AUGUSTA — On a clear day the view from the eighth fairway at Western View Golf Club affords a glimpse of Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Look slightly left and you can see Sugarloaf in western Maine.

As owner Pete Matthews points out, “you can also see Hatch Hill dump.”

This is not a course that puts on airs or thrives on pretense. Matthews, who purchased Western View 12 years ago with his wife Brenda, calls it a blue collar course, borne out by the fact that Mondays you can play nine holes for five bucks.

Located on the Bolton Hill Road, five miles west of the center of town, the nine-hole course turns 80 this year and has never been in better shape. Carved out of farmland by Archie Humphrey in 1932, Western View had five previous owners — including Humphrey, Tom Hazard, Leo Bourque and James Russell — before the Matthews purchased it from Dick Harris and took over operation in 2001.

Its spacious clubhouse with full bar and kitchen, accompanied by the large driving range across the street, make it fairly unique among nine-hole courses in the state. The course is short by any standard at 2,750 yards which is part of its appeal to beginners, seniors and women.

Pete Matthews said the course is enjoying its best year since he and his wife have been there. Overriding reasons include price, course condition, location and ambiance.

“I like the people and I like the greens,” said Barbara Parente, a summer resident from Connecticut who lives on Long Pond. “I’m not a great player or even a good player, but I enjoy coming out here. Everybody’s nice and it’s pleasant.”

Parente’s son and two grandsons were on the course and all could play for the price one greens fee at many other courses. On weekdays it costs $12 to play nine holes and $20 for 18. Memberships run from a high of $550 for a single to lower rates for juniors and families. There are currently about 200 members at the course and new members can join for a first-year rate of $350.

“I think the lull in the economy has helped us out a little,” Pete said. “Instead of shelling out $65 to go wherever, they come here.”

There’s something going on about every day from weekend skins games to men’s twilight play to leagues for women and seniors. Monday, though, was a historically slow day so the Matthews came up with Monday Madness, offering greens fees of $5 for nine holes and $10 for 18. It’s been a hit. Last Monday, Pete said over 100 golfers took advantage of the deal.

“That’s a booming day,” Brenda said. “Most of the people, if they’re only spending $5 they might rent a cart. And a lot of them come in and buy a sleeve of balls, a lot of lunches or stop in for a beverage.”

The bargain has drawn many golfers who hadn’t played at Western View for several years and they’re surprised at many of the changes. The biggest improvement was adding irrigation to the fairways in 2003.

“Before you’d hit the fairway and all you’d see is dust flying,” member Ron Corbin said. “Now the fairways are a lot better.”

Corbin, a retired teacher who lives in Augusta, joined 35 years ago along with one of his sons so he could learn the game.

“It’s only eight miles from my house,” he said. “I can be here in 10 minutes. Of course all of the members here are really nice and the cost is feasible.”

Improvements to the course extended to the greens under the direction of part-time superintendent Dave Ranks, along with the revamping a couple of fairways. Ledge that plagued the sixth fairway was removed.

“Somebody said if you put a herd of cattle out there (before) they would starve,” Pete said.

The third fairway, which slopes down to the right, was recontoured to the left and rough was grown to prevent balls from rolling toward a stone wall. And a large deck was added to the front of the clubhouse to complement a porch that runs along the back. A new pond was added along the fifth fairway and an existing pond near the 7th tee was expanded so the course can supply its own water.

“We’re both very proud of everything we’ve done out here,” Brenda said. “Other than going to 18 holes there’s not a whole lot we can do to make this much better.”

Getting into the business

Pete Matthews started in the golf business in 1980, getting a job at the Paris Hill Country club for $2,000 a year, a place to stay and whatever money he could pick up giving lessons.

He got a break when the owner of the Bethel Inn played a scramble at Paris Hill and offered him a job as a pro. After nine years he and Brenda moved on to Newport Country Club in Vermont, a public course with 550 members.

“We turned that into a good job but finally we parted ways when the contract didn’t work out,” Pete said. “I said to Brenda we’ve got to find a place. We had saved some money and we looked around. We scraped some money together. When we bought it I knew we had to make a lot of improvements.”

An original plan to add nine holes across the street (they own approximately 160 acres) was scrapped because of cost. The Matthews came close to selling the course a few years ago and it remains for sale. They’re both in their 60s and would someday like to retire to Florida where they spend the offseason.

In the meantime, they’re enjoying their work. Brenda handles the books, the clubhouse and the kitchen with a staff of six. In addition to lunches she also serves dinner on league nights and steak or prime rib every Friday night. They hired someone to keep the clubhouse open a few days each week last winter in an effort to attract snowmobilers but there was little snow. They also added two pool tables, getting some tournament play on the weekends, and may try it again this winter.

It’s a seven day a week job.

“You have to work together and try to be extra good to the person you’re with,” Brenda said. “You just take it in stride and of course the carrot that’s dangled is you get five months off.”

Pete works with four others on the golf course, mowing and taking care of the greens. He’s cut several trees in an effort to get more sun on a couple of greens and opened up areas off the fairway. He also runs tournaments, including the Western View Cup which pits two teams of members each year in a Ryder Cup format. Winners are listed on a trophy in the clubhouse.

He recently received his 25-year pin for being a PGA professional over that span and continues to compete in tournaments. He’s won some New England Senior titles and played at the national level and holds the course record of 60 at Western View.

“I liked it from the beginning and I worked my butt of to be a decent player,” Pete said. “Mike Walsh who had worked (at the Bethel Inn) told me ‘People will know you if you’re a decent player. They’ll see your name somewhere and it might help.’ “

Despite the fact the course remain on the market, neither Pete nor Brenda shows any sign of slowing down. Nine-hole courses in the area — Sheepscot Links in Whitefield and Cobbossee Colony in Monmouth are far enough away to allow Western View its own niche.

“I think our niche really is affordability,” Brenda said. “a lot of people can afford to go to Augusta, Waterville or Natanis, but a lot of people can’t afford that. We get a lot of beginners, a lot of juniors because of the price range and we’re very family oriented.

“We get a lot of people who come out here with their kids and it’s a very safe comfortable atmosphere.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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