Cape Arundel Golf Club was founded as Kennebunkport Golf Club in 1896, with the much under-appreciated Alexander H. Findlay (who some claim to be “The Father of American Golf” with almost a hundred designs to his name by the end of the 19th century) laying out the club’s original 9-hole course in 1900.
The renamed Cape Arundel Golf Club commissioned three-time US Amateur Champion Walter Travis to extend its 9-hole course in the early 1920s and the architect somehow managed to shoehorn eighteen holes into a tight, 88-acre property along the tidal branches of the Kennebunk River, close to where its waters flow into Nantucket Sound.
Measuring a mere 5,881 yards from the back tees and playing to a par of 69, the layout is definitely short by modern standards, but often the length of a course and the fun that can be derived from playing it are in inverse proportion to one another, so don’t be swayed by those who might dismiss Cape Arundel as a relic of the past.
There’s only one par five on the card, at the 480-yard left doglegged 9th hole, and only one of the ten par four holes on this links-style layout (the right doglegged 12th) measures in excess of 400 yards. The subtle addition of mounding on relatively flat terrain helps to obscure approaches into small, often wind-protected greens.
Renaissance Golf Design lists Cape Arundel as one of the clubs where it provides consultation services.
Cape Arundel is an example of a well preserved course that understands how to be properly presented. After the opening tee shot flys over a hollow in the fairway and lands atop a ridge you see the green with its 3 foot false front. This sets the tone for the day. As a set, Cape Arundel’s greens have to be some of the finest I have ever seen. Almost random in nature they have slopes that follow grade and fall off in a way that is nothing but artistic. As a course that does not even tip out at 6000 yards, it is paramount that the greens can hold defence and they surely do. I thought standout holes were the par 4 5th which requires a drive of no more than 250 then an approach over a native area to a green protected by one small bunker and a hump in the front center of the green. The par 4 11th that features a diagonal tee shot over the river and calls for an approach into a punchbowl like green. And the par 4 17th with a blind approach down into a natural valley to a green with massive movements and false fronts left and front. What this course lacks in yardage is easily made up by its requirements in shot variety and putts that often break 2 or more different ways when rolling towards the pin. As far as summer courses go, it would be hard to find a more playable, relaxing, and strategic one than this.
As noted in other reviews below, Cape Arundel is finally receiving the recognition it deserves with its recent rating in the 147 Custodians, and the Golf Architecture Community’s focus on Walter Travis. In my opinion, any true student of the game should pay a visit to Cape Arundel to study its green complexes. In a word, a round at Cape Arundel is surreal.
I am lucky enough to be engaged to a ‘Mainah’, and while visiting with her family was fortunate to visit Cape Arundel. The course is listed as being private, but there are open public tee times, many of which are reasonably affordable in the afternoon, especially since it is walkable for virtually any player. Cape Arundel is the home course to the Bush family, and many other reviewers have mentioned seeing past presidents playing in the morning.
Cape Arundel takes advantage of its gently rolling topography and tidal rivers for hazards, and is also impacted by wind. There is a refreshing lack of trees throughout the course, yet wildlife is present at every turn. Strangely, the entry driveway bisects many holes as you arrive at the property. Despite this, the quaint clubhouse and potentially most picturesque putting green in America could put any player at ease before their round.
While there are so many amazing holes at Arundel, some of the most memorable from my round include:
• #1: A stunner from the first tee. The tee shot contains natural hazards with the Grist Mill Pond on the left, and a massive swale causing a blind tee shot on the fairway. The green complex is out of sight if you do not surpass this landform.
• #2: A potentially drivable par four with natural hazards down the left, and beautiful bunkering short and long.
• #5: This is the first hole on the course without a run-up option. The player must first place their tee ball to an ‘island’ fairway, noted by a charming 150 yard marker. From there, a mid to short iron is required to hit an aerial shot to a quasi-heart shaped green with fascinating contours throughout.
• #11: This par four has a simply inspirational tee shot, asking the player to bite off all they can chew. However, cutting out too much of the hole is problematic as well, as spin will be necessary to position the ball properly.
• #13: This medium length par three plays over Grist Mill Pond to one of the largest greens on the golf course. At low tide, you can see the fate of many players who miscalculated yardage and wind. However, despite its intimidating nature, there is actually a lot of room short of the putting surface. It is a great example of natural visual intimidation.
• #15: Travis uses the terrain as a natural hazard on this short par 4. From the tee box, I could not actually tell what was in the ditch on the left side of the fairway. It turns out, there was no fairway at all – in fact, it was a deep hole of lengthy rough. The player must think their way through the intricate design.
• ***#17: The 17th hole at Cape Arundel is among my favorite of the roughly 3500 played, and its green may be my lifetime favorite. Once again, a player taking driver may not necessarily be rewarded here. Instead, it is crucial for the golfer to find a yardage that suits their wedge play, positioned well away from fairway bunkers. From there, the golfer must make a blind approach shot to a wild green that runs away from them hard toward Grist Mill Pond. There are terraces, swales…just about any compelling feature on any green anywhere, all in one. The best play on this hole may actually be to land the ball 30 yards short of the putting surface. I have never seen a green like it before – a true one-of-a-kind masterpiece.***
• #18: If standing on the tiny, coastal tee box for this hole does not inspire you and excite you for a return trip, you may wish to find a new sport!
Cape Arundel is truly divine. The 17th hole is among my favorite ever played, and like many other Maine courses, the atmosphere remains relaxed and charming at all points in the round. Their driving range is off-site, but provides an amazing practice facility. While I think Cape Arundel could benefit from slightly firmer, tighter fairways, there are virtually no other aspects of the course I would change. It is excellent in all ways, fitting the natural topography perfectly with extremely compelling green complexes throughout.
Cape Arundel is well worth the trip to Maine! I cannot say enough positive things about this genius, work-of-art.
Golf in the state of Maine has a relatively short, but picturesque season. Cape Arundel’s profile has significantly improved in the past couple of years due to its inclusion in the ‘147 Custodians’ list from golfclubatlas.com.
Having played several of Walter Travis’ special courses, I was eager to see another set of his green complexes, and Cape Arundel’s greens didn’t disappoint – in fact, they could be his best.
While the course itself is laid out on gentle topography, and the length being very manageable from every set of tees, the defense is the shaping of the greens. Due to the compact piece of land, on several occasions, the routing brings a few greens close to each other, so you get to see up close the beauty of them from many different angles. We joked that after 125 years, nobody has figured out the contours on these putting surfaces, and there’s no guarantee anybody will in the next 125 years either!
The low-key nature of the club, it’s contribution to golfing history and the idyllic setting along the Grist Mill Pond, makes Cape Arundel a brilliant day’s golf.
This is simply a fun golf course with unique holes, easy walk, and arguably a Top 10 set of greens via Walter Travis. The course exemplifies the Maine spirit of golf as there is no food, no alcohol - the focus is on golf. Play 18, and have a beer and a lobster at Federal Jacks in Kennebunk after the round.