A robust economy, or lack thereof, is just one indicator of success in the golf industry. According to Golf 20/20, a foundation that traces fluctuations worldwide, golf rounds this May in northern New England were off by 12.5 percent from last May. That sounds bad until you read that precipitation over that month was up 121 percent over the same period a year ago.

Golf here in central Maine has rebounded nicely since the wet spring through a combination of lower prices in some instances and a great stretch of sunny weather.

“We were down 10 to 15 percent through May from the year before,” said Pete Matthews, owner and pro at Western View in Augusta. “Since then we’ve probably caught up and are a little ahead of last year.”

The nine-hole course is near the bottom of the price scale which always helps when golfers are counting their dollars. They’ve offered significant reductions in memberships — $350 to first-time members– and it’s helped. The course has 190 members and a fairly good walk-up business.

“We’re one of the places if you’ve got 20 bucks to play golf you can come out to Western View,” Matthews said.

Natanis, the state’s only 36-hole course, is also historically the busiest. General manager Rob Browne has seen business bounce back this month after a slow start.

“Between the economy and the price of gas it was affecting (golfers),” Browne said. “We’ve actually had a good July. We’ve started to see a lot more out of state cars the last couple of weeks.”

Natanis had its earliest ever opening last year on March 5 so business is understandably down. But so is tournament play, a staple at the course that usually hosts over 100 company or corporate tournaments a year.

“We’re more in the 90s this year,” Browne said. “Associated Grocers of Maine went under and a couple of others have gone under or just can’t afford it.”

On a positive note, the course has picked up new members recently who signed on at a discounted rate until the end of the season.

Belgrade Lakes and Sugarloaf USA rely more on tourists than many of Maine’s courses.

“We’re having a great year,” Belgrade managing partner Kyle Evans said. “We’re down a few rounds because of the weather in the spring

With mid-summer rates well over $100, Belgrade relies heavily on business from southern Maine and out of state. Evans noted that two foursomes from Las Vegas were on the course Thursday.

Sugarloaf has moved away from its golf school offerings to more stay and play packages and it’s paid off for the Carrabassett Valley Course. It’s offering women’s week discounts in July and August as well as a Canadian week in addition to stay and play packages that begin around $100.

“They’ve started to build a little momentum,” communication director Ethan Austin said of the theme weeks. “We have cut back on our golf school offerings.”

Stay and play packages are up 21 percent this year, Austin said, while revenue from them is up 15 percent.

“There are a lot more golf promotions going on now than there have been in the past as golf courses compete for fewer dollars earmarked for golf,” said Nancy Storey, executive director of the Maine State Golf Association.

“That, however, is great news for golfers who may now find golf more affordable than they have in the past. It’s not so good for golf courses, and there are a few (most notably Bath, which is in receivership, and Sunset Ridge which closed this spring) that are facing economic woes.”

* * *

This year’s Women’s Maine State Golf Association championship begins Aug. 8 and concludes Aug. 10 at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

Defending champion Kristin Kannegeiser of Martindale is in the first threesome along with Whitney Hand of Bucksport and Waterville’s Ann Probert, both of whom should contend for the title.

Kannegeiser also won in 2007. Portland’s Alexa Rancourt, a junior at Furman University, blew away the field in 2008 and 2009 but has not played since. During the Maine’s Women’s Amateur she’ll compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, R.I.

Others in contention for this year’s Maine Amateur include six-time winner Pennie Cummings of Springbrook who won her first title in 1964 and her last in 2006. Debby Gardner, who plays at Waterville and Belgrade, should also contend. She finished second to Kannegeiser last year and won three titles in the late ’70’s as Debby Graffam.

* * *

The Maine Junior Golf championships are scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday at Val Halla in Cumberland. Juniors who would like to continue playing competitive golf in the late summer and early fall can do so, thanks to a five-weekend junior tour in central and northern Maine.

The idea originated from J.W. Parks pro Mike Dugas. The rounds will be 18 holes in three divisions — 15-18, 13-14 and 12-under. Golfers will be graded by points and winners will be granted two exemptions to the State of Maine Championships and one to the PGA National Junior New England qualifier.

Dugas sees the tour as a good bridge between the summer and high school seasons.

“They kind of get into this nine hole groove,” he said. “If we could provide a competitive atmosphere during the times kids were actually playing, it might be an attractive venue.”

The series, sponsored by Sebasticook Valley Credit Union, begins Aug. 20 at Natanis and continues on Saturdays at Waterville, Dexter, Jato Highlands and Bangor Muni.

The cost is $20 per event with a one-time $10 player fee. To sign up, call J.W., Parks Golf Course at 487-5545 or go to the website www.mainejuniorgolfseries.

Chip shots . . . The Harold Aflond Pro-Am Invitational will be played Aug. 10-18 at Belgrade Lakes. Eight pros will headline teams in the best-ball event and be playing for $4,000. Course designer Clive Clark will participate. “It’s really quite an event,” Belgrade managing general partner Kyle Evans said. “It’s a fundraiser for the Lakes Association . . . Western View pro Pete Matthews will play in the New England Senior PGA championship this weekend at Okemo Valley GC in Vermont. He’s finished second once and third twice while qualifying for the PGA Senior National four times . . . The Maine Golf Hall of Fame will induct six new members on Sept. 15 at Poland Spring Golf club. They include Poland Spring pro Wilfred Benoit, PGA Tour caddie Andrew Lano II, Rockland’s Helen Plourde, former Maine Open champion Lawrence Rowe, golf course superintendent Gregory Searle and Thornton Academy golf coach Michael Verrier . . . The MSGA Match Play Championship will be played Aug. 9-11 at the Augusta Country Club.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]