Along with the par-4 fourth, the par-5 14th is also a signature hole at Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine. (Mike Bailey/Golf Advisor) Sugarloaf Golf Club, designed by Geoffrey Cornish and opened in 1967, has been perennially ranked as Maine's top public course. (Courtesy of Sugarloaf G.C.) The mountaintop Belgrade Lakes Golf Club is laid out features rolling fairways lined with stands of timber, alongside white granite outcroppings. (Courtesy of Belgrade Lakes G.C.) Here's the par-4 finishing hole at Maine's Sunday River Golf Club, a beautiful and challenging Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design. (Mike Bailey/Golf Advisor) Kebo Valley Golf Club is the oldest golf club in Maine, and the eighth oldest in United States. (Courtesy of Kebo Valley G.C.)

Maine draw: Five public gems golfers can enjoy in the Pinetree State

It's the most northeastern state in the United States, known for Maine lobster, blueberry pie, L.L. Bean and Stephen King. It's not so well known, perhaps for its golf, which just might be underrated. While there isn't quantity, there's pretty good quality. And with only 1.3 million in population, most of the public golf courses in Maine aren't crowded or overpriced.

And Maine isn't as difficult to get to as you might think. The state border is less than 100 miles from Boston, so if you're planning a New England golf trip, Maine should be on your radar.

With that said, here are my top five public courses you can play in Maine:

Samoset Resort, Rockport, Maine

There's no substitute for ocean views and Samoset Resort, which goes back to 1902, has more than its share. It wasn't until 1974 that Samoset Resort's golf course became 18 holes as architect Robert Elder came in and not only added the new nine but modified the existing course as well. And there have been several modifications since, including architect Geoffrey Cornish's improvements in 1990. What stands today is a very well conditioned golf course with some of the best views in America which includes two of the best par 5s you'll ever play: the dogleg-left fourth hole that bends toward the historic Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, and the 14th, which opens up to the Atlantic on the downhill approach shot. Add to that above-average accommodations, a sports club and excellent dining, and you've got a bucket-list destination.

Sugarloaf Golf Club, Kingfield, Maine

Perennially the top-ranked course in the state, Sugarloaf Golf Club has plenty of elevation change, great mountain views and even some uphill approaches to blind greens. Designed by Kyle Phillips and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., at nearly 7,000 yards, it's also one of the toughest courses you'll ever play. With a slope rating of 151 from the tips and trees on both sides of most of the fairways, it requires accuracy and skill. The back nine is especially scenic along the Carrabassett River. Stay-and-play packages are available through the resort's Grand Summit Hotel.

Belgrade Lakes (Maine) Golf Club

Belgrade Lakes Golf Club -- situated near Augusta, in the midst of central Maine's Lake District -- also gets votes for the best public course the state. Designed by Clive Clark, golfers seem to like everything about it, including the pace of play, which always seems to be good. The mountaintop course is laid out on a 240-acre swath of land and features rolling fairways lined with stands of timber, alongside white granite outcroppings. Along the way, you'll find beautiful par 3s, a nice variety of par 4s, good risk-reward par 5s, and old-style cross bunkering throughout.

Sunday River Golf Club, Newry, Maine

You could certainly argue that Sunday River Golf Club is the best mountain layout in Maine. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., this 7,000-yard, 18-hole championship course winds through the Maine woods in a dramatic mountain setting overlooking the Sunday River Valley and Mahoosuc Range. The course follows the natural topography of the landscape, taking advantage of natural features and elevation changes with a design that strikes the perfect balance between challenge and playability. It's also pretty difficult, requiring accurate tee shots and precise calculations to compensate for the vast elevation changes.

Kebo Valley Club, Bar Harbor, Maine

Going as far back as 1881, Kebo Valley Club is the oldest golf club in Maine, and the eighth oldest golf club in United States. Kebo Valley, which was designed by Herbert C. Leeds, has tested the skills of many of the country's finest players, most influential politicians, and leaders of industry. In 1911, President Taft made a 27 on what was then the "Elbow" hole, which is today's 17th, now commonly referred to as the "Taft" hole. Walter Hagen played here as did Billy Casper and Scott Simpson. Hagen, who called the signature eighth one of the toughest par 4s he ever played, held the course record of 67 on this par 70, and it stood for 50 years.

Aug 30, 2016

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Mike Bailey

Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.