Willie Park Jr. was age 58 when he came to Castine in September of 1921 to stake out a new course for the Castine Golf Club. Golf had been played from at least 1896 in Castine, and probably earlier.
A notation in the “Grandview Register” made in July of 1896 states, “The golfers have grown swell and employ a caddie.” Grandview is the name of the Bates-Tenney family home on Battle Avenue, just below Fort George. The earliest photograph of a golf course in Castine is from the Bates family album and dated 1899. The photo shows “The Madockawando Golf links showing part of Fort George and Miss Baldwin’s.”
It is important to note that the land is quite barren of trees and may have resembled links land to the Scottish born Park. Prior to Parks’ visionary changes, the “golf course” was just open land, and in fact passed through (with permission) the private property of several landowners. The first tee was located on the ramparts of Fort George and the drive carried over the Backshore Road. There were houses down the first fairway and in the surrounding fields.
As the 19th century drew to a close and the 20th century dawned, the historic beginnings of the golf and tennis sections of the Castine Golf Club would be firmly established.
Interest was generated in formalizing ‘the club’ at a meeting in Emerson Hall in 1914. Early records, surely recorded after the fact, indicated that thirty to forty people intended to “help defray the expense of the upkeep of the links by yearly subscription for a period of five years.”
By 1916 the club was incorporated. In 1917 the Club was prepared to pay $3,500 for the Steven’s house and ten acres to use as its clubhouse. Perhaps typical of Castine, Stevens deferred at first, holding out until 1918.
Through gifts, bequeaths, and purchases, the Club acquired enough land and in 1921 they appointed Bertrand Clerque, a new Castine landowner but long-time visitor, and Godfrey Brinley as a committee of two “to secure advice as to the best means of laying out a course on the property now in control of the Club”.
Bertrand Clerque was a member at the time of the Mount Bruno Club near Montreal, “where the celebrated golf course designer Willie Park, Jr. had just completed building the links.” Clerque was not at the meeting at the time of his appointment, but the club must have felt good about literally hitting a blind shot stiff to the pin.
Born in Musselburgh, Scotland, Willie Park, Jr. won the British Open in 1887 and 1889. Park was a renaissance man; at turns champion golfer, a club maker with a patent, groundbreaking author and renowned golf course designer. Park’s father was the champion of the first British Open played.
The younger Park spent his youth golfing and devising new golf clubs, becoming well known for ingenious designs by the age of 12. For over a decade Willie was the best known club maker in Britain. His Open victories in 1887 and 1889 set the stage for the marketing of his newly designed clubs. Perhaps his golf club design fame peaked when he brought a new “lofter” to market.
The club was at the forefront of a new strategic development in the game, high approach shots, instead of the more traditional “bump and run” shot to the green. Willie received even more attention when he was granted a patent for his new club in 1889. Is that why he placed bunkers directly in front of the greens on holes #2 and #4? Golfers would need to use his new “lofter” to reach the green.
In 1896, the first golf instruction book written by a professional was published. Willie Park’s The Game of Golf was a thorough treatise on all aspects of golf; the equipment, swing, and method of play (strategy). It was complete with posed sequential photographs and drawings, including overhead perspective. A section was devoted to planning courses, handicapping, and running competitions. That early success was followed by The Art of Putting. Published in 1920, the book came out shortly before he boarded a steamer from Boston to Castine to “tramp over” the club grounds.Willie had a reputation as a highly skilled putter. His stance, fairly open to the hole, was common for the day. It was Willie Park who said, “The man who can putt is a match for any man.”
With the advent of mass manufacturing of clubs, he devoted his latter years to course design and construction, working in Britain, Europe and intensively in North America. Park lived in the United States and Canada for seven years, first setting up a retail outlet in New York City and then course design offices in New York and Toronto. Park’s expertise was in conceiving playable golf courses using, as much as possible, the natural contours of the land. Park had a hand in the design or construction of 95 courses in the British Isles, 49 courses in the USA, 20 courses in Canada, and 11 courses in Austria and Switzerland.
As a result of these activities Park’s golfing skills declined, but he took part in some famous matches, notably with the Astor’s and Vanderbilt’s. He is regarded as the first great golf course architect, with Sunningdale Old being his masterpiece.
The current 9-hole par 35 layout was designed by Park in 1921. He said the Castine course was one of his best. Park’s design presets nine holes on Windmill Hill across from the Revolutionary War era Fort George and overlooking Castine Harbor and Blue Hill in the distance.
The course opened in 1924.
Grateful appreciation and acknowledgment is given to James Elliott Lindsley for the use of his book Breaking A Hundred to prepare this summary. Special thanks to the Castine Historical Society for the use of the photographs. James Eliott Lindsley’s book, Breaking A Hundred; A Centennial History of the Castine Golf Club, can be purchased at the Castine Golf Club Pro shop.
In the late nineteenth century, tennis courts were located in Fort George and on the adjacent Bates property. There were also courts on the Blake property (now the Belmont cottage) on Perkins Street. The “Grandview Register” recorded the winners of tennis matches in 1895 as “Miss Burr and Mr. Underwood” in mixed doubles and Mr. Hooker as the men’s singles winner.
When the Club was incorporated in 1916, there was interest in constructing tennis courts on the newly acquired Stevens property. The current courts 1 and 2 were built in 1923. Courts 3 and 4 were added in 1970. Tennis records are incomplete; however, the earlier winner of The Elizabeth H. Parsons Cup for Ladies’ Singles is listed as Edith Farnsworth in 1923.
The tennis program has continued to be an active part of the Castine summer community with lessons, clinics, and annual club championships for men’s and ladies’ singles and doubles, as well as mixed doubles.
As early as 1933 Richard Faulkner asked the golf club to foster and encourage small sailboat racing in Castine waters. It was not until 1952 that the present club began to form just below Noah Hooper’s embalming room in the Acadia Wharf building on Sea Street. Three people spearheaded the start of an organized group of those who loved being on the water: Darby Betts, Fred Foote, Sr., and Phyllis Tenney. Their initiative was sparked in part by the launching of the first three Castine Class boats in 1951, built by Mace and Alonso Eaton for the Austin, Robinson, and Brownell families.
The Yacht Club facility consisted of one room in the Acadia Wharf building, which burned down in 1970. There were no bathrooms, no storage lockers, and but one bare light bulb in the ceiling. As a division of the Golf Club, the Yacht Club was formed to promote a love of sailing among its members. The first Sailing Master was hired in 1958.
In the summer of 1964, 40 interested people gathered at Ann and Ed Miller’s house to discuss possible solutions, and specifically the need for waterfront property and a building. The first challenge was met with the donation by Peggy Robinson of the Old Custom House Wharf on Water Street at the foot of Dyer Lane. The second was solved with an imaginative building design by David Austin, followed by construction oversight by Charles Chase. The necessary funds were raised by a capital fund drive led by the Rev.
Raymond Johnson, which raised over $45,000 in one year from 130 people. The building was completed in 1966, along with the pier and one float.
Since 1958, there has been an active youth sailing program for ages 6+, and also adult activities. Castine Class races on Saturdays have been a tradition, including the Robinson Cup race on July 4, the Eaton Cup race and lobster stew dinner in August, and the end-of the-season Labor Day race.
In recent years, The Lord Nelson Model Boat race attracts many innovative young boat designers, and the Adult Opti races are always a crowd pleaser.