March 30, 2013

Sun is golf courses' ace in the hole

Warm weather leads to Nonesuch River opening, with other courses soon to follow.

By Tom Chard
Staff Writer

By the time last year's Masters rolled around, Maine golfers already had several rounds under their belts because of early course openings and summer-like temperatures.

click image to enlarge

The snow may still be around but that didn’t stop Zach Steele of Fort Myers, Fla., the assistant golf pro at Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach, from hitting the links Friday during the opening of Nonesuch River Golf Course in Scarborough.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Scott Moulton of Auburn stretches before taking his first shot of the season, hitting off the first tee at Nonesuch River. Nonesuch is traditionally the first course in the area to open.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

At the start of this week, it looked like the best that golfers in southern Maine could hope for was to start playing Masters weekend -- April 11-14 -- because there was still a lot of snow on the ground.

What a difference a few sunny days and temperatures in the low 50s can make. The snow has rapidly disappeared, enough so that golfers can enjoy a March debut again.

Nonesuch River Golf Course in Scarborough opened the front nine Friday. In central Maine, Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro is opening 12 holes Saturday.

Nonesuch River lived up to its reputation as the first to open and, sometime in December, could live up to the second half of its reputation as the last to close.

"It happened fast," said Nonesuch owner Dan Hourihan about opening Friday. "We finally had some warmer days and nights."

Nonesuch opened March 13 last year.

Dick Browne of Natanis said holes 1 through 11 and 18 will be open on the Arrowhead Course. Natanis has 36 holes.

"The course condition looks good at this point," said Browne. "We try to be the first course to open in the area. We would have opened sooner if we hadn't had the snowstorm of a few weeks ago. I expect all 36 holes will open the third week of April."

Now that Nonesuch is open, other courses in the area could follow quickly.

"Nonesuch is the barometer for the other clubs," said Mike Doran of the Maine State Golf Association. "The front nine is open and exposed to the sun. When Nonesuch opens, we know other courses are around the corner."

March openings are a bonus, both for the clubs and for golfers who get antsy.

"It's the difference between making money and losing money," said Brian Bickford, director of golf at Val Halla in Cumberland.

"The cash flow comes a month earlier and it's more than just golf revenue. People are spending money on food at the course. An early start is probably tough on the ski industry but good for the golf industry.

"We were spoiled by global warming last year. It almost felt like we were located in Connecticut. This year is a little more normal."

Dick Harris of Harris Golf, owners of several courses in the state, said Old Marsh in Wells is targeting the weekend of April 6-7 to open. He said opening early is "worth thousands of dollars."

"It gives you an extra month of revenue," said Jack Sullivan, general manager and director of golf at Sanford Country Club.

Sullivan has set April 16-17 as opening dates, but that may change with a few more sunny days. Last season, Sanford opened March 20.

The Links at Outlook in South Berwick is anticipating an early April opening.

Last year in response to the early start to the season, the MSGA added two tournaments before its first regularly scheduled event. Golfers played what were called preseason tournaments in March at Dunegrass and Nonesuch River. This year, the MSGA is hoping to play a preseason tournament a week before the first scheduled weekly amateur April 19-20 at Nonesuch. Dunegrass would host the tournament April 12-13.

Golfers are eager to start swinging clubs as soon as the snow disappears.

"I was in the pro shop the other day and there must have been 10 golfers who stepped in and asked when we were going to open," said Bickford.

The Ledges Golf Club in York opened March 16 last year for the earliest start in its 14-year history.

"We're getting a lot of calls from golfers in the area, north of us and from Boston, asking when we're going to open," said Matt Blasik, head golf professional and clubhouse manager at The Ledges.

"March openings aren't unprecedented but the middle of the month is. This season looks more like an average opening. We usually target Masters weekend, not St. Patrick's (Day). We're still in a holding pattern. We have some greens that are clear of snow and look great, and others still buried under snow."

Early in the season, golfers are more likely to plunk down money for the latest set of irons, a new driver or a membership.

As Harris said: "No one's hurrying to buy a membership or new clubs when snow is on the ground."


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

Twitter: TomChardPPH


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Nonesuch River is the gauge for other clubs opening because the first nine holes are exposed to the sun. Zach Steele hits a drive on the first hole Friday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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