The Robert Trent Jones Junior-designed course at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort first appeared on the Maine golfing scene in 1985. It’s a demanding layout with fairways hewn from a very hilly, heavily wooded site that throws up some spectacular, plunging holes.
The stretch of holes between 10 and 15 has been described as Sugarloaf’s “string of pearls” and it features the signature hole on the course, the short par three 11th, where the green sits more than 120 feet below the level of the elevated tee.A number of holes – the 5th and 6th in particular – have been upgraded in recent times with drainage issues addressed. A program of selective tree removal has also allowed natural sunlight to reach more greens and fairways, promoting growth in key areas around the course.
The key issue when facilities seek to include both golf and skiing as main elements of attraction is how difficult that combination can prove to be. Ski sites need to be near major hills and golf needs to be routed in a manner that makes sense without being burdened by having major terrain changes that clearly go beyond sensibility for the challenges they mete out.
RTJ, Jr. deserves credit for trying to get the most out of a very challenging site. But, the major impediment with Sugarloaf is that the penalties are severe -- to the max. In sum - if you are wayward to even the slightest of degrees -- you will be reaching into your bag for another ball - again and again. Just realize Sugarloaf is just under 7,000 yards and sports a 146 slope! That should send a loud and clear signal that the demands are quite intense.
Part of that is tied to the exacting nature of the terrain -- the other relates to the wooded areas lying just off the narrow fairways. When you leave the prepared areas you clearly enter the wilderness. The wherewithal for recovery is limited and this constant nature of "either or" golf can get quite repetitive and weigh heavily on those golfers unable to consistently find the short grass. Recovery is fundamental to sound golf design and when there's precious little available the balance between appropriate challenge and outright difficulty can be easily lost.
There are memorable holes which commence with the bulk of the inward half. The hole that's often photographed is the short par-4 10th that plunged severely downhill. The temptation to go for the big play is present but those who go for the fool's gold will pay a very steep price unless the execution is laser-like in precision.
The series of holes that follow from the 11th through the 15th have vintage New England scenery but it comes with the aforementioned limited playability quotient.
What would help Sugarloaf score higher would be a widening of the fairway corridors in concert with the a thinning out of the brush just off the fairways. Adding a bit more playability would aid higher handicaps while still having enough teeth to bite when needed.
For many who make just a one time trek to Sugarloaf the need for such a balancing act between "either or" golf may not seem that important. But, playing such golf on a consistent basis can clearly tax the nerves and ball supply beyond a prudent manner.
M. James Ward