MONMOUTH — Authorities are investigating vandalism at a Monmouth golf course as a possible hate crime after a swastika was found carved into the green on the course’s opening hole.

Bill Sylvester, who owns Cobbossee Colony Golf Course on Cobbossee Road, reported to police Monday morning that someone had driven a golf cart around the course and onto several greens. The large swastika was found near the hole on the first green, several hundred yards from the clubhouse.

“This is a business that thrives on having a beautiful piece of property,” Monmouth Police Department Patrolman Michael Pershall said. “It’s pretty sad.”

Pershall said the vandalism, which is being investigated as felony criminal mischief, likely occurred sometime between 9:30 p.m. Sunday and 4 a.m. Monday. He estimates the damage to the course to be between $2,000 and $3,000, not including any loss of business to the course.

There was a small American flag found at the scene near the swastika that probably fell off the golf cart, which did not belong to the golf course, Pershall said.

His investigation has turned up at least one suspect, but he said he was unable to link the evidence found at the scene to the suspect. There is no evidence that alcohol was involved.

“This appears to have been teenagers who have bothered the tranquility of the neighborhood,” the patrolman said. “I can’t make a definitive match, and I need that to bring a valid case.”

The case will be turned over to the Attorney General’s office as a potential hate crime because of the presence of the swastika. The Sylvester family isn’t Jewish, Bill Sylvester said, and he said he has no idea why someone would draw that on the green.

“It’s just insult to injury,” Bill Sylvester said. “There’s no place anywhere for something like that.”

Central Maine and other parts of the state have seen an increase in hate speech and hateful symbolism. Several cities and towns, from Gardiner, Augusta and Skowhegan to Wiscasset and Boothbay Harbor, have had residents report seeing fliers urging people to join the Ku Klux Klan on vehicles, driveways and building porches.

In Augusta, fliers found around the city stated: “Neighborhood Watch. You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake! Are there troubles in your neighborhood? Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Today!” The KKK, a secretive society organized in the South after the Civil War to assert white supremacy, has a long history of violence against blacks, immigrants, Jews and other groups.

At the time, a representative for the Attorney General’s Office said the fliers alone don’t constitute a violation of Maine’s Civil Rights Act. Because the swastika was carved on the green during the commission of a crime, Pershall said, it could prompt a hate-bias investigation.

David Sylvester said the damage to the second green, including golf cart tracks, deep holes in the green and portions of the turf that were torn away from the ground, will require extensive repairs. The brothers don’t expect the work to repair the course to be completed until the spring.

“They did a real nice job, didn’t they,” David Sylvester said.

At the golf clubhouse Monday, a few neighbors arrived asking if they could help with cleanup. Shirley Everhart of Monmouth stopped in to see the Sylvesters and say she is strong and willing to do anything to help her neighbor.

The nine-hole public course has been open for nearly a century, and since the family purchased the course about 20 years ago, there has never been this type of vandalism. Augusta County Club general manager Jason Hurd said there’s rarely been any vandalism at his course, and Pershall said the Monmouth vandalism was an isolated incident.

“I don’t know why anybody would want to do this,” Bill Sylvester said. “It was probably some idiot teenagers doing something stupid late at night.”

If there’s a silver lining, the brothers said, it’s that the incident didn’t happen earlier in the year, like in May or June. That would’ve been really bad, Bill Sylvester said.

The course usually stays open until Veteran’s Day in November, and that is still the plan, Bill Sylvester said. They’ll have to mark a provisional green for the second hole in the fairway, and there may be other changes to some of the other holes that were damaged — Nos. 1, 3-7 — but the brothers haven’t decided how they’ll handle that.

“It’s tough because people want to be able to play 18 holes, and if they can’t, they’ll go somewhere else,” David Sylvester said. “You can’t charge people the same price if they can’t play on all the greens.”

In addition to driving across several greens and knocking down some posts used to mark the cart paths, Pershall said the vandals were jumping the golf cart into multiple sand traps. He was able to see where the rear of the cart dragged along the ground, but he wasn’t able to match it to any golf cart during his initial investigation.

“It’s an active felony investigation,” Pershall said. “It appears to be sad vandalism for no apparent reason.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ