Caleb Manuel takes an approach shot on the second hole during the final round of the Maine Junior Championship at the Gorham Country Club in July 2020. The owners of the course announced on Tuesday that it will be closing. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Gorham Country Club has closed.

Owners Harold and Kathy Hawkes announced the closing in an email to members on Tuesday, citing the challenges of operating the last two seasons through the COVID-19 pandemic and the possible impact on the golf course from a planned Maine Turnpike Authority spur.

“We are at an age where we would like to slow down and consider retirement and now the time is right,” the announcement stated. “After careful thought and consideration, it is with mixed emotions, we announce the closing of Gorham Country Club.”

The Hawkes could not be reached for further comment on Thursday.

Gorham Country Club, which opened in the early 1960s, was not only home to teams from the University of Southern Maine and Gorham High School, but had between 200 and 250 members, according the the Maine State Golf Association. The 18-hole course was known for its favorable layout. It has been the site of many top tournaments, including the Maine Open in the 1980s and, in 2020, the MSGA Junior championship, which ended with perhaps the most memorable shot in Maine golf history, a 193-yard double eagle by Caleb Manuel on the 18th hole to win the title.

Beyond that, it was often the site of fundraisers for local events, and provided recreational activities throughout the year.

Advertisement

“It is sad,” said MSGA executive director Brian Bickford. “Because the Gorham Country Club was such a community asset, for sure. But I certainly understand where the Hawkes are coming from. … They gave us a golf course for 60 years. They should be proud of that.”

Gorham CC is the third Maine course to close this year, along with Katahdin Country Club, a 9-hole course in Milo, in April and the Streamside Golf Course, a 9-hole course in Winterport, in September. Nationally, according to the National Golf Foundation, 193 18-hole golf courses closed in 2020, representing 1.3 percent of the national total.

Bickford noted others that have closed in the last five years: Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland, Twin Falls in Westbrook, River Meadows Golf in Westbrook and Naples Golf and Country Club.

“This leaves a little bit of a gap and the golfers will gravitate to other places to play,” said Bickford. “The only prick in this is some (courses) have seen substantial growth and there’s wait lists that the former Gorham members will have to navigate.”

Bickford estimated that the MSGA membership grew about 10-12 percent in 2021. “The growth there was modest but there were a lot more rounds played,” he said. “People were looking for things to do, socially distant.”

Gerry Durgin, a retired high school athletic director and a member at the Gorham CC since 1993, is concerned about finding a place to play next summer. He is still hoping that a sale can be made and the course reopened.

Advertisement

“What it means is I have absolutely no idea where I can go or even if I can get in (to another course),” said Durgin. “There’s a great group of people we play with daily out there, and they’re not all from Gorham. We play together all the time. We’ve built a great fraternity, so to speak, and a great respect for each other and the course. It would be devastating to lose Gorham. I know I speak for a lot of people, my phone has been ringing off the hook.”

Like Durgin, Scott Burnheimer sees the impact that a golf course can bring to a town. Burnheimer, 66, has played at  the course for over 40 years and has been a member for the last 10. He had two children learn to play there and then play on Gorham High’s team. He also has raised $67,000 for the Jimmy Fund through an annual fundraiser there.

Beyond that, he noted, when people from outside the community come to play there, they often spend money at local restaurants and shops.

“It just means so much to the community,” said Burnheimer. “You look at the number of people who use it, kids and those from the outside. With COVID, (golf) was one of the sports you could do and still stay away from everybody. I think, when somebody looks for a town to move to, they want to know what are your resources, what does the community offer? Green space and a golf course. It has one of the nicest layouts around. It’s a terrible loss that you can’t replace”

Burnheimer said he is certain there are some golfers who will not move on to another course. “There are people who play golf in our morning group, this will be the end of it,” he said. “They won’t go somewhere else. And that’s too bad for them.”

In the announcement to members, the Hawkes thanked everyone for a great 2021 season. “Somehow, words cannot begin to express the gratitude we have for your loyalty over the years.”

Advertisement

Then it continued: “The last two years with the pandemic have been a challenge for us all. The uncertainty of whether or not we were going to be allowed to open, (led) to operating under all new guidelines which were challenging for everyone. We have experienced the same staffing challenges as everyone else. This has given us reason to pause and reevaluate our business.”

The email also noted the course “may be impacted by a new Turnpike spur.”

Durgin put together a list of the positive impacts the Gorham Country Club has on the community, from fundraising to golf to sledding in the winter. He wrote that the closure would “create a vacuum” during a time in which golf is experiencing substantial growth and would force local residents to go elsewhere for recreational activities.

Gorham High Athletic Director Tim Spear said he would begin looking for another home course for the Rams, who have won three Class A state championships since 2006 and have produced several outstanding individual golfers.

“That was our home course for as long as I can remember, so we’re bumming,” said Spear. “I think we’re in a little bit of a shock now. We had heard rumors, but everyone said, ‘Don’t listen to the rumors.’ ”

Spear cited the club’s junior program as having a huge impact the high school team’s success.

“The kids started at a young age and Gorham Country Club was the perfect place to do it,” he said. “You just hate to see it go away.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: