6,333 yards, 126 slope from the Blues
In York, Maine, YGTC is alongside the York River that runs to the nearby York Harbor, with York Middle School nearby and down the road from the Old York Historical Society. There is no mistaking the course is of York. The Atlantic is close but for someone who didn’t know any better, the course and surrounding area has a very woodsy mountain feel. The dense evergreen helps with this, shrouding the surroundings for the most part. The splendor of the York River adds to the natural ambiance, all of which brought some Pinehurst/Southern Pines vibes as I made my way through the piney hills.
The course was built in 1923 by Donald Ross, who then remodeled in 1930. His brother Alex was the club’s first professional so Ross probably returned from time to time and received reports from his brother that helped with the remodel work. The scorecard states that this is a William Wilson course, who was the club professional here for over sixty years. They named the course after him. The Donald Ross Society lists all eighteen holes as Ross designed. In 1998, Bruce Hepner performed some work here, likely to the bunkers mostly but I am not sure.
The course, resting within the coastal pines all these decades from when the Ross brothers tended to it, needed to be seen. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what I played. A pleasant surprise of quirk with a dash of disjointedness in a good way. Things start with a long par 3 to a smaller green, the road on the left and the rest of the course out of sight. You then cross the road and after a nice enough Second, things start to get interesting, which I’ll get into below. There are some moody carries, drops and climbs with all sorts of blind shots. The ridges and plateaus come on suddenly and as they are navigated along with the hordes of trees, things finally clear before the York River, which breathes sanguine on the golfer before he eventually heads back into the hills. While perhaps shorter in length, the turns and elevation changes, as well as a very intriguing set of greens, provides all the challenge one could expect to handle. At times, the quirk yields to some majestic mountainous fairways that reminded me of what Ross designed at the Steel Club, even more so with the lost nine. And as I mentioned in the Essex County review, Ross always seems to make sure the golfer confronts and has a sense of the terrain and natural surrounds he is in, where he must incorporate those into his play. That certainly holds true here.
Flying high after the round at Essex, the drive was into unchartered territory. I had never been to Maine. Over large bodies of water, through pine trees and evergreen, I ended up off the highway into what seemed to be wooded mountainous type terrain. The summer heat was at its peak. As I left the air conditioning of my car, my muscles gave me a curious ache, almost asking if this was the best idea. The heat would remain, the sun piercing at every angle, indifferent to whatever shade out there. No matter, the call had sounded. I rallied for another round of Ross.
The First is a 215 yard par 3 (from the Blues). A long par 3 to a raised wide green. The road to the left is OB and there’s a couple mounds and rough over on the right. The green moves from left to right and it’s of moderate size, so those shots that aren’t spot on will need to deal with the speed and size from all types of lies. An interesting opening that certainly took me by surprise.
The Second is a 380 yard par 4. The tee shot is blind to an uphill fairway with trees closing in on the sides. It’s a harrowing tee shot and thus far, the opening shots throw the golfer right in the deep end. The fairway crests and moves downhill to the green and the trees yield to more width. The fairway feeds into the green with a few bunkers along the sides of the green. The movement is left to right.
The Third is a 368 yard par 4. While the approach at the hole prior was more of the width and gentle sloping I was expecting, I quickly realized that would be the exception, not the norm. Walking to this tee, there’s a peg board that alerts the golfer where the pin is placed and not to hit until their hear the bell. Indeed, the tee shot is to a hillside. A fair amount of room to work with for the tee shot, which the golfer must pull off for a chance at the approach. The approach is blind and must be hit over the top of the hill to the green, which is on the other side. A pin flag is at the top of the hill and I hit my shot to it thinking it was the green. Of course it was one of the best approach shots of the day but then I realized the green was well down the hill from there. An old school, absolutely blind as it gets approach where those who know the course will benefit in having an idea how to get the ball close to the pin. The hole is a cool one and immediately ramped up my interest in the place.
The Fourth is a 369 yard par 4. The group in front graciously waved me through here and I promptly fledged each shot as they nicely and patiently probably wondered if they were going to regret doing so. At any rate, photos are light for this hole because of it but the tee shot is on top of the ridge we went over for the approach at the Third down to the fairway below, which ends at water that completely bisects the fairway. The water might be carried by some from the tee while most will hit short of it. The approach needs to carry the water to a green that sits uphill a bit with a trio of bunkers triangulated well.
The Fifth is a 308 yard par 4. The York River comes into view here, which was yet another surprise for me since I thought we would be in dense forest the entire round. The river is significant and with the heat of the day, was a welcome sight. The tee shot is towards the river, which then dog legs right to the green. It’s a short par 4 and with the downhill, the green can be reached from the tee for many but its size, narrow entry point, bunkers and movement all make that a risky proposition. Indeed, a shot that gets into the fairway far enough to the left to clear the larger tree near the green is the smart play, which then opens up the green for a short approach in. The movement of the fairway towards the river helps with this. In terms of settings, this is a pretty good one.
The Sixth is a 404 yard par 4. Moving along the river, the fairway is as wide as we have seen thus far and at last, a break from the demanding precision driven shots we have faced before. With the majestic river at our side and armed with a ton of assorted drinks from the halfway house, the summer heat would be tamed. The fairway moves straight to the green, which is pushed up and deep with bunkers below it on the sides. This hole is exactly what is needed at this point in the round.
The Seventh is a 200 yard par 3. Another long par 3 with an easier forced carry over wetlands to a large green with lots of short grass to work with on the right. The green moves towards the river, so those that bail out to the right from the tee will need to account for the quickness to avoid their recovery shots from going in. The York River turns right here, wrapping around the course, which provides even more remarkable views of it at the green. It’s a worth and extra moment or two to gander.
The Eighth is a 456 yard par 5. The first par 5 of the course is the at the penultimate of the front nine. We head back into the hills, the tee shot to an uphill fairway that never stops climbing. The tee is set as close to the river as possible. As I was surveying the hole, a couple kayakers gently breezed by, which seemed to emphasize the serenity of the water. It certainly seemed inviting and with the heat blazing down, I pondered whether a quick swim was in order but shook off the appeal of the cool, peaceful oasis and belted my tee shot instead. Suffice to say I was taken with the interaction of the course to the river. There is a grassy break in the fairway that comes into play on the second shot and must be carried. The green is at the top of the hill, a significant climb, and no room at all to miss left or rear. Coincidentally, the green moves in those directions, so the approach should focus on heading up the right side.
The Ninth is a 392 par 4. Reaching the top of the ridge, we turn around and tee off of it, heading back to the river. As much width as one would want, the fairway is below with a couple fairway bunkers on the right. A couple trees are on the right near the green. Aside from the strong movement of the green from left to right, these two trees are the only features about the green the golfer should consider on approach. Favor the left side to avoid them and to best utilize the movement of the green.
The front nine starts off in a flurry of challenge and the golfer must be ready to handle such adversity early on. The early staccato eventually eases into more relaxed lengthy tones before finishing at the banks of the mighty York River. The variety, fun, challenge and setting are all worthy of note. I would rank them 5, 3, 7, 8, 9, 4, 6, 1, 2.
The back nine starts with the 400 yard par 4 Tenth. Still moving from river to ridge, it’s back to the ridge here. The fairway is uphill with the green sitting wide on the ridge above. It’s a long sustained climb to the green, making it play much longer than it says. The green is one of the larger on the course and takes up a lot of the ridge. Those balls near its front edge are precariously close to falling down the hill while the rear falls off abruptly into the abyss. It’s very good green and challenging if one needs to move from one end of it to another.
The Eleventh is a 418 yard par 4. The tee is tucked in to the left so that the fairway runs at an angle, which needs a right to left ball flight or otherwise the tee shot will run into the trees lining the right. The fairway the runs straight to the green with a bunker complex on the right that obscures the view of the green and needs to be carried for most shots except those coming from further left. The green is large and follows the contours of the hillside, moving right to left and back to front. The demands began to tighten a bit here, coinciding with transitioning from the meadows, river and ridge line to a more wooded, hilly and sharper terrain.
The Twelfth is a 379 yard par 4. A sharp dog leg right with the fairway ending at water. Something less than driver is probably needed from the tee. The green is on the hillside at the other end of the water, so a healthy carried approach is the way. The green is wide and some what shallow so some finesse with the approach is also in order.
The Thirteenth is a 560 yard par 5. Long grass muddles the view from the tee and with water ahead, driver again is too much club here off the tee. With the fairway moving downhill towards the water, the tee shot is more about setting up the second shot, which will head over the water to a fairway that climbs uphill to the green. The shorter tee shot, length of the hole and uphill green location mean that the second and third shots are long ones. The left and rear (and front) all fall off sharply from the green, which comes into play on the approach and with putting. There’s a lot going on here and it’s fairly demanding without too much margin for error. We are in it.
The Fourteenth is a 200 yard par 3. Now on the other side of the ridge, this downhill par 3 is rather straightforward. It plays shorter than its yardage and there’s room short of the green to work with. Bunkers are at the sides.
The Fifteenth is a 360 yard par 4. We head over the milder part of the ridge, almost going around it with this dog leg right. To be honest, the heat had taken its toll and it became a survival test for me at this closing stretch, so I’m not sure if the fairway is long enough to accommodate driver because I have no idea what I hit off the tee here. The tee shot is blind and there is a lot of room after the ridge in front of you. Actually, I think I hit driver here and the fairway doesn’t end more than it narrows, turns and climbs a bit to the green. The green sits uphill, just above and next to the Third green, and the approach is blind. The green is of moderate size and the hillside upon it sits needs to be taken into account, with its left to right movement. I enjoyed this hole, liked how it used the terrain and was flexible for an array of tee shots and approaches. After the more demanding, stricter last few holes, this one is timely.
The Sixteenth is a 384 yard par 4. The fairway runs from left to right and climbs high to the green above. The left side must be favored based on the strength of movement and the green is higher than it looks. The mountainous nature of the course leaves its mark here with its severe tilt and climbing twisting repertoire. This is the hole that reminded me of the lost nine at the Steel Club.
The Seventeenth is a 145 yard par 3. Crossing back over the road, this is the shortest par 3 of the course. A little elevated from the tee with bunkers curving around the perimeter of the green. Although I was spent, I managed to hit my shot within a few inches of the hole. I thought I was hallucinating because of the heat so didn’t see it until I got up to the green. So much easier to putt that way, I need to hit those kinds of shots more.
The Eighteenth is a 395 yard par 4. The clubhouse can be seen from the tee as this dog leg left brings us in. It’s a welcome path with its width that feeds right into the green. Some bunkers reside to the sides of the green but otherwise it’s nice and open, a nice calm finish that washes over the golfer as the course seems to make amends for its egregiousness during most of the round, making sure there are no hard feelings. Of course not. It was a wild ride but a memorable one and for the adventurous among us, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The back nine uses the more severe terrain and is more rangy in structure of play which all seems to fizzle into a tranquil final hole. I would rank them 15, 16, 11, 10, 13, 18, 12, 17, 14.
Generally, York Golf and Tennis is full of fun and challenging character by relying on the terrain in fun and quirky ways. Ross took some time to craft things here in different ways and that could be seen foremost with the greens, which were all fantastic with their own little personalities. A lot of the blind shots take the jutty terrain head on while other holes resemble the more gentle strategic classic style. The juxtaposition of the two as we along is all good fun and there’s a nice balance to it. Finally, the transitions from one naturescape to the next is done well and the routing follows in feel, bringing variety and a range of styles throughout the round. It’s a cool little course that makes sure the golfer never tires, or fully understands, it.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Fitting in nicely to the landscape, it’s both unassuming and comforting all at once.
Practice area: It has a driving range that may be limited distance, but I am not quite sure.
It was a long day and even longer 24 hours. 7 states, 54 holes, 3 courses, I don’t how many miles or hours driven. As I drove to the hotel, I became concerned I wouldn’t be able to find some where to eat as I kept going deeper and deeper into the pines. The two options seemed to be a local airport bar/grill or an Appleby’s. I chickened out and went to Appleby’s. Only a general idea of where I was, I made it an early night to get some rest. This was in a text exchange with a friend that night:
For the record and, in case something happens to me, I think I go to extremes for doing some of the things I do. After playing 54 holes in 3 different states in under 24 hours, I’m now at a Quality Inn in the middle of no where in I think mountains of Maine. Appleby’s was the only restaurant around. My room looks out to a Lowe’s and Walmart, 100 yards away. I resorted to bourbon and peach mango body armor before going to sleep and doing it all over again. Some how, I’m fairly happy with this.
I ended up fine and the area was actually nice in daylight. There is also nothing wrong with Appleby’s. I was being dramatic. And more tired than I was expecting. But bourbon with peach mango body armor I will not apologize for. That was a glorious discovery that evening as I watched some Harry Potter marathon in my room, the glowing comfort of the Walmart/Lowe’s parking lot lights illuminating pretty much everything. The golf had been terrific thus far and despite the driving, heat, peach mango body armor and everything else, the spirit of exploration would not relent. I moved on.