SUNSET — For 23 years, Bill Whitman spearheaded the effort to redo Island Country Club in the way in which it originally had been designed.
Friday morning, the Stonington summer resident, was finally able to see the results of his long-range planning committee’s work to acquire the necessary land for the nine-hole club on Deer Isle, have four new holes designed and then get them built.
“I have a subdued sense of euphoria that we actually got there,” said Whitman. “It’s very exciting.”
The redesign was dedicated in honor of Whitman’s father, William Fifield Whitman, who died in 1980, before 72 men and women took part in a nine-hole scramble tournament and buffet to christen the new setup. The festivities continue Saturday with a $10 fee for nine holes all day, and a pig roast scheduled for 5 p.m.
“It didn’t play like a brand-new course,” said Dick Babcock of Stonington. “The greens and fairways played like a mature course.”
“The tees and greens are just fabulous,” he said.
Jon Hellstedt, former club president and the newest member of the long-range planning committee, pointed to new superintendent Greg Kolakowski for that.
“This course would not be as nice if not for Greg,” said Whitman. “The greens really needed help after last winter. Greg has stepped up and taken responsibility for them, and he has motivated the crew into a sense of team.”
What Whitman and the committee were looking for was a course more in line with the original design by noted golf course architect Wayne Stiles. The club wasn’t able to acquire all the land it needed for that, and the club opened in 1928 with a shorter, tighter adjustment of Stiles’ design.
Island Country Club stuck with that choice until Bill Whitman put together the long-range planning committee.
“We started in 1988 with the objective of getting the land,” said Whitman.
There were three key pieces totalling approximately 40 acres. The largest, about 29 acres near Beaver Lake, came first, in the early ’90s. The second piece was purchased six or seven years ago, with the last one coming just a couple of years ago.
During the years from the first purchase to the last, environmental rule changes dramatically affected the use of the land.
“Of the 40 acres, we probably lost half of that,” said Whitman. “But that forced us to do things that were actually better for the course.”
The changes included completely new fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes, a new bunker on the elbow of No. 1 and new tee boxes on No. 2.
Landscape architect Stephen Mohr of Mohr and Seredin of Portland handled the original rough outline of the new holes. They aren’t actually golf course designers, but, said Whitman, “They are very good at the permitting process.”
The club then turned to Ross Forbes of Derry, N.H., who is a golf course architect.
“I’m not sure if we would have been able to to get Ross if hadn’t been for the economic meltdown, and we were lucky that he’s a student of Stiles’ (work),” Whitman said. “He took Mohr’s rough outline and fleshed it out.”
Whitman thought the club members would be able to handle much of the early grunt work.
“I was pretty naive to start out,” he said. “A bunch of guys with chain saws.
“I was going to use the Scotland idea that the roll of the land is the roll of the fairway.”
There was a lot more work needed than that, though.
“Basically, it was that, but so much more,” said Whitman. “It’s turned into a pretty nice course.”
Sharon Hellstedt, Jon’s wife, was eager to try something new.
“I would like to play the middle tees, too,” she said.
The taking down of a large number of trees added views of Cadillac Mountain and Isle au Haut in the distance.
“You notice the many vistas and get a nice sense of space,” said Avery Falkner.
Space is also noticeable on the golf course.
“It’s not as cramped out here,” said Bob Allen, noting that the old third, fourth and seventh holes closely paralleled each other. Golfers had to be on their guard for errant shots. With new holes covering the new land, only the new fifth hole crosses the ground on which 3, 4 and 7 sat.
One point Whitman wanted to be sure of was that the club wouldn’t have to raise fees to cover the costs. He wanted it to stay affordable for both summer and year-round residents.
“It’s obviously a challenge to get a project like this and not change the character of the club,” Whitman stated.
“I think now it’s the same club with a much better golf course,” he added.
Jon Hellstedt was tired afterward but also upbeat.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “Bill put so much into this, I felt it was important to implement at least part of it.”
There is a Phase II planned that Whitman and Hellstedt believe can be done this year, also.
That will involve new greens for Nos. 2 and 4 along with some new bunkering and sculpturing so they’re consistent with the rest of the golf course.
Sam Ostrow of Stonington was especially pleased with the way it has turned out so far.
“Many times when you anticipate something, you wonder if it will meet the anticipation,” he said. “This one (did). It was everything I dreamt of.”