The drive is daunting, but Sugarloaf Golf Club has shown that it is worth the journey.By Wayne Mills | Photography By Jamie Walter
Sugarloaf Golf Club has developed a cult following since it opened in 1985. Ranked first in the state by Golf Digest for much of that time, it has long been considered one of the most difficult courses in New England. But that is hardly the only reason golfers regularly drive two hours from the nearest highway to make the pilgrimage.
In addition to an outstanding challenge, Sugarloaf offers splendid isolation, spectacular mountain vistas, roaring streams, roaming wildlife and pristine mountain air. Most of all, it emits a sense of community from the people of Sugarloaf and the Carrabassett Valley, who clearly are just happy to call it home.
Sugarloaf Golf Club was the brainchild of Peter Weber, a German gymnast who purchased the Sugarloaf Inn in the 1970s. Weber met golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. during a golf outing at Sun Valley, Idaho in 1980 and invited him to look at the proposed site.
“It was a dramatic wilderness of deep woods and rushing streams set deep in the mountains,” Jones said. “They wanted to attract serious sportsmen to their ski area and to experience golf and the other wilderness activities around Carrabassett.”
Jones, Jr., son of the legendary course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., was hired and began designing and building Sugarloaf in 1983. Inspired by the site, he created a masterpiece, while honoring the natural magnificence of the land. “I wanted to design a course that would challenge the best golfers, but would be attractive to all players,” he said. “The course’s wild and aesthetic beauty is the key to that attraction.”
Challenge them he did. Upon opening, Sugarloaf was given a whopping 145 slope rating by the Maine State Golf Association. Golfers, being the masochists that they are, flocked to Sugarloaf to take on the test. Today, the course has been softened, but the visual beauty remains unmatched and it is still a stern test of golf.
“I truly believe it is a challenging, but playable golf course,” head professional Zach Zondlo says. “Jones forces golfers to think on every shot and play within their game. Each hole gives you plenty of options off the tee, and with the correct club you will have a good look at the challenging green complexes.
“Once you reach the approach, you will be faced with the choice of landing the ball short and bouncing it up to the hole, flying it to the green, or using one of the slopes to feed the ball to the hole. Golfers will be faced with all three choices throughout the course, which makes it so much fun to play.”
Along the way, Sugarloaf provides a succession of beautiful vistas. “My personal favorites are the tee shot on the second hole, looking back from the green on the sixth, and the tee shots on 10 and 11,” Zondlo says. “There are so many great views that is tough to pick one.”
Jones’ favorites are the first six holes on the back nine, which play down, around and over the Carrabassett River. He labeled this stretch “The String of Pearls,” a name that has stuck over the years.
Although it may not be easy to get to Sugarloaf, the ultimate reward will far outweigh the inconvenience. This is a special place. Go there and you will understand what the locals already know.