BANGOR, Maine — Golf clubs around the state have been working hard to attract new players or get their regulars to come out more often, and they’re seeing some positive developments this year.
An early start to the season and club promotions both are credited with drawing more players.
“When you start playing golf in March, it’s hard to put the clubs away,” said Charles Melino, general manager of Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, referring to the mid-March start at PVCC. “We’ve seen an increase every month [compared to last year].”
Peiter DeVos, head pro at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor, is seeing similar activity.
“Our rounds are up over last year, and it’s substantial,” DeVos said, pointing out that Kebo’s April 7 opening was the earliest he has seen. “We’re way ahead of the ballgame.”
Weather certainly can have an effect. Few people enjoy playing in the rain, and May and early June saw significant rainfall.
“If we had half of those rain days in May [back], we would have blown that [month] out of the water,” DeVos said.
“May and June were off a little bit because of the weather,” said Brian Enman, head pro at Bangor Municipal Golf Course.
Because the golf course opened so early — nearly a month ahead of schedule — the rain couldn’t wash out the early gains. Enman hopes it stays that way.
“As long as [the rain] doesn’t touch us [much] from the end of June to early September, we’ll be good,” said Enman. “July and August we need to make the season a success.”
“The wet weather didn’t hurt us very much, likely because we dry out very fast,” said Melino. “We stayed busy right through that.”
At the other extreme, heat such as Wednesday’s 90-plus degrees can be a problem, too.
“People play in the morning or late in the day. Between 11 and 3, you don’t see people out when it’s that hot,” said Enman. “What we need is 78 degrees, sunny and a little breeze every day. I’ve put out my order already.”
The pros and club managers all agree that their courses are in excellent shape.
“The rain made it hard to keep up with the mowing,” said Enman. “Now we’re in very nice shape.”
Jim Fairbanks, pro at Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough — the first in the state to open, was even more emphatic.
“Our golf course is in phenomenal shape, phenomenal,” he said.
And they’re all working on filling their fairways and greens.
There are two basic ways to increase play — draw in new people or encourage current golfers to play more often.
“I think I’ve seen more new people this year, which is a good thing,” said Enman.
For DeVos, it leans toward the latter.
“With the Maine resident rate, we’re seeing a lot of activity, more than last year,” said DeVos, referring to the rate which saves Maine golfers $25-$35, depending on the time of year. “We’re seeing a little more local traffic.”
“It’s a battle,” he DeVos. “You’ve got to try to do anything you can to make a buck.”
Promotions such as Kebo’s are seen as an effective way to introduce a club to a price-conscious public.
“I see a lot more coupon golf,” said Fairbanks. “People are getting smarter and smarter about playing golf.”
He has seen an uptick in play, but there can be consequences.
“We’re probably collecting less revenue per round,” Fairbanks said.
The hope is that the number of rounds generated will create enough cash flow to more than offset the decreased margin.
But some clubs — such as PVCC, whose parent company, Harris Golf, offers a number of promotions — have found they can reap other benefits.
“They usually come back [at the regular price] or even join as a member,” said Melino of the golfers who redeem the offers. “It’s a great promotion for us.”
There are special rates at Bangor Muni for students, seniors and military personnel, and now a rewards program also is being offered.
“We credit them with one point for each dollar spent [on green fees and carts],” said Enman.
When enough points are accumulated, the golfer can redeem the points for a free round. It amounts to a 10 percent savings.
“There are hundreds of [the cards] out there already. We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback so far,” Enman said.
He tries not to read too much into the added play, though.
“I don’t see it as a barometer of the economy,” said Enman. “We’ve still got a long way to go yet.”
There appears to be room for optimism.
“Reservations are up in the area,” said DeVos. “Maybe that’s a good sign things are [improving].”
Melino is similarly upbeat.
“We’re looking forward to a great year, one of the best in a while,” said Melino.