The golf club serving this town is Mingo Springs Golf Course, and it proves to be the revelation of our trip. The up-and-down front nine is funky and vintage, and the back might be the prettiest loop in Maine, with each hole flanked by seas of waving fescue. The clubhouse at Mingo is a modest A-frame, and across the street sits the Country Club Inn, a fine restaurant with the obligatory long views of Rangeley Lake. It used to be associated with the course—hence the name—but no longer. The Inn’s tiny pub is a delight, brimming with golf artifacts and sporting a wide-plank wooden floor rubbed raw by decades of steel spikes.
Our last day in Maine’s outback begins at Gingerbread House in Oquossoc, the next town over, where we take in a fortifying breakfast. We work it off hiking the 2,443-foot Bald Mountain, which straddles the thin strip of land separating Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic lakes. Heading out of town on Route 17, we stop at a turn-off called Height o’ Land and gaze out over Mooselook, its many islands and hundreds more square miles of woodlands and waterways. Should have brought the fishing poles, my son reminds me yet again.
Bethel is just over an hour away. There, at Sunday River Golf Club, we find a place that seems made for golf in late-afternoon July. It’s one thing to play such a striking course bathed in long shadows, soft light and crisp mountain air (the layout, another Jones Jr. product, offers 180-degree views of the Mahoosuc Range). It’s quite another to play one this good. The trick to mountain golf, I decide, is achieving the spectacular without being ridiculously penal. Sugarloaf teeters on the edge of the latter; two-year-old Sunday River gets it just right, punctuated by greens with superb contour.
The post-and-beam clubhouse boasts a lovely bar, but we opt instead for the Sunday River Brewing Co. on the road back to Bethel. The microbrewery movement has long thrived in Maine. That I can sip such a personable brown ale so far from the more cosmopolitan coastline is a sign that civilization has gained a toehold here in the western Maine mountains. We can’t decide whether that’s good or bad, but it sure tastes nice.