When Milo lawyer Judson Gerrish purchased the 10-year-old golf course now known as the Katahdin Country Club back in 1940, there was some consternation within the family about the price tag.
“With the buildings that were there he paid $2,500,” recalled Gerrish’s son, Judson Gerrish Jr. “His father was a lawyer, too, and he felt my father was crazy to spend that kind of money.”
That investment proved wise for the Gerrish family, who operated the nine-hole, par-36 layout during challenging times for the sport during and immediately after World War II, and then through a subsequent boom in golf course construction that began later in the last century.
Recent times have proven less profitable for the 2,968-yard layout located on Park Street in Milo, so the Gerrishes have opted to close the 90-year-old course.
“Business just dried up over the last 10 years,” said Rick Gerrish, the third generation of his family to own the golf club. “It goes in cycles, I guess. It was good for a lot of years and then it dried up.”
Rick Gerrish said he had been considering closing the facility for the last two or three years. He agreed that the potential negative impact of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic on this year’s prospects for the course may have been the last straw.
“Probably,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it anyways and just decided it was time.”
Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday issued an executive order related to the COVID-19 crisis that, in part, added golf courses to the list of non-essential businesses that must close until May 1.
Katahdin Country Club, designed by Larry Striley of Bangor, was constructed in 1930 with local labor and originally had 50 members, who each paid annual dues of $50. Greens fees were $1 per day.
Judson Gerrish purchased the course a decade later and the business survived through World War II and its aftermath thanks in part to greens fees as low as 50 cents per day.
Judson Gerrish Jr., began working at the course in 1950 and eventually took over operations in 1970. His four children — Jane, Val, J.C. and Rick — all worked at the course, with Rick Gerrish taking ownership in 1999.
Rick Gerrish eventually became a one-person operation, attending to the pro shop as well as to the mowing, mechanical maintenance, blade sharpening and golf cart operations — all that despite struggling with allergies to grass, trees and mold he developed approximately eight years ago.
Katahdin Country Club’s best years came during a boom time for the game during the late 1900s and into the early 2000s.
The number of golf courses nationwide increased by 44 percent from 1986 to 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Maine was a significant participant in that growth. The Pine Tree State ranked eighth in the country with one golf course per 8,856 residents, according to a 2010 census in GolfBlogger.
“When I was a kid you had the course in Milo and you had Penobscot Valley [Country Club in Orono],” said the 80-year-old Gerrish Jr., a former school teacher. “You only had maybe three golf courses within a 50-mile radius of Milo. Now you have 10 or 11 in the Bangor area.”
That golfing boom has waned considerably during the last 15 years. The NGF reported an 8 percent decrease in golf courses nationally from 2006 through 2018, with approximately 200 closures in 2018 alone.
Maine also has absorbed its share of golf course closings in recent years.
The Kenduskeag Valley Golf Course in Kenduskeag ended its 58-year run in 2015, while the Twin Falls Golf Club and River Meadow Golf Course, both in Westbrook, closed a year later. The Great Cove Golf Course in Roque Bluffs ceased operations in 2017.
Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland closed its doors in 2019, and the Bar Harbor Golf Course in Trenton did not open for the 2019 season.
“Golf was hot, and everybody started building courses, and we got overrun,” Rick Gerrish said. “Eventually something’s got to give.”
The Gerrishes also cited a steady decrease in younger players taking up the sport, another assertion that follows a national trend. The National Golf Foundation found that the number of golfers between ages 18 and 34 declined by 30 percent between 1997 and 2017.
“Young people are not replacing the number of passing baby boomers,” Gerrish Jr. said. “There seems to be more interest in computers, cell phones and video games by the younger generation.”
Rick Gerrish has no immediate plans to sell the Katahdin Country Club property, where he maintains two rental properties and also refurbishes and sells lawn mowers and all-terrain vehicles.
“I’m going to try to keep it mowed down, not mowed down as far as golf course material, but I’ll keep it cut down three or four times a year to keep it from growing up,” he said. “I’ll just go from there.”