Golfers are shown playing at Aroostook Valley Country Club in 2018. The entrance to the course is located in Fort Fairfield, while the golf layout is in New Brunswick. That means Canadian golfers can't play at the course because of border restrictions enacted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Northern Maine Community College

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Larry Gardner has been a member of the Aroostook Valley Country Club in Fort Fairfield for 54 years and he is one of 13 people on its board of directors.

Ralph Michaud has been a member there for 50 years.

They say the 18-hole course is in terrific shape, especially for this early in the season.

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But something critical to its survival is missing: Canadians.

The closing of the border between New Brunswick and Maine due to the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Canadians from playing the course, which, along with the clubhouse, is actually located in New Brunswick.

The parking lot and the pro shop are in Fort Fairfield, which requires Canadians to use the Four Falls Border Crossing in New Brunswick to access the course. The Canada Border Services Agency has closed the station until at least June 21.

Americans take Russell Road in Fort Fairfield directly to the parking lot and pro shop before they step onto the golf course in New Brunswick, according to Michaud.

However, all course employees are Canadians, with the exception of one American who works in the pro shop. Since they are considered essential workers, they are allowed to cross the border and access to the entire property.

Golfers are considered non-essential, so they can’t come into the U.S.

“I feel extremely bad for our Canadian members,” said Gardner, one of six Americans on the board of directors, which includes seven Canadians. “They’re our friends.”

“We are trying to pull whatever strings we can to open the course to our Canadian members,” he added.

Sen. Susan Collins has been notified of the situation and Gardner hopes she can intervene.

“It’s bizarre. It’s like living in a Stephen King novel. We had a beautiful day [two weekends ago] and there were 10 cars in the parking lot,” Michaud said. “Normally, there would have been at least 40.”

The Canadian and American members play friendly club competitions mimicking the Ryder Cup (Europe vs. United States) from time to time.

Fueling their desire to have their New Brunswick brethren return are the COVID-19 numbers.

The province of New Brunswick has had 132 cases of the coronavirus, 120 have recovered and nobody has died from it, according to the public health department. There were 776,827 people in New Brunswick as of 2019.

Aroostook County has had eight reported cases among its approximately 67,111 residents (2018). Seven survived and one died from the coronavirus.

Gardner and Michaud are concerned about the financial status of the golf course as the membership is usually split 50-50 between Americans and Canadians.

Financial numbers involving golf courses are always a concern, even in good years, Gardner said.

“Golf courses struggle, financially. There are a lot of golf courses in New Brunswick and Maine,” Gardner said. “If it closes, it might close for good.”

“It’s a serious issue,” Michaud said.

“We don’t want to lose a gem like Aroostook Valley,” Maine State Golf Association Executive Director Brian Bickford said. “It has a great history. And it has huge support in the community.”

Bickford hopes to get lobbyists involved to try to get the Canadians back on the course as soon as possible.

AVCC members have begun a fundraising campaign that includes a virtual raffle with 25 prizes. The tickets sold out in 10 days, Gardner said.

He said approximately $16,000 Canadian, or $12,000 American, has been raised.

Several of the Canadian members elected not to ask for refunds of their annual memberships in order to support the course, Gardner said.

Gov. Janet Mills’ decision to lift the county bans on golf courses last week will be beneficial, Michaud said. Maine golfers had been limited to playing on courses located in the county where they live, unless they were already members at a course in another county.

Now, the only restriction is that golfers must be Maine residents.

A lot of players from Greater Bangor and even southern towns go up and play at Aroostook Valley, Gardner said. The club holds a big Labor Day tournament, the St. John Valley Amateur, which attracts golfers from all over the state and New Brunswick.

It is also the site of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, which serves as that organization’s primary fundraiser, and the Fort Fairfield High School athletic boosters club.

Michaud said one of his other concerns is that the Canadian government may decide to prevent Americans from playing courses in Canada, including Aroostook Valley,

“The course has been open for three weeks. If they were going to do something, they probably would have done it by now,” Gardner said. “They understand it is a unique situation.”

The best-case scenario, according to Gardiner, is to get the right people to understand what the situation is and see there isn’t a hotbed of COVID-19 activity (in New Brunswick or Aroostook County).

“Everyone wants to be safe and everyone at the club is doing everything they can by following the [social distancing and safety] guidelines put out by New Brunswick,” Gardner said.

But something critical to its survival is missing: Canadians.

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