BAR HARBOR — Hancock County golf courses spend every spring at the mercy of the weather. This year, they’ve been at the mercy of a pandemic as well.
Whereas social distancing guidelines haven’t stopped Mainers from engaging in many outdoor activities throughout the early spring, golfers have spent much of the season unable to do so. With the sport designated as a nonessential service, golf courses throughout Maine were closed from April 2-30 following Governor Janet Mills’ initial stay-at-home order.
Since Friday, though, Maine’s golf courses have been free to reopen as the state enters the first phase of the reopening process Governor Mills announced last Tuesday. The impact of a lost month has varied from golf course to golf course, but as they get back to business with restrictions, they’re looking to take advantage as golfers get ready to hit the greens.
“Our phones have been ringing ever since the announcement was made,” said Pieter DeVos, club professional at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor. “There’s a lot of excitement about the season; people are ready to go out there and be able to play.”
As of Friday, golf courses in Maine may open as long as they adhere to certain guidelines aimed at keeping players from possibly spreading the novel coronavirus. Groups are restricted to a maximum of four people and must begin play at least 12 minutes apart, and common amenities such as pro shops, clubhouses and driving ranges must remain closed. Players must remain in their cars until 10 minutes prior to tee time.
There are also changes to the environment on the course; cups must be modified so as not to allow balls to drop to the bottom, and carts are restricted to one rider per vehicle. Yet as was evident on tee boxes and greens across the country over the weekend, those added restrictions are doing little to keep away enthusiastic golfers.
“We made almost $3,000 today.” Bucksport Golf Club General Manager Mikka Pelletier said shortly after her course closed for the day Saturday. “Only two people in all day yesterday because of the rain, but the great weather today was a blessing. People are ready to golf.”
Whereas some golf courses in southern Maine lost out on significant revenue with all but one day of April a wash, courses in the eastern and northern parts of the state don’t often receive as much use in the early spring. Between cold temperatures and precipitation in the form of heavy rain or even snow, chances for April golf aren’t always available locally.
Such is the case at Kebo, where DeVos said the 29-day moratorium made a “minimal impact” in terms of revenue. It’s also true for Grindstone Neck Golf Course in Winter Harbor, which has used the green light to reopen as an opportunity to begin the golf season well ahead of schedule.
“In a typical year, we don’t open until sometime around Memorial Day,” said Grindstone Neck Superintendent Kevin Conley, whose course opened Tuesday. “I’m not going to say it hasn’t affected us, but we’re not open in April in a normal year anyways. It’s still quiet here.”
At Bucksport, though, the loss of revenue was a notable one. Pelletier said the course lost around $40,000-$50,000 as a result of not being able to conduct business during the month of April, and even with the course open now, not being able to open the clubhouse stands to deliver another business blow.
“That’s a big part of our business, and not having it is really hurting us now,” Pelletier said. “It’s a bit frustrating to me because people can go to Walmart while we can’t keep the clubhouse open. If they can do that, why shouldn’t they be able to support their local businesses?”
Golfers are also not permitted to play at courses outside of their home counties unless they have memberships to said courses. Nonresidents are prohibited from playing on any Maine courses at all until Governor Mills’ 14-day quarantine mandate for residents of other states is lifted.
The nonresident distinction is a challenge throughout Hancock County. Many golf courses see a boost in business as tourists and returning summer residents arrive, but as American society faces a pandemic, this year is going to be different.
“We’re definitely worried about what the summer might look like,” Conley said. “Summer residents and tourists drive a lot of the revenue for our course. Any change in that is going to impact us in a big way.”
Some golfers had previously expressed frustration that their sport was one of the few outdoor-oriented activities not deemed essential. Prior to the first phase of Maine’s reopening process, the state was one of just 12 nationally not permitting courses to open within its borders.
Nevertheless, as news of the reopening plan began circulating two weeks ago, golf aficionados were hopeful a chance to resume playing was just around the corner. Even if life on the course looks a bit different, it’s no less of a welcome reprieve for many.
“It’s going to be a good time for everybody to still be able to go and do something they really enjoy, and with all these states playing, we were hopeful we would be, too,” DeVos said. “We were all optimistic [the Governor] would feel the same, and she did.”