-yard drive on this par-4 seventh (322 yards from the tips), but long hitters can try to drive the green, or at least reach the fringe. A risk reward hole with plenty of temptation for those feeling confident.”
Hole 8: “This picturesque hole is in my opinion our easiest par 3 (168 yards from the tips). Avoid long or left and you’ll have a great chance for birdie on a relatively easy green.”
Hole 17: “The finishing stretch is there for the taking and the par-4 seventeenth (345 yards from the tips) is the easiest of them all. Stay right center with your drive and you’ll have a great approach onto a forgiving green.”
His Favorite Holes:
Hole 13: “One of my favorite holes is the thirteenth. It’s a fun par 4 (409 yards from the tips) with a slight dogleg left, sloping off to the right once you get into the fairway. The green can be quite tricky to two-putt so I highly recommend an accurate approach!”
Hole 11: “I also like the eleventh, which is a par 3 (205 yards from the tips) with a large fountain pond to your left. Definitely one of our most picturesque holes, plus it requires a great deal of accuracy to hit the green.”
Keep an Eye Out For:
“Cutting across the midsection of our property—from south to north—is the old King’s Highway. It was put in by the King of England back in the colonial days, so that the stagecoach could go back from Portland to Boston. We’ve preserved that path on our course, and it’s a great reminder of the vivid history in this part of Maine.“
*All images courtesy of Cape Neddick Country Club