The history of the golf course is long and proud. It was opened in July 1896 when there were only 80 golf courses in the United States and it remains the oldest resort golf course in the nation. Originally designed by Arthur Harris Fenn, the nine hole course was cut from hay fields and the hillside leading down to Lower Range Pond and used whatever barriers existed on the land – stone walls, trees and even driveways. Some of these stone walls for example can still be seen off of #13 & #14.
Fenn at the time of the opening of the course had become an accomplished amateur golfer. Picking up the sport in his mid-thirties he won a number of tournaments in only the year and a half he had played. His brother-in-law Almon C. Judd was the head clerk at the Poland Spring House and Fenn was invited to set a course on the grounds that summer. He would continue to tinker on the course throughout his tenure at Poland Spring which would officially begin in 1898 when he was hired as the golf professional. Upon retiring from the amateur ranks, Fenn became the first American born golf professional.
The course would remain nine holes until 1915 when a new 18-hole layout was unveiled. Designed by the venerable Donald Ross in 1913, this was one of his first 30 courses of the over 400 he would eventually design or enlarge in his career. This was also his first course of his eleven in the state.
Walter J. Travis, a fellow World Golf Hall of Fame member like Ross, came to Poland Spring several times in the first quarter of the 20th Century and in 1916-18, assisted Fenn in making some nominal changes to the Ross course. Fenn would remain in charge of the links until his death in 1925. His daughter, also a professional, would take over the reins at Poland Spring for the summer and then his wintertime teaching position at Palm Beach. As a result she is considered to be the first woman golf professional in charge of a club.
Although caddies had been on the course since the first years, it wasn’t until 1921 when the South End House Caddy Camp program began. Boys from the South End Settlement House in Boston would come to Poland Spring and other resort communities in New England to work as caddies, get clean air, exercise and positive socialization. This program would last until 1965 when motorized carts would take over.
The course record of 62 was set in 1929 by amateur Eddie Held. He bested all other records set forth by Walter Hagan, Herb Lagerblade, Bobby Jones and Arthur Fenn. This record stands to this day.