Two-time defending Maine women’s amateur champion Alexa Rancourt of South Portland is having a strong freshman season for Furman University, settling in as the No. 3 player.

At last week’s Southern Conference championships, Rancourt tied for sixth overall with rounds of 77-74-76. She tied with Stefanie Kenoyer, the team’s No. 1 player. Furman, in Greenville, S.C., finished fifth.

After struggling a little at the start of her college career last fall, Rancourt started to play more consistently.

“The whole year has been a learning experience,” said Rancourt. “For one thing, my confidence improved. I’m not so worried about swing mechanics like I used to be. I feel I can still find a way to get the job done even if my swing’s a little off.”

Furman has dominated the conference in recent years, so finishing out of the top spot was frustrating, Rancourt said.

“It was disappointing but a good lesson. We feel we have one of the most talented Furman teams in a while. We have no seniors. Because of our youth, we struggled at first trying to play as a team and not as five individuals,” she said.

This spring, the Paladins have been playing more like a team. There’s a good chance they will qualify for the NCAA regionals even though they didn’t win their conference title.

“If we had won, we would have been guaranteed a spot in the regionals,” said Rancourt. “It’s also determined by rankings. We’re ranked in the top 50. We’ll just have to wait and see. We should know by Monday.”

Last October, Rancourt showed the talent that prompted Furman to give her a scholarship.

At the Pat Bradley Women’s Championship, Rancourt finished third overall with rounds of 70-71-71-212. She was Furman’s top player, leading the Paladins to their first regular-season title since 2005.

With a busy schedule this summer, Rancourt would like to defend her Maine Amateur title, but doesn’t know if she’ll be able to play in at least three weekly WMSGA tournaments, which is one of the stipulations for getting into the state amateur.

“I’m going to be doing some junior clinics with my coaches down here,” she said.

Rancourt also plans to play in qualifying tournaments for the United States Golf Association’s women’s open and amateur. She also wants to play in the New England Women’s Amateur.

“I love school. It’s definitely been an adjustment with golf and academics. We finish up with exams next week,” said Rancourt.

 

SUNDAY RIVER Golf Club in Newry opened Friday for its earliest opening in its short history.

Also getting an early start was Belgrade Lakes Golf Course, which opened Saturday. Kyle Evans, the owner/general manager, said it wasn’t the course’s earliest opening, but added that the course came through the winter in the best shape ever.

“We could have opened earlier,” said Evans. “We were able to do a few things around the course that will help playability.”

For the month of May, Belgrade is offering greens fees of $50 with a cart.

The Bethel Inn Resort opened its course April 15, which was its earliest opening in 20 years.

Golf courses like Sunday River, Bethel and Belgrade have traditionally late openings because of their locations.

In past winters, courses in western and central Maine staggered into spring in poor shape. Not this season. Not only are they opening earlier, they’re doing it in their best shape in years.

“We deserve it,” said Evans, speaking for his course and others.

 

 

IT’S NO SECRET that private courses have struggled to retain desirable membership levels in the face of the recession. Some clubs have had to restructure or be sold to stay afloat.

The Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth has bucked the trend by increasing membership over the winter and into early spring. There were some anxious moments for the club, but through strong leadership by the membership committee and the board, the course, which renovated its clubhouse in late 2008 and early 2009, has added more than 40 new golfing memberships.

The club started a membership drive in February by reducing the initiation fee to join from $3,000 to $1,000. It was cut to $500 for those age 40 and under.

The membership, which had dipped to 275, is now at 317 with some applications pending. The membership drive ended early this month. The initiation fee is now $,2000 for new members and $1,000 for golfers 40 and under. When the membership reaches 325, the initiation fees will revert to what they were. Prior to the economic downturn, Purpoodock had 350 full golfing members.

“It’s tremendous,” said the club president, Dan Redmond, on the response to the membership drive.

“We accomplished this in a relatively short time. We feel very fortunate. Financially the club is very strong,” he said.

Purpoodock Club is an 18-hole course that has hosted many state championship tournaments through the years. It was the site of the Union Mutual Seniors Classic from 1984-86.

The three winners of the popular tournament were Rod Funseth, Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]