Jason Hurd remembers showing up at the Maine Open nearly two decades ago and seeing dozens of fellow Maine golf professionals packing the course.

“In previous years, 10, 15 years ago, you’d see 25, 30 and even 40 Maine Chapter PGA Pros playing in this event,” the Augusta Country Club general manager and former head professional said.

It’s a different story these days. While the Charlie’s Maine Open draws scores of professional and amateur golfers alike, the number of competing Maine Chapter professionals – the ones registered through the Professional Golfers’ Association – has dwindled to just five for this year’s event.

Waterville Country Club’s Don Roberts, Portland Country Club’s Dan Venezio, Falmouth Country Club’s Shawn Warren, Val Halla’s Clint Goodwin and Webhannet’s Eric Higgins are the playing pros. Roberts and Venezio are head pros, while Warren, Goodwin and Higgins are assistants.

“Back in the day, when I was younger and playing in the Maine Open – ‘70s, ‘80s – these state opens were all New England PGA events,” said Randy Hodsdon, the director of rules and competitions at the Maine State Golf Association. “I think in the early ‘90s, we had 220 guys in the Maine Open one year, and three quarters of them (were) New England pros, probably 30 or 40 from the Maine Chapter (were) playing.”

Even more recently, those numbers were high, but they’ve been gradually dipping in recent years.

“It definitely used to be more of an active chapter, that’s for sure,” said Warren, a 10-year pro who will be playing in his 15th Maine Open, having won it in 2004. “A lot of those guys are maybe still around, but just not participating as much.”

Hodsdon said the Maine Open isn’t the only event seeing a drop-off.

“(Executive director) Brian Bickford met with the executive director of New Hampshire and Vermont, and they’re seeing the same thing over there,” he said. “It’s prevalent across all of New England.”

Ask the pros, and there are plenty of reasons. The big one, many agree, is time. Tighter budgets lead to fewer assistants and fewer hours for other staff members, forcing the club pro’s job to be more in-house (running leagues, club tournaments and pro shop business) than on the road.

“The role of the golf professional has definitely changed in the last 15 to 20 years, for sure,” said Venezio, an 11-year pro in his fourth year at Portland. “Back in the day, the primary job description was to run the golf operations, give lessons, and playing was a very big part. But with the way things have changed over time, there’s more on the golf professionals’ plate at their home facility, so sometimes they can’t take the two days.”

“We have more Monday outings, pro-am participation has gone down. The business has changed some,” said Roberts, who’s in his 21st year at Waterville. “We’ve all had to try to find more revenue streams, and those outings are part of that. Mondays are hard to get away. We spend more time at the club than we used to.”

Oftentimes, a club pro needs to be in the shop every day of the week just to keep the events at his home course running smoothly.

“They don’t get the days off they used to,” Hodsdon said. “There’s a real concern about head pros now finding assistant pros. The old days of running a golf course are gone, as far as I’m concerned. Assistant pros aren’t going to work 50 to 70 hours anymore.”

Those commitments can extend to personal lives. As the pros who were playing often 15 years ago started their families, finding time to play in a tournament became even tougher.

“As guys like me get older, things change and your priorities change,” Hurd said. “So you’re not playing as much, and whether you’re with family or doing other things, I think that’s just what we’re seeing throughout the game.”

Money is a cause as well, as the Maine Open did away with a separate purse for local pros that made it easier to put up the entry fee, which is $375 this year.

“It’s a contributing factor,” Warren said. “If you know that, on a good day, you’re going to go out and shoot a 72 and a 72, you’re probably not going to make a check. So it’s basically a donation for two days.”

For some pros, the drive to get out and compete is still there, and the aforementioned obstacles are just a few of the many that make playing a longshot at best.

Hurd said he hears those wishes often.

“Oh absolutely,” he said. “‘Hey, I wish I could play at the Maine Open, but my college kids went back to (school) this week, and I’m out cleaning carts and working in the shop,’ and things like that. You certainly hear that quite often.”

“I think it’s important, personally, to play as much as I can as a PGA pro, (while) understanding that it’s a balance,” Venezio said. “Our job (comes first), our playing comes second, and that’s just my opinion. But I still value playing, so whenever I get that chance, I try to tee it up.”

Some pros, however, said they’ve noticed in others less desire to play than before.

“The younger golf professionals don’t like to compete like 20 years ago,” Roberts said. “The other guys, when we were younger, we all wanted to play, I guess. But we just can’t seem to find a way to attract guys to play.”

Warren, however, is a young pro who plays often, and he has confidence those participation numbers – at the Maine Open and other professional events – could improve as more players join the chapter.

“There’s going to have to be turnover, just like in any industry,” he said. “I would kind of suspect that some of the younger guys might have a little bit more ambition to get out there and get their feet wet in tournament golf.”


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