There have been years when golf course owners and managers may have exaggerated conditions of their greens. This isn’t one of them.
Long-standing ice over the winter took its toll on golf greens throughout the Northeast with just a few exceptions. Given the late start to the season in general, many damaged greens here in central Maine won’t be fully recovered until mid-July if at all.
“I’m pretty confident they’ll be pretty (good) by then,” Augusta Country Club superintendent Chris Barnicoat said.
Five greens are currently covered at Augusta with temporary greens in use on those holes and a floating temp here and there. Barnicoat said it’s doubtful they’ll get up to full speed this season.
“This year is all about recovery,” he said. “I’ll push them if I can. The biggest thing we need is a warm humid day. We really haven’t had any of those.”
At Belgrade Lakes, all the greens are currently off limits with exceptions made for an isolated tournament. The Maine State Golf Association’s Club Team Championship, scheduled for May, has already been moved to later in the season.
“This is the toughest winter in 10 years for us,” managing general partner Kyle Evans said. “We’re letting them recover. For the next couple of weeks we’re keeping people off. That’s the only way to let them grow back. We’re letting everybody know what the conditions are.”
Natanis has only opened 27 of its 36 holes for a variety of reasons: The weather has been poor, there’s less demand to play, and to let the newer holes on Tomahawk recover.
“My father was still alive when we had damage this bad,” general manager Rob Browne said. “Some are in good shape, some had pretty significant damage.”
Browne said there’s still demand to play. A 100 members took part in a tournament last Sunday despite poor weather, and there were another 30-40 walk-ups, including out of state golfers.
“They said âit can’t be any worse than home,’ ” Browne said.
Not every course’s greens sustained damage, though.
“Almost zero,” Western View owner Brenda Matthews said. “We had a tiny bit on two greens, we’re lucky for once. In a week they’ll be perfect.”
Clinton Golf Course, scheduled to open May 31, had slight damage on one green but for the most part came through the winter well, according to Mike Brown. Its sister course, Country View in Brooks, came through the winter unscathed.
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Three time Maine Amateur champion Ryan Gay of Pittston spent the winter in Florida, playing a couple of tournaments and working on his game. Gay, who turned pro last summer, recently missed qualifying for the U.S. Open by a stroke in a playoff at Point Judith Country Club in Rhode Island and is first alternate.
Gay, who missed a PGA qualifier at Hartford by a stroke last year, said he may try some PGA Tour Canada events this summer as well some state opens. He’s hoping to make some money to try to go to Q school next fall.
“I’m playing pretty well,” he said. “I’ve shortened my swing a lot.”
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Winslow native and PGA Tour caddy Jeff Willett is on the bag this year for Justin Hicks, a 39-year-old who has paid his dues.
“He’s kind of a blue collar guy from Michigan,” Willett said. “It took him a long time to get on the Tour.”
Now that he’s arrived, Hicks is making the most of it. In 19 events so far he’s made 16 cuts while ranking fourth in driving accuracy and fifth in greens in regulation. He’s earned a little over $758,000 so far, about $25,000 more than he did all of last year.
Willett most recently caddied for Brandt Jobe who is out with an injury. He hooked up with Hicks through word of mouth.
“It’s basically just networking,” he said.
This week, Hicks is playing the Colonial in Fort Worth and next week the Memorial.
“He plays a lot,” said Willett who was last home in Waterville three weeks ago. “We’re playing five in a row then I’ll be home depending on a U.S. Open qualifier.