Editor’s note: This is one in a series profiling Maine golf courses.
BRUNSWICK, Maine — In an effort to provide its inhabitants with activities and entertainment, the Brunswick Naval Air Station constructed a golf course in 1958 for its servicemen.
For the next 53 years, Mere Creek Golf Course provided a leisurely golf experience to a variety of military personnel, veterans and families.
The nine-hole course acted as an escape from daily military life, but it was also a place for fathers to enjoy some bonding time with their sons while navigating the course.
“It used to be like our own little private golf course when I first started playing,” said Navy veteran and course member Bill Duball. “It’s a family golf course where my family and I really cut our teeth in the game.”
When the Naval Air Station closed the doors on its military operations in 2011, the course remained open but lost its identity.
The Harris Golf Group purchased the rights to the course from the Navy shortly after the closure of the base. The group has become well known in Maine for designing new courses and revitalizing others that had lacked maintaining.
Kevin Joseph, general manager and golf professional at Mere Creek, has been amazed by the changes the course has made in just a year and a half.
“The Navy had let the course run down quite a bit over the last few years,” said Joseph. “In the time since they left, this course has made such a remarkable turnaround.”
Joseph credited his new staff for the improvements that have increased membership from 30 members to more than 200.
The most important aspect of the turnaround has been the greens, something Joseph and the staff prioritized.
“We really had just dirt for greens last year when I took over,” said Joseph. “We reseeded them three times and they made it through the winter, and I can now describe them as pretty exceptional and some of the best in the state.”
“The greens are terrific compared to what they were toward the end there,” added Duball.
The first hole is a 518-yard par 5 that calls for players to make early decisions. The distance makes a birdie opportunity difficult, but some players may try with a long iron and a wedge to get there. Anything to the right will be gobbled up by the woods, while the left side holds a patch of trees in front of the tee, but plenty of breathing room afterward.
The next two holes are average distance par fours that call for precision off the tee.
The 379-yard second provides open space for the first 200 yards off the tee, but comes with the risk of a lengthy and difficult second shot if errant. The hole takes a slight turn to the left after the first 200 yards, so players are advised to stay left to prevent a long approach from heavier rough on the right.
The 376-yard third has players shooting from one hill to another from the tee box. The key will be to get the drive far enough on the top of the hill to be able to see what lies ahead for an approach. The sloped green and the marsh behind it are the biggest concerns as a long approach will fly into the marsh, a short approach will make for an interesting uphill putt depending on pin placement.
The par-3 fourth hole runs 149 yards uphill with a wide, angled green surrounded by sand traps. A short iron with plenty of loft will make the traps a nonissue, but the concern again lies with putting surface angled back toward the tee. A soft touch on the downhill putt is a must, but players should be conservative on the uphill.
The fifth hole is a par 4 running a narrow 334 yards between woods and tall grass on the left, and 200 yards of thick woods to the right. A birdie can be had with a strong tee shot to the left side of the fairway and a sand-free approach as traps line the front right- and back-left portions of the green.
The sixth and seventh holes are par fours that run parallel to one another, but prove to be very different from one another.
The 432-yard sixth has woods to the right, with a string of fairway bunkers and the seventh fairway on the left. With a ditch across the middle of the fairway before a slight elevation, players would be wise to try to fly their drive over it or play short of it to escape a difficult second shot. Players must also be aware of a string of fairway bunkers to the left and limited space around the hole.
The seventh runs 353 yards and contains a dogleg right about 225 yards out. Before the dogleg, players must note the pond and tall pines on the right that creates the turn. The drive could land in the pond or just before it which forces players to try and shoot over the pond and trees to reach the green.
Duball always finds himself positioned in front of the pond and the pines, something he would like to change.
“They drained most of the water out of that pond, but it’s still a challenge for me after putting so many balls in there over the years,” he said.
Joseph claims the 143-yard, par-3 eighth is the signature hole on the course.
“We have done a lot of clear cutting so you can see the whole hole, but you still have to shoot over water to get there,” he said.
The length of the hole is deceiving, which leads to players using a longer club than they may need and ending up on the main road behind the hole. The average golfer will need a 7- or 8-iron to reach, but errant shots will prove costly with bunkers flanking both sides of the green. The green itself is sloped, with pin placement possibly being the difference between birdie or par.
“Besides the stigma of trying to get it over that water, it’s a nice little hole to try and get par on,” Duball said.
The ninth hole is a 479-yard par 5 that runs parallel to the first hole. The hole is almost identical to its neighboring hole, as trees line the right with open space up the left. The patch of trees at the start of the first may come into play on the ninth if players hug the left side for too long.
Duball, who plays in the first tee time every day as part of a group members have dubbed The Dewsweepers, stressed the family-friendly atmosphere as the most redeeming aspect of the course.
“Most of the time it is very pleasant out there for all ages, genders and skill levels,” he said. “We get mostly residents and some from out of state, but they all end up having something good to say after they’re done.”
Joseph has also been witness to the same types of reactions from people after their round.
“I had a fella come in here to play yesterday and afterward he told me that he would rate us a 9½ out of 10 for Maine golf courses,” said Joseph. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive and it shows that if you provide a good product, people will come out.”
Editor’s note: Bill Duball is Joe Duball’s grandfather.
Byline: Joe Duball, Special to the BDN