Editor’s note: Second in a series reviewing some of the best public golf courses in southern Maine. The series runs Tuesdays in the Press Herald.
SCARBOROUGH — Playing Nonesuch River Golf Club, there’s a chance you might spot the many and varied wildlife that inhabit the course. There are several species of birds along with owls, deer and a moose who made a memorable appearance.
“It was the Fourth of July several years ago and this big, bull moose comes out of the woods and walks across the first fairway. A tournament was going on and we had a big crowd on the first tee,” said the course owner, Dan Hourihan.
The moose went about his business and trotted out of range.
The course, in its 18th season, is a perfect place for wildlife with its thick woods, ponds, ravines, reeds and other natural terrain.
The course is named after the meandering river that runs through the layout. With its generous fairways, particularly on the front nine, and large greens, Nonesuch River easily suits the mid to high handicapper’s game. The low handicapper can get a challenge by playing from the back tees.
“The greens have some subtleties but they’re not overly contoured,” Hourihan said. “You’re usually able to get it close to the hole for a two-putt or a one-putt bogey. We have a lot of tee choices so you can play from the spot you’re comfortable with. There are no blind tee shots.”
Nonesuch offers links-style holes and tree-lined fairways. The landing areas are generous even on the tighter back nine.
The first hole is a dogleg left, par 4, measuring 366 yards from the white tees and 389 from the gold or championship tees.
“It’s a good starting hole,” said Hourihan. “It’s not overly long and there’s plenty of room in the fairway to hit your tee shot. It gives the player a chance to get his swing loose. There’s a big green. Most golfers usually get off to a good start here.”
The course has three par 3s and one par 5 on the front side, and plays to a par 34. The back nine has one par 5, two par 3s and is a par 36.
Nonesuch offers plenty of challenges from the regular tees but isn’t long. From the blue tees it measures just under 6,000 yards. From the whites, it’s 5,561 yards and from the women’s tees it’s 4,827 yards.
From the gold or championships tees, the course stretches out more than 6,300 yards. It makes for an entirely different course and one that can challenge the best players in the area. The gold tees on Nos. 5 and 16 are stuck back in the Central Maine Power corridor, close to the Maine Turnpike. Just when you think you’ve reached the back tee on those holes, you look up and have a few more yards.
The back tee locations on Nos. 9 and 18 make those par 4s at 431 yards and 435 yards all the golf you can handle. The last two holes on each nine make the golf course.
“The last two holes on both nines are excellent,” said golf pro Jim Fairbanks.
Fairbanks was the Nonesuch head pro before moving to the same position at Dunegrass Country Club in Old Orchard Beach, which Hourihan manages.
“Both nine and 18 are uphill, which adds to the length,” Fairbanks said. “You have to hit two great shots to reach the green in regulation. You have to carry the ball to the green because you won’t be able to roll it on.”
From the gold tees, all five par 3s are challenging. The 15th is the easiest, measuring 160 yards from the gold tees, 147 from the blues and 137 from the white. No. 4 is the longest par 3 at 214 yards and has a narrow opening to the green.
“My favorite par 3 is the 17th,” said Fairbanks. “You need to hit a real good shot to get it close. It provides a great finishing hole with 18 to the round.”
The eighth hole at 413 yards from the tips may offer the most daunting second shot on the course, said Hourihan.
“You have a narrow green with bunkers left and right, and water on both sides. You have to hit a good tee shot to give yourself a good chance of hitting the green,” he said.
Combined with the ninth, it’s a bear of a finish on the front.
Nonesuch’s tees and fairways are in excellent condition. Like many courses in the Northeast, the harsh winter affected the greens.
“We had a couple of greens that had winter kill but they are growing back. Never in my 18 years here have we had winter kill on the greens,” he said.
That said, most of the greens are in good shape and Nonesuch fared better than a lot of other courses. Nonesuch has one of the best practice facilities for a public course in the area, and lessons are available.
The X-factor for public courses in Maine is tourism – and the weather. It can make the difference between an average season and a very good one. Being near the beaches and easily accessible from the Turnpike, Nonesuch is nicely situated.
“The state of golf in Maine is highly dependent on tourism,” Hourihan said.
Hourihan was a sports lawyer in Boston when he decided to make a career change, move to Maine and get in the golf business. He bought the nine-hole course that was on the site.
“We bulldozed the old nine, rerouted the holes with new greens, tees and bunkers. We added a back nine,” he said.
As for his career change?
“It was tough to be creative as a lawyer,” he said. “You’re generally as good as your last case or your last hour of billing. I wanted to be involved in something that was long-standing and will be here way beyond me. I’m busier now than I ever was when I was a sports attorney working in Boston.”