Riverside Municipal Golf Course in Portland keeps chugging along year after year, providing affordable golf and camaraderie amid rolling hills, wide fairways and tall pines – an oasis within the city.
Riverside, owned by the city of Portland, has been around since 1932. It has hosted 42 Maine Opens, the most of any course in the state, from 1938 to 2010.
“It’s very important for Portland as a tourism draw,” said Will Bartlett of Portland, who was introduced to golf at Riverside as a 12-year-old caddie. “It’s the busiest of all the parks in Portland and it’s the only one that makes money.”
Besides its 18-hole North course, Riverside has a nine-hole South course and a par-3 course that’s home to Riverside’s First Tee program. The South course is a favorite among juniors, retirees and women.
For more accomplished players, the North course is where they like to tee it up. The Presumpscot River runs adjacent to the 12th, 13th and 14th holes. During prolonged heavy rains and storms, water can overflow and shut the course down.
“Riverside is a fairly easy course but it’s not a walk-through,” said the course general manager, Ryan Scott. “Two of the par 5s can be reached in two shots. A lot of holes get narrower near the green because of the bunkers around it.”
Riverside has an active membership. The Riverside Golf Association, both men’s and women’s, run tournaments throughout the season. During the week there are plenty of tee times available to the public. On the weekend, every fourth tee time is open for the public between the peak morning hours.
“It’s a forgiving course,” said Ben Palubinskas of Westbrook. “You can spray your shots and still shoot a half-decent score.”
Both nines open with par 5s with wide fairways. The first hole measures 442 yards from the black tees and 414 from the blue. There are four sets of tees on each hole.
“The first hole helps you ease into your round,” Scott said. “It’s a chance to get a birdie.”
Holes two and three are two of the most challenging. The second plays between 364 and 370 yards, depending on the tees, and is the No. 1 handicap hole.
“There’s out of bounds on the left, and woods and a gully on the right,” Scott said. “You have to drive in straight. The second shot is not easy.”
The green was moved to the right several years ago. It’s long and narrow, and requires a well-struck, accurate shot to get it close.
No. 3 is a downhill, par-3 between 150 to 188 yards depending on the tees. The green, rebuilt a few years ago, is narrow with traps on both sides, and the river behind and below. The hole is one of the best par 3s in the state.
“I feel the par 3s at Riverside are some of the best around,” Palubinskas said.
If golfers can escape those holes without too much damage, they have a chance to get a stroke or two back at the fourth hole, another wide par 5 like the first.
The fifth is only 316 yards, but a well-placed drive is important because of the culvert down the left side and a large fairway trap on the right. The second shot is to a sloping right-to-left green. Getting it close is a challenge.
The sixth hole, measuring between 165 and 180 yards, is the second par 3 on the front nine. It sits on a ridge with drop-offs on both sides; a straight tee shot is a must to hit the green.
Holes seven and eight are short par 4s and birdie opportunities. The ninth, a 383-yard par 4 from the back tees, offers a challenging closing hole to the front nine. The tee is set back in the trees, which makes it a slight dogleg. The drive needs to clear a large hill halfway down the fairway for a flat lie. The second shot is to a slightly elevated green.
The back nine has one par 5, the 10th, and one par 3, the 13th. The 10th, at between 540 and 550 yards, is the best par 5 on the course.
Low handicappers can reach the green in two shots, but it’s a risk to go for it because the entrance to the green narrows with trees on the left and a hazard on the right.
The seven par 4s on the back offer a combination of challenge and beauty. Holes 11, 12 and 18, measuring between 380 and 413 yards, aren’t easy pars and rank as the toughest holes on the course,with the second and ninth. Holes 14 and 15 are arguably the most scenic; trees frame both sides of the fairway. No. 16 requires a drive down into a slight valley and then an uphill second shot. No. 17 is an intriguing hole with an elevated tee and a slight dogleg right. The tee was lengthened a few years ago, adding about 30 yards to the hole.
Superintendent Gene Pierotti is constantly tweaking the course. Over the last few years he’s thinned out wooded areas for improved air circulation and more sun exposure to the shaded parts of the course. Pierotti plans to thin out the trees around the 14th green this winter. He’s enlarged some greens to be more in line with the course’s original design.
“We struggled early in the season but the course has made a comeback. It’s in good condition,” Scott said.
Riverside always has been known as a great layout with a lot of potential. Members are seeing a renewed commitment.
Nancy Caprio, a longtime member from Portland, was excited about last week’s women’s member-guest tournament. One reason was the Riverside Grill, the course’s new restaurant that opened in May for the members and the public.
“They’ve done a terrific job with the restaurant,” she said.
Added Bartlett: “I’ve waited all my life for the city to finally build us a country club.”