When the snow melts, golf takes center stage at Sunday River and the Bethel Inn.Written by Rob Duca
When people think of Bethel, Maine, steep ski slopes with freshly packed snow and scenic cross-country trails winding through the woods are usually the first images that comes to mind. While the Sunday River Ski Resort, located minutes from the center of Bethel, is certainly the principal attraction during winter, the area is also a summer paradise for golfing, boating, fishing, biking and a wide assortment of adventure activities.
The region is within easy reach regardless of your New England location. It is a three-hour drive from Boston, 90 minutes from Portland, one hour from North Conway, New Hampshire, four hours from Rhode Island and just across the border from Vermont.
Skiing is big here, but when the temperatures warm up, so is golfing. The Sunday River Golf Club is championship quality. Built by Robert Trent Jones Jr., it opened in 2005 and immediately drew raves from a host of national golf publications. Golf Magazine listed it among the Top 100 Courses You Can Play, while it landed in Golf Digest’s Top 10 Best Upscale Public Courses. Travel + Leisure magazine called it one of the Top 10 best new courses in the world, and GolfWeek has named it the No. 1 course in Maine.
The course follows the natural topography of the Mahoosuc Range that towers over the Sunday River valley. Weaving through the picturesque forests in a spectacular mountain setting, it provides spell-binding views on virtually every hole. At 7,130 yards from the tips, it surely will test any golfer’s game.
The unique terrain features dramatic elevation changes, and every hole is an adventure unto itself, secluded from any other. From a pure playing standpoint, Jones crafted a course that presents the golfer with risk-reward choices throughout the round, along with wide fairways, massive greens and strategically placed bunkers and doglegs.
Jones has called Sunday River “a wilderness golf course” that allows golfers to “take a deep breath, let it out, enjoy the great vistas and then hit the shot as far as they can.” One of the main features is numerous sandy waste areas, a design that echoes iconic Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. Jones says he tried to replicate how the Ice Age might have left sandy areas at Sunday River.
Minutes away is another gem, the Bethel Inn & Country Club. Built in 1913 and expanded to 18 holes in 1988 by legendary designer Geoffrey Cornish, the course offers beauty and mountain vistas across a 6,663-yard, par-72 layout. Featuring expansive greens, tree-lined fairways and five sets of tee boxes, this is a course that can be enjoyed by golfers of all ability.
It has been listed among the top 10 resort courses in the Northeast, and it serves as host for the annual New England PGA Fall Festival Pro-Am.
Looking for something a little wilder after golf? Mountain zip line rides could be your answer. Or how about mountain biking? It’s all here.
Lodging options to accommodate every budget are plentiful, but if you’re seeking a truly special place, the Bethel Inn won’t disappoint. This classic New England resort is in the center of town and overlooks the golf course. The inn celebrated its 100th anniversary last year with an extensive facelift to the lobby, dining rooms and other public spaces. Guest bedroom upgrades are being completed this year.
Set on more than 200 acres, the resort features a lake house with kayaks and canoes, a health club, sauna and spa services. An elegant dining room includes classic New England fare with an award-winning wine list, while the more casual Millbrook Tavern & Grille is a great spot to unwind after a round of golf.
The resort offers a variety of play, stay and dine golf getaways that cater to families or a traditional buddy trip. There are also PGA Golf School packages for couples and groups.
The six-mile drive into Newry, where Sunday River is located, will unveil many more lodging and dining options. The slope-side Shipyard Brew Haus at the White Cap Lodge is available for summer parties and banquets. Eighteen varieties of micro-brewed beers produced by Shipyard Brewery, range from Brewer’s Brown Ale and Classic Fin Stout to a wide selection of summer ales and are poured at Sunday River’s Grand Summit Hotel, the Jordan Grand Hotel and the Bethel Inn’s cozy Millbrook Tavern & Grille.
If you prefer staying with the slopes and peaks just outside your window, the Jordan Grand is Sunday River’s premier lodging destination and is just two miles from the golf course. The property includes an outdoor heated pool with two hot tubs, a spa and a health club.
The slogan on Maine license plates reads Vacationland. It’s one that golfers can embrace right alongside skiers.