Review: Belgrade Lakes Golf Club

Course Name: Belgrade Lakes Golf Club

Designer: Clive Clark (1998)

Location: Belgrade Lakes, Maine

History: Situated just north of Augusta in Central Maine, Belgrade Lakes is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Harold Alfond, who yearned for a “country club for the average guy.” In 1998, his vision was realized when British golfer Clive Clark designed a championship course overlooking the lakes. The course opened to immediate acclaim and currently holds the following awards:

  • #1 Best Course in Maine – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #2 Public Course in Maine – Golf Magazine (2016)
  • #1 Public Course in Maine – Golfweek (2019)

Conditions: 9/10, Belgrade Lakes is one of the best conditioned public courses in America with lush fairways, well-maintained teeboxes and bunkers, and extremely fast bentgrass greens.

Value: 5/10, Belgrade Lakes is a great public course, but rounds here aren’t cheap at $145 to walk and $175 to ride in peak season. Shelf season rates in May and October are fairly competitive at $80/$110, but weather can be dicey these times of year.

Scorecard:

Tee                                 Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                            71            6723               72.5              137

Gold                              71            6249               70.0              133

White                           71            5804               67.4              126

Red                               71            5168               68.8              122

Hole Descriptions: Maine isn’t exactly a golf destination, but most of the top courses in the Pine Tree State are public, with Belgrade Lakes being one of the best. In fact, Belgrade Lakes is currently the best true public course (i.e. not including Taconic) I’ve played in all of New England, and is the only course in the region to be included in the Top 100 Publics.

What makes Belgrade Lakes so good? Maine is a beautiful state and Belgrade Lakes perfectly captures its natural beauty with plenty of wild elevation changes, gorgeous panoramic views of the lakes, and wonderful color contrast between the pine trees and the lush, green fairways. Belgrade Lakes is certainly a modern course with a more “target golf” feel, but I really enjoyed some of the idiosyncrasies that make it stand out. One of the most noteworthy design features is glacial rocks that line many of these fairways and add a unique look from the teebox. These rocks are certainly in play and can yield anything from a lost ball to a lucky bounce back into the fairway. Other design features to highlight include a fantastic double green on 9/18 and oval-shaped railroad-tie bunkers that have a very unique appearance. Coupled with excellent conditions and wonderful service, it’s not surprising this course is considered by many the best in Maine.

The opening hole is not only a strong starting hole but also my favorite at Belgrade Lakes as a downhill 435 yard par 4. I began my round in thick fog and thought the hole was tremendous then, but it wasn’t until I finished my round that I was able to take in the incredible views from this teebox. Unfortunately, this is one of the only water views you get on the course, but they clearly prioritized a clubhouse on the highest point and I can’t fault them for that. The 1st offers an exhilarating teeshot to a wide tree-lined fairway that narrows and turns sharply left with a speed slot at 290 yards. From here, this hole continues downhill to a left-to-right sloped green.

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I’m convinced this is one of the best and most fun opening teeshots in America
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Looking back from the 1st green

At 168 yards, the 2nd hole is the shortest of the five par threes and also the easiest. Playing slightly downhill, this hole features a narrow green sloped hard back-to-front with two bunkers left and one deep.

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The par 3 2nd

The 3rd is the shortest of the par fives at Belgrade Lakes and is a great risk-reward hole at just 475 yards. This hole plays straightaway, and is the first hole to prominently feature the rocks, which line the right side of this fairway. While this hole is certainly reachable in two, doing so requires an accurate shot, as water tightly lines the left side of the final 120 yards. This elevated green again runs back-to-front with a bunker on the left.

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The par 5 3rd
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The risk-reward approach on 3 – look at the rocks on the right!

At 443 yards, the 4th is the longest par 4 on the course and also one of the most difficult. Playing straightaway, this hole feels a bit claustrophobic with a narrow tree-lined fairway constricted even further by bunkers on the left at 230 yards. I like the stepwise bunkering on this hole, especially the crossbunker on the right about 100 yards short of the green that blocks your sightline from the right fairway. This green is wide yet shallow and features numerous undulations. Par here goes a long way towards a good round.

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The long par 4 4th is a difficult hole

The 5th is another medium-length par 3 at 174 yards and my favorite of a rather bland set of one-shotters. This is another difficult hole with a carry over water the entire way to a circular back-to-front sloped green guarded by a steep false front and three bunkers long with that unique railroad-tie bunkering.

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The par 3 5th requires a well-struck shot

At 510 yards, the 6th is another short par 5 that rewards accuracy. This hole is fairly tight with OB right and a tall tree down the left fairway that subconsciously forces you right. On your second shot, you’ll have the option of laying up to a tiny sliver of fairway to the left or carrying it to the final portion of fairway, which is lined by water on the right for the final 80 yards. This narrow green runs left-to-right with a bunker right.

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The par 5 6th features more rock formations

Although only 409 yards, the par 4 7th is a challenging hole due to its awkward teeshot. With a forced carry of almost 200 yards, this teeshot demands a left-to-right ballflight as this fairway turns right almost as soon as it begins. This approach plays over a ditch to an elevated back-to-front sloped green with a giant, deep bunker short left.

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My draw was not suited for the par 4 7th

The 8th hole is the third par 3 on the front 9 and the longest at 207 yards. Playing slightly uphill to a large green, the only danger on this hole comes in the form of three bunkers long and right. This green is another that slopes back-to-front.

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The par 3 8th

The 9th is one of the best holes at Belgrade Lakes as a stout 439 yard dogleg left. Offering a nice contrast to the 7th, this hole demands a right-to-left ballflight to find this generous fairway. Longer hitters can try to cut the corner here, but will need to carry the jagged rocks that line the entire left side of the hole. This hole features a great approach to a shared green complex with a brutal false front and fierce back-to-front slope.

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The blind 9th teeshot
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The majestic clubhouse sits well above the 9th green
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Looking back from the 9th green

After a walk up a steep hill, you reach the 10th and again get glimpses of the lakes. This is one of several shorter par fours on the back 9 that provides a good scoring opportunity. This hole plays straight downhill at 377 yards to a generous fairway that narrows to almost nothing at 265 yards. This approach plays back uphill to a small, flat green guarded by two bunkers short right.

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The downhill 10th is another sleek hole

The 11th is probably the blandest hole on the course but is innocuous enough as a straightaway 433 yard par 4 with no real danger. Hit two straight shots and you should make par on this long hole.

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The straightaway par 4 11th

At 585 yards, the par 5 12th is the number 1 handicap and an absolute marathon of a hole. This teeshot plays downhill and straightaway to a generous fairway lined by thick forest left. The second shot is blind over a patch of rough to a second fairway for the final 160 yards. This green is tucked behind trees on the right and is guarded by a deep bunker left. A notable feature on this hole is two large meteorite-like rocks on the right fairway.

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A tight chute guards an otherwise wide fairway on the 12th

The 13th is the longest par 3 at Belgrade Lakes at a healthy 229 yards. This is a difficult hole for sure, with a tiny elevated green guarded by bunkers short and right and thick rough on all sides. This green runs hard back-to-front.

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The par 3 13th is another difficult par

At 358 yards, the par 4 14th is on the shorter side but plays uphill and blind on the teeshot. This fairway progressively narrows and turns to the right as you near this green, which hangs perilously over a ledge and bunker on the right. This green slopes left-to-right.

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The blind 14th teeshot

At just 334 yards, the 15th is an interesting hole and the shortest par 4 at Belgrade Lakes. Because it plays uphill, I don’t think it’s truly reachable from the Tips, but longer hitters can absolutely rip driver and leave a short pitch in. For such a short hole, this hole requires a serious 190 yard carry over wasteland just to reach the fairway. Two deep bunkers loom between you and the hole at 240 yards, forcing the golfer to either lay-up short or try to carry them. This long, narrow green features two tiers and runs hard back-to-front.

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The uphill par 4 15th

At 558 yards, the 16th is another long par 5 and one of my least favorite holes on the course. Playing straightaway and uphill the entire way, this tight, tree-lined hole features an immediate 200 yard forced carry over water. My problem with this hole comes with a tree on the left side of the fairway at 275 yards that is an eyesore and more importantly blocks many second shots that find the fairway. It simply has no business being there and is something you’re akin to seeing on a cheap muni. After this, the hole continues uphill to an elevated green guarded by six deep bunkers right.

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Why a tree there instead of a crossbunker?

The 17th is the final par 3 at 189 yards. This hole plays very similar to the 8th as a slightly uphill one-shotter to a narrow green guarded by numerous bunkers right. This green plays as somewhat of a reverse redan and slopes hard left-to-right and back-to-front.

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The par 3 17th

The closing hole is the best hole on the back 9 as a strong 400 yard par 4. Playing uphill and blind on the drive, this hole features a wide fairway with another fairway tree on the right at 250 yards. This approach is excellent to a double green guarded by a bunker short and numerous swales once you reach the surface.

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The blind 18th teeshot
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The 18th approach – they should cut down those trees blocking the clubhouse!

General Comments: I’m a bit surprised that Belgrade Lakes doesn’t offer a full range and instead only has a net to hit balls into near the 1st tee. The practice green, however, sits perched atop the highest point of the property and offers expansive views of the beautiful Belgrade Lakes. I played as a single on a summer weekend early morning and pretty much had the course to myself at a great pace. I’ve heard pace of play is generally fantastic, and I’m not surprised given its isolated location.

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The “driving range” at Belgrade Lakes

The course encourages walking, but to be honest I’m not sure how walkable Belgrade Lakes truly is. After walking the Black Tees in 80+ degrees, the elevation changes really got to me and I could barely make it up the steep hill towards the clubhouse. The clubhouse, however, is wonderful and offers panoramic views from the patio – perfect for post-round lobster and drinks. Caddies are available on request, but I’m not sure how frequently they’re utilized…Belgrade Lakes is one of the best known dog-friendly courses in America and they actively encourage you to bring your four-legged friend, which is awesome!

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The practice green’s views are A+

Verdict: Belgrade Lakes puts Maine on the golf map with a dazzling array of elevation changes, unique rock formations, and tremendous conditioning. While the course isn’t perfect by any means, it is a thoroughly enjoyable play and is undoubtedly one of the best public courses in New England. I highly recommend you sneak a round in here if you’re vacationing to Maine.


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