Knocked down through the years, Portland keeps coming back stronger.By Jim Fennell
The Old Port section of Portland is the hub of the city. It’s a place to find good food, a festive nightlife and a slice of history. With red-brick buildings and cobblestone streets, the Old Port is a living monument to the resilience of this city by the bay.
Razed three times by war before the Declaration of Independence was signed and later by fire in 1866, Portland was rebuilt each time and always came back stronger. It is in the Old Port where the people regrouped.
It is little wonder that today the Old Port is a lively place day or night. There are few other places that can match it for a good pub crawl. Stop by Sonny’s Restaurant and Bar for lobster-stuffed fried avocado or visit The Thirsty Pig for house-made sausage. Other watering holes worth visiting are The Porthole, J’s Oyster, Central Provisions and Novare Res Bier Café, where the mystery is not just in the name.
The 43rd annual Old Port Festival on June 12 is the unofficial start of summer in downtown Portland and is the largest one-day event in the state. After bouncing back four times from the ashes, it’s easy to understand why the people of Portland celebrate.
The city’s motto is Resurgam, which is Latin for “I will rise again.” A few years ago, the city unveiled a new slogan: Portland, Maine. Yes. Life’s Good Here.
And so is the golf. There are nearly 30 courses within a 20-mile radius of the Old Port, including the Falmouth Country Club, ranked by GolfLink as the No. 1 course in Maine. The Portland Country Club (No. 6) and Sable Oaks (No. 10) also made the top 10.
While Falmouth Country Club and Portland Country Club are private, Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland is open to the public. With tight fairways and fast greens, it provides a challenge to golfers of all skill levels. Located just a few miles from downtown Portland, the course is tucked away like a hidden gem, yet is just minutes from the popular Maine Mall and Portland International Airport.
On the other end of the spectrum is Riverside Municipal, a course that is friendly to golfers who struggle with accuracy. Owned and operated by the city of Portland, Riverside includes an 18-hole and a nine-hole course, along with three more holes for practicing. You can’t beat the price of $25 during the week and $30 on weekends before noon. In the winter, the course is open to cross-country skiing, while there are two outdoor ice rinks near the clubhouse.
There are a handful of other well-maintained, traditional courses in the area, such as Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough and Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center in Cumberland. Nonesuch River features 18 holes, a modern 2,500-square-foot clubhouse and a golf academy. Val Halla has been named the best municipal course and the best value in Maine. It is also home to the First Tee of Maine, the Maine State Golf Association and the Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association. In the winter, there is indoor golf, while the outdoors offers sledding, skiing and snowmobiling.
There is also one very special course worth checking out: Great Chebeague Golf Club. Located on Chebeague Island, it is worth taking the 15-minute ferry ride across Casco Bay to play this memorable nine-hole layout. Playing golf on this 96-year-old links-style island course is reminiscent of the sport’s earliest days. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places last July, one of the few in the United States to make the list. The historic clubhouse was built between 1790 and 1807 and remains in operation. But Chebeague isn’t only historic; it’s also incredibly scenic. It is the only course in Maine with ocean views from every hole.
The signature 7th hole has changed little since it was described in 1924 as “unequalled on the Maine coast.” Golfers still hit their tee shot from a tee box on the Stone Wharf, where lobster boats and the Chebeague ferry land. They must then cross a tidal inlet to a steeply pitched green.
It’s a spectacular setting for a truly memorable hole and a fitting conclusion to any visit to the Old Port.