Early Days on Golf Links in the Kennebunks

I always assumed that women were gradually, if begrudgingly allowed to play golf with the men as the sport became popular in the Kennebunks but one lesson historical research has to teach me over and over is, never assume.

Sarah Bancroft, seen in the first picture showing her Swedish Coachman how to drive, was a major impetus in bringing golf to the Kennebunks. She had learned the game while traveling in England and had purchased two sets of golf clubs of her own.

The first organized golf club in the Kennebunks was called the Kennebunkport Golf Club. Artist Prosper Senat designed the nine hole course in Palmer Twombly’s pasture off Maine Street, across from its intersection with South Street. “The Club House is in Huff’s barn in rear of Rev. Dr. Clark’s villa,” wrote the Editor of the Wave on July 4, 1896. I wonder if he meant Hoff’s barn. Senat was elected president of the club and his wife was one of the directors, along with Mr. H.E. Woods. Mrs. J.M. Barker was secretary and Miss Sarah P. Bancroft was treasurer. That’s 3 women and 2 men by my calculations.

The Ridgewood and Oaks Hotels at Kennebunk Beach burned to the ground on May 19, 1898. On July 16, 1898, it was reported in The Wave, “Golf grounds are being laid out at Kennebunk Beach.” [in Wentworth’s cow pasture] “Mr. George Parsons Tibbetts, of Williston Seminary, Northampton, who is a member of the Kennebunkport Golf Club, has laid out practice grounds back of where the Ridgewood formerly stood.”

Meanwhile, the Kennebunkport Golf Club was a big success. In fact, in September of 1899 a five-year lease was signed with the heirs of River Road farmer Isaacher Wells on 22 ½ acres of his farm, with an option to buy for $3,500 within ten years. The club reincorporated as the Arundel Golf Club. This time, the Board of Directors was made up mostly of men but Sarah P. Bancroft remained as a director. “A fine 9-hole course over 2700 yards in length has been laid out by Mr. Finley, the expert,” wrote the Editor of the Wave on July 7, 1900. “A new club house is nearing completion. The grounds can be conveniently reached by boat and Hall and Littlefield will begin running a bus there next week on a regular table.”

Three weeks later the same editor wrote, “The Webhannet Golf Club is the name of a new institution at Kennebunk Beach. The club has leased a large tract of land back of where the “Oaks” formerly stood and the links are being laid out under the direction of Mr. F.A. Wentworth. The work will probably be completed next week. The officers of the club are Mr. W.F. Russell, president; D.S. Page, vice president; Mr. Fenn, treasurer; Messrs. Arnold, Gifford and Woodbury are the directors.

”The Webhannet Golf Club opened officially in 1901. Sixteen year old Kenneth Roberts was there. He would later remember those early days in his book “For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays”

“Wentworth’s cow pasture became a seven-hole golf course, although those who played on it might have been justified in questioning the accuracy of that definition. Only the cows, however, refused to recognize the change in the status of the pasture….At a little after four o’clock, the cows congregated on and behind the seventh green to stare hopefully over the bars that separated them from the joys of the milking hour. A golfer who holed-out without playing a carom shot from a cow was considered a fool for luck.”

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