A couple of extreme changes have come to the 45th annual Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament in an attempt to preserve one of Maine’s major amateur golf events.
The Harris Golf Co. has taken over management and sponsorship of the tournament, whose field has been dropping in recent years.
Jeff Harris, president of Harris Golf, said, “We want golf to get bigger. We felt it was our duty to get involved in one of these [tournaments] and get moving.”
The first move was to change it to a two-day event from a three-day tourney in an effort to spur participation.
“People are working more and have less time [for tournaments],” said Harris in explaining the change.
The Bunyan will be held June 6-7 rotating between Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, which is owned by a Harris Golf holding company, and Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor. The price has also changed, dropping to $85 from $110.
“It’s a lot less money, no time off from work, one less hotel day and less travel. The savings could be more than $100,” said Harris.
Last year, approximately 220 people played in the Bunyan, according to longtime tourney director Skip Chappelle. A full field would have been 360, he said.
Harris would like to get it to 360 this year, even with only two courses instead of the three in recent years.
“We’re going to be going out after it,” said Harris. “We expect to be there.”
Harris Golf also runs Sunday River Golf Club in Newry and Freeport Golf Club, and it owns Old Marsh Country Club in Wells and now Wilson Lake Country Club in Wilton plus other enterprises in the state.
“We will promote it more through our golf channels,” said Harris. “We’re in a good position to grow the event this year.”
In addition to the fewer days and lower price, there will also be four divisions instead of three, two at each site per day.
And they’ll have more company.
“We’re going to have starters and rules officials at each course,” said Harris. “Those were all missing in the past.”
Also, Harris expects the purse to be the same or larger than last year, and he plans to bring back the mementos that are handed out before the tournament.
“Not everyone wins a prize, but everyone gets to take something home,” said Harris.
More can be done online as well. The Web site, bunyangolf.com, now directs people to the PVCC news page where applications can be filled out online or downloaded.
The Bunyan was started by the Bangor Daily News in 1965, but since 1996 it has been sponsored by other companies and conducted by Chappelle, former men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine and former head of the BDN’s Community Relations Department.
The most recent sponsor was Whited Ford Truck Center in Bangor.
“We were originally going to do it for a couple of years and we stayed six,” said Pete Webb, general manager of Whited Ford.
“We’re headed in another direction, business-wise,” said Webb about withdrawing as the sponsor. “We feel good about our part in sprucing it up. I almost think it was a civic duty.”
“We were happy to do it for the years we did it,” Webb added. “It’s time to move on.”
Webb had told Chappelle “in October or November” that Whited would no longer be the sponsor. Chappelle said he searched for a new sponsor, including the Harrises.
Because of the other projects they were involved in, the Harrises didn’t commit to it until Friday morning, said Chappelle. Then it was a matter of making sure Kebo would participate and to tell Rockland it was out.
Keenan Flanagan, head pro at Rockland Golf Club since 1998, just said, “We’re very disappointed to lose a tournament we’ve hosted [since 1983]. We appreciate everybody who has supported the tournament.”
Kebo voted to accept the changes, said Harris.
“Kebo has been very gracious to the change in format and very helpful in that,” he said.
Four-time Bunyan champ Ricky Jones of Thomaston wasn’t sure what to make of the changes.
“I don’t understand the move,” said Jones, a member at Rockland.
He thinks it will still be tough to fill the Bunyan because other tournaments in eastern Maine are also struggling.
“My thought is there are not enough people up this way to support them,” said Jones.
He’s not even sure he’ll play.
“[The application] is due June 3, so I have plenty of time to think about it,” he said. “There’s plenty of tournaments, an overabundance, actually.”
He does think 36 holes will put pressure on right away.
“If you have a bad first day, it’ll be tough to catch up,” said Jones.
Harris feels up to the challenge.
“We have a great staff able to pull this stuff together. We’re used to this type of stuff,” he said.
“I think it’s good [Harris golf is in],” said Webb. “They have the wherewithal and resources to do it.”
Webb said, “I had two or three employees who put a lot of work into it and I appreciate what they did.
“There’s a lot more to it than what shows.”