Located in Orono, Maine, Penobscot Valley Country Club has hosted numerous important tournaments since the club was established in 1924. Peter nominated Penobscot Valley as a gem in November 2015 and his comments follow:
“Penobscot Valley Country Club is a Donald Ross design and was built in 1924. It is a par 72 at 6,445 yards and feels as if it’s longer. In 2008 it was restored with over thirty bunkers and two greens rebuilt.
There is not a weak hole on the course that has hosted the Maine State Amateur ten times. What I like most about Penobscot Valley is the outstanding variety of its holes. Ross fitted it into its terrain beautifully and aside from the shaping of the greens, it is as natural a layout as you’ll find.”
Donald Ross’s brother Aenas was the construction supervisor when Penobscot Valley was built and Ross was paid $20,000 as a design fee. The old clubhouse was replaced at the start of the new millennium and the new building features a ballroom that overlooks the course.
Small sized greens that are well protected by bunkers are much admired here on a naturally rolling property where players are often hitting from an uneven lie. The course is well-maintained, aided by a state of the art irrigation system which provides first-class playing conditions.
Penobscot Valley Country Club is a 1924 Donald Ross original just south of the University of Maine campus in Orono. The course is set on spectacular rolling topography with the clubhouse perched atop the property’s highest point. Ross maximized every feature of the landscape in designing Penobscot Valley, and the club has played host to numerous Maine amateur golf events.
Ross was arguably the best router of golf courses, and his expertise shines through at Penobscot Valley in two ways. The first is that landforms must be strategically avoided or incorporated through the playing corridors. At holes like the uphill 2nd or 5th, the fairways climb up step-like hills which can stunt overly aggressive drives and leave an awkward lie on the approach. Conversely, on the blind tee shot at the 13th, the wise player can use a speed slot in the ideal landing zone to advance towards the green. Similarly, a well-struck drive at the 15th might also gain additional yardage if the player fades the ball properly to a slope at the dogleg. On every hole, Ross capitalized on the natural terrain rather than creating artificial features.
The other notable characteristic of the routing is that almost no two holes run in the same direction. During a breezy round, players will find it nearly impossible to gain comfort with the wind as its influence shifts constantly…sometimes in multiple ways on a single hole.
Penobscot Valley also has 18 exceptional Donald Ross green complexes, many of which are fronted by steep false fronts. On my first trip around the course, I eventually stopped making the note “never seen a green like this.” Each putting surface had its own unique, challenging, and downright fun character. Some of the more memorable ones include the tilted mini-Biarritz banked into a slope at the par five 3rd, the three tiered 11th with a wraparound bottom layer, and the postage-stamp volcano at the par three 14th. Another fascinating trait of many of the putting surfaces were prongs that burst out of greenside corners. At the 10th, the entire green sharply falls away from a protruding spike in the back right portion making any approach tricky to hold.
My overall rating for the course is held back by lackluster conditions during my round there, particularly on the fairways. This may be due to the fact that I visited earlier in the season (June), and because of rainy days prior to my arrival, though all three of the other nearby courses I played were very well manicured. In my opinion, having tighter, firmer fairways at Penobscot Valley would only enhance the already riveting opportunities to play the ball on the ground. Before you book the next available flight to Bangor International Airport, you may want to call and check in on the course conditions.
Even with this one bit of hesitation, I consider Penobscot Valley among my favorite Ross courses architecturally. Orono is lucky to have a club which has made notable efforts to preserve the original, strategic merits of the design. It is a great course for travelers to include on a visit to Maine and must be a pleasure for members to experience time and time again.