Review: Cape Arundel Golf Club

Course Name: Cape Arundel Golf Club

Designer: Alex Findlay (1900, 9 holes), Walter Travis (1920, Redesign), Bruce Hepner (2000’s, Restoration)

Location: Kennebunkport, Maine

History: Located on the scenic Southern Maine coastline, Cape Arundel was founded in 1896 by Kennebunkport’s summer residents. In 1900, the prolific Alex Findlay laid out a primitive 9-hole layout on the rolling farmland. By 1920, it was apparent that this was not sufficient and the Club recruited Walter Travis to design a championship course on just 88 acres! He used much of the original land, but purchased additional land for current-day holes 14-18. Since the early 2000’s, Bruce Hepner has been a consultant to the course and restored many of Travis’ original elements.

Cape Arundel is perhaps most famous for being the summer home to the Bush family and George H.W. Bush served as President of the Club between 1949-1954 long before serving as a slightly more important President. Over the years, the Bushes have hosted many famous guests, including Phil Mickelson who set the course record with a 60 in 2006. Just the thought of Phil crushing the 5859 yard course (and taking W’s money) makes me laugh. Accolades for Cape Arundel include:

  • #5 Best Course in Maine – Top100golfcourse.com (2018)
  • #1 Best Public Course in Maine – Golfweek (2020)

Conditions: 8/10, Overall, Cape Arundel is in strong condition with smooth bentgrass greens and firm fairways and teeboxes.

Value: 4/10, Although a private course, Cape Arundel is open to the public and offers fair value at $110 in peak season and $80 during shelf seasons. These prices are without cart, but you shouldn’t be using a cart on this perfect walking course anyway!

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                 69           5859              67.8              123

White                69           5354               65.1              116

Green                69           5018               68.2              120

Hole Descriptions: At first glance, it’s easy to scoff at a course that doesn’t reach 5900 yards from the Black Tees. Cape Arundel, however, is a wonderful course that all those interested in golf architecture should visit. Although short, this par 69 only features one par five and contains some of the boldest greens in golf so fewer birdies are made than you’d expect. No, it will never host a U.S. Open, but it shouldn’t have to to be considered a great course. Dozens of PGA Pros have enjoyed playing the course with the Bushes, and it’s hard not to love a course where you have wedge in your hand on many holes and the greens and their surroundings offer a wide variety of recovery options and strategy. In a state as golf-poor as Maine, Cape Arundel is surely one of the highlights.

What Walter Travis created on just 88 acres is nothing short of an architectural feat. On very gentle land, he maximized the use of local waterways to create a strong variety of angles and doglegs that keep the golfer engaged throughout the round. This is my second Travis course after Scranton and it’s abundantly evident that his greatest strength as a designer was creating wonderful green complexes that make par an impressive score on any hole, regardless of the distance. Another perk of such a small property is the fact that the course is a wonderful walk, and I struggle to think of a nicer walking course than Cape Arundel. Shooting my lowest round of the year in a relaxed 2.5 hours breathing in that fresh Maine air is hard to beat.

The best holes at Cape Arundel utilize the water and the opening hole is certainly one of my favorites. At 367 yards, this straightaway par 4 plays away from the clubhouse with the Kennebunk River running down the left the entire way.  The land movement on this fairway adds a lot of character with a giant swale between 200 and 225 yards that leaves a blind approach. A pair of bunkers dots the right side at 225 yards and a solitary bunker guards just right of a giant back-to-front sloped green with multiple plateaus. This is an excellent (and gorgeous) hole that provides a fitting introduction to natural beauty that is Cape Arundel.

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The par 4 opener
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The lovely approach at 1

For such a short course, it’s somewhat surprising that there’s only one driveable par 4 and it comes early on with the 309 yard 2nd. This is an interesting hole with a memorable teebox jutting out where two rivers meet. A brief uphill forced carry is required to a fairway that turns slightly left with trees on both sides. Longer hitters can likely reach this green but bunkers on either side of a narrowed fairway at 270 yards make this a risky endeavor. This circular green is one of the flattest on the course but still features enough bumps and run-offs to make a long putt difficult.

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The par 4 2nd
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The approach at 2

If you found the 153 yard 3rd hole on any MacRaynor course, I believe it’d be labeled an Eden template with its wicked back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers short and right. This hole is further complicated by a mild forced carry and water down the left.

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The par 3 3rd – another fine hole

At 398 yards, the par 4 4th hole is the number 1 handicap if for nothing but its length. This is one of the lesser holes on the course with a straightaway fairway lined by pine trees and chocolate drop mounds. This fairway shares a set of bunkers on the right with the 8th hole at 270 yards. Like many holes at Cape Arundel, the best feature of this hole is the green, which is large, square, and undulating.

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The tight par 4 4th

The 5th is a fascinating hole as a 340 yard dogleg left par 4. The green’s only about 310 yards from the teebox, but juts out far to the left and would require a heroic carry to reach in one. The ideal teeshot here is out to a wide slab of fairway to the right that ends at about 285 yards with sporadic bunkers and mounds to the left. A small creek and valley separate the fairway and green and create a rare aerial approach at Cape Arundel. Given the hole’s quirky setup, the length of the drive does little to change the distance on the approach but this wide green certainly favors certain angles depending on pin position. This green slopes predominantly left-to-right with a small thumbprint in the front and small bunkers surrounding it short and long.

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The confusing sight from the 5th teebox
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The excellent approach at 5

A perfect epitomization of the course itself, the short but sweet 6th hole plays just 118 yards. This simple yet effective hole plays slightly downhill over a pond the entire way. A severely back-to-front sloped circular green yields fewer birdies than you’d think.

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The par 3 6th

The 389 yard 7th hole is another straightaway par 4 with a wide fairway lined by mounds of rough and bunkers down the right between 185 and 230 yards. More mounding and bunkering lines this giant, undulating green and makes for a difficult recovery.

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The par 4 7th
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Plenty of danger surrounds these greens

At 378 yards, the par 4 8th yet again plays straightaway with a straightforward teeshot to a generous fairway lined by trees and bunkers down the right at 240 yards. While bland for most of its length, this hole is fascinating for the final 50 yards with two giant bunkers tightening the fairway and a slightly uphill approach to a wild green you need to see to believe. Predominantly sloped back-to-front, this green features multiple plateaus including one on the left which yields a brutal pin.

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The par 4 8th
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The tremendous green complex at 8

After a green-to-tee walk of about 3 feet, you reach the lone par 5 at Cape Arundel in the 476 yard 9th. With a teeshot through a tight chute, this hole plays as a severe dogleg left with the dogleg occuring at about 220 yards with bunkers down the right. Those who desire to cut the corner here will need to play a draw due to trees down the left. From here, this approach runs uphill with a trio of bunkers about 100 yards short of the green. This large green generally runs back-to-front and left-to-right with deep bunkers right and long.

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The par 5 9th
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The uphill approach at 9

The 333 yard par 4 10th is another extremely interesting hole that would be flat and boring if it weren’t for Travis’ genius. The fairway here bends to the right and the direct line to the green is shrouded by a highly unique cluster of chocolate drop mounds that are usually draped in fescue. Golfers can still be highly aggressive off the tee, but these mounds are certainly in the back of your mind. Travis punishes you with the smallest green at Cape Arundel containing devilish shelves and slopes on all four sides. A bunker short right is especially deep and nasty.

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The par 4 10th with its characteristic mounding

The 11th hole is a lovely Cape-like hole with a diagonal teeshot over water to a fairway angled left. At 333 yards, longer hitters will be tempted to try to get near the green while shorter players will have to contend with two bunkers on the left at 175 and 225 yards. The final 50 yards of this hole are eventful with a giant swale in the fairway, multiple chocolate drop mounds on the left, and bunkers guarding this green on the right and back left. This is another exotic green with a predominant left-to-right slope off a plateau and almost punchbowl features.

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The teeshot at 11 provides the golfer numerous options
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A closer look at the 11th green

At 399 yards, the 12th hole is the longest par 4 at Cape Arundel (by 1 yard) but is one of the more mundane holes on the course as a slight dogleg right. Tall pines at the corner of the dogleg serve two functions: 1.) To inhibit those from cutting the corner and 2.) Hide a bunker on the right at 240 yards. This large, circular green features multiple plateaus and is guarded by a bunker on the right.

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The par 4 12th

Apparently the 13th hole was George H. W. Bush’s favorite on the course and I think we share similar tastes. At 167 yards, this memorable par 3 sits on a beautiful piece of the property where the Kennebunk River and its tributaries meet. Although stunningly beautiful with its bridges, this hole demands your attention with a forced carry to a large back-to-front sloped green with a vicious false front and bunkers on either side. I shot a great score at Cape Arundel but made double bogey here after a loose iron found the greenside bunker.

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The gorgeous par 3 13th

The 387 yard par 4 14th hole serves a purpose in transporting the golfer to the final stretch of holes on the other side of the River. It accomplishes this with the most intimidating teeshot at Cape Arundel with an 135 yard immediate forced carry through a tight chute. While the fairway is wider than first appears, anything left is flirting with additional water. Once you reach the fairway, this hole is more standard with an undulating green lined by bunkers on either side and an interesting patch of rough just short in the fairway.

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The beautiful yet frightening teeshot at 14
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The approach at 14

With an old cemetery at your back, the 15th hole is a short, straightaway par 4 at 341 yards. A mound of rough juts into the left fairway at 220 yards with additional rough on either side at 270 yards. The best angle to this green is from the left due to a small apple (?) tree short right of the green that may block your view from the right. A narrow bunker guards just left of a square green that’s flat by Cape Arundel’s standards.

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The par 4 15th

At 210 yards, the 16th hole is the final one-shotter at Cape Arundel and a difficult one despite its simplicity. Besides a rocky outcropping of trees well short right, this hole is essentially a flat, open field with no hazards. The green and length, however, are enough to make it a tough par with a severe back-to-front tilt and steep slopes along the edges.

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The long par 3 16th

Utilizing the same land as the preceding hole, the 358 yard par 4 17th doesn’t initially appear like much with a semi-blind uphill teeshot to a generous fairway. Anything short of a plateau at 270 yards or so will leave a blind downhill approach over a large bunker on the left. Once you reach the bunker, this hole becomes special with a stunning reveal of a green shrouded in trees at the edge of the water. Members know to land the ball short here and watch it carom down an embankment onto a rare front-to-back sloped green with several tiers.

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The semi-blind teeshot at 17
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The 17th green occupies a truly picturesque setting

Cape Arundel finishes as strong as it begins with another fantastic hole in the 397 yard par 4 18th. This hole takes the golfer back across the River with another moderate forced carry to a generous fairway. From here, the hole plays uphill to a large, back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers left and long.

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Another exhilarating teeshot awaits the golfer at the last
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The Club’s driveway bisects the fairway at 18

General Comments: Cape Arundel’s clubhouse, nicknamed “41 House”, is quaint and fits the course wonderfully. There’s absolutely nothing flashy about Cape Arundel and the clubhouse sits perfectly in its environment with a bucolic feel and Adirondacks overlooking the gorgeous Kennebunkport River. It’s not hard to see why the Bush family has called Kennebunkport home for many years.

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Cape Arundel’s iconic green clubhouse

Although I didn’t use it, Cape Arundel opened up a brand new practice facility down the street and it is apparently spectacular. On site, the only practice facility is a small putting green by the clubhouse. Pace of play was tremendous on a crisp Fall afternoon and it’s hard to imagine a better walking course!

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If there’s a better practice green setting, please let me know

Verdict: Short but very sweet, Walter Travis’ Cape Arundel offers a truly wonderful setting in picturesque Southern Maine. Boasting some of the finest greens complexes anywhere and one of the best walks, this course is the perfect example of why length isn’t necessary for greatness. I highly recommend Cape Arundel to anyone visiting Portland or even for those looking for a new course in the Boston area.


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