SUNSET — Change comes slowly on Deer Isle, if it happens at all, according to island residents.
So when Island Country Club, a nine-hole semi-private course, decided to build four new holes, make adjustments on some of the others and take four of the old holes out of play, it turned heads.
“I am unbelievably excited,” said Karen Galella, who is in her third year as clubhouse manager. She was a club member for three years before that.
“I didn’t think I would see this in my lifetime,” she said. “I thought it would sit on the table forever.”
To some people, that may have appeared to be its destiny.
“It’s been in the works for 15 years,” said Jon Hellstedt, immediate past president of the club and a member of the long-range planning committee.
Finally, a member who wishes to remain anonymous stepped up and said he would pay for the whole thing — the redesign, buying and donating some of the needed property for the new holes, the construction and even picking up the tab for an extra maintenance person who will be needed to help take care of the course.
“The only thing he asked for is that the club pick up the tab for Phase II,” said Hellstedt, adding that the club will need to raise approximately $200,000.
Phase II will bring the remaining holes up to the design and construction standards being set for the new holes so there will be a relatively seamless transition when playing the old and new holes.
That won’t be under discussion for 15 years, though. Hellstedt thinks that will take place next year.
When the decision was made to go ahead with the redesign, the club hired Ross Forbes as the architect. Forbes, head of his own design company (Forbes Golf Design LLC), studied the old masters of course design.
Once the club got the green light, things happened quickly.
“They started construction last winter and the clearing [of trees] was done by spring,” Hellstedt said last week. “The construction crew came in May and started the golf course construction. That part will be done in two weeks.”
The first hole has been tweaked a little already, with a bunker added on the inside of the elbow of the dogleg right hole, making it more of a dogleg.
The second hole is getting new tee boxes that aren’t as close to the first green, easing safety worries. The second green eventually will be moved away from the first tee for the same reason.
The current No. 5 will be No. 3, and No. 6 will be No. 4, which will get a new green with new bunkering in Phase II. The seventh tee will be the tee for the new No. 5, a long dogleg-left par 4 with the green down toward the new second tee.
The sixth hole is all new, a par 3 of about 140 yards playing slightly uphill with the prevailing breeze blowing right to left. The seventh hole is also brand new, a descending par 4 of about 300 yards.
“I think that will become our signature hole,” said Hellstedt. “On a clear day, you can see Cadillac Mountain in the distance.”
The eighth hole will become the club’s first par 5, up to approximately 485 yards long with a very wide fairway.
The ninth hole will remain the same uphill, dogleg-right challenge it has always been. It has been the longest hole at 321 yards.
The total yards for 18 holes will go from 3,886 to 4,942. From the forward tees, the increase will be much less, from 3,628 yards to 3,700 yards. Par for 18 holes will jump from 62 to 68.
The new holes give people options as to which club they use, especially off the tees.
“I love the way it was,” said Galella, “but I really use only four clubs: driver, 6-iron, wedge and putter. This will give me a chance to use most of the clubs in my bag.”
She thinks the ability of young players to use their drivers more could bring in more play.
“We need to make it more attractive for younger players,” said Galella.
But some members are worried about how the changes to a course that opened in 1928 will affect the club.
“I’ve been coming here since 1985,” said Bill Darby, a resident of Jasper, Ga., who summers with his wife in Stonington, “and there hasn’t been a nickel’s worth of change in all that time. The nearest McDonald’s is in Bucksport, there’s no Starbucks and no Wendy’s. And that’s the way we like it.”
Galella has seen some of that reluctance to change.
“We still have members who remember when the third tee was on a platform,” she said. “I don’t know how that worked, but they wonder why we can’t go back to that.
“And some remember when there was a rock wall across the fairway on No. 9. I’m not sure why, but there are people who miss that stuff.”
Darby, also a past president, is not necessarily against the update, he’s worried about the financial future of the club.
“Declining membership is a problem,” said Darby, who is a friend of Hellstedt. “We’ve lost money every year for seven or eight years. I don’t think we can afford it.”
He’s also not sure about being able to generate extra revenue due to the change.
“I hope they’re right, because if they’re not, it could break us,” said the jovial Darby in his southern drawl. “That’s one of the concerns and why there is not unanimity on this.”
His concern isn’t that the club will fold, it’s that the social character could change.
“The club won’t die. It’s been through periods before of deep financial problems,” said Darby. “The summer people won’t let the club go under.
“We do everything in our power to include local people. We interact with each other. It’s a huge social benefit to this island.”
Hellstedt agrees on that point.
“It’s open to all members of the community and not restricted,” said Hellstedt. “We have fishermen, carpenters, builders and we want to keep it that way.”
The club, which is open to the public, gets between 3,700 and 4,000 rounds of play a year. That’s about one-tenth what Bangor Municipal Golf Course gets.
The biggest factor in declining membership is the cost, according to Hellstedt.
“When we put in irrigation, the membership price doubled,” said Hellstedt. That sparked a decline in membership, from 279 membership units a few years ago to about 170 now.
A membership unit is a category. A single, couple or family membership counts as one, no matter how many people may be using it. Also, there are those who only play tennis, and they’re included in the total.
The club is also used for bridge on Monday nights and chess on Friday nights. Lunch is also being offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Best lobster roll on the island. And the [least expensive],” said Hellstedt.
Early in the week, the club will start a silent auction to raise money, ending when a wine-tasting, raffle and auction takes place at the club on Aug. 24. The public is invited to the wine tasting at $15 per person.
“We do it every year, not just for the new construction,” said Hellstedt. “It’s a way of keeping membership costs down.”
Hellstedt sees positives coming, that opinions have been swayed now that people can see the changes as they develop.
“There was some reluctance in the beginning,” said Hellstedt. “The reluctance was ‘Do we really need it?’
“With very few exceptions the membership is really excited about what’s happening.”
Darby and Hellstedt do agree on one thing.
“I’m hoping I’m 100
percent wrong,” said Darby.