Thomas Bean, left, and John Downing pose after their rounds at the Senior Four-Ball championship Tuesday at the Augusta Country Club. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

Warm weather and sunny skies are ideal for business in golf. But the people running the courses are finding out there can be too much of a good thing.

What had already been a dry May and June was made even tougher on courses by temperatures that last week climbed into the high 80s and low 90s. The warm temps stayed through the weekend, baking fairways and making lush green give way to brown spots on the grass.

“(It’s) relentless. Every day it’s just a ball of fire in the sky,” said Kyle Evans, director of golf at Belgrade Lakes Golf Club. “It’s been a struggle. I think it’s been a struggle for everybody. It shows your weaknesses in your irrigation system for sure when these events happen.”

Sweltering heat and searing sun is nothing unusual in the summer. It’s just odd for June, which typically features cooler, wetter weather with the heat kicking up in July.

“For this time of year, I don’t know if I’ve ever dealt with these conditions,” Natanis Golf Course superintendent Allen Browne said. “It’s been unusual to be this dry, this early. But we’re dealing with it.”

“I heard we’d had, here in Litchfield, less than a half of an inch (of rain) over seven-plus weeks,” Meadows Golf Club owner Randall Anderson added. “Normally we get over six inches in that same period.”

With nature not helping out, courses have to lean more on their sprinkler systems to keep the grass in good shape. That’s a tough task when there are potentially hundreds of acres to account for, and sometimes a limited amount of water to use.

“Courses that have a great irrigation system and endless water are great, they’re living large,” Anderson said. “Other courses, for example ours, where we don’t have coverage on everything on the course? Those places have really taken a beating.”

“We have plenty of water, but it’s not all available at once,” Evans said. “We have to monitor how we use it.”

As the only 36-hole course in the state, Natanis has more ground to cover than anywhere else. And while nearby Webber Pond and a series of smaller reservoirs on the course provide plenty of water, Browne knows it’s not feasible to get to everything.

“We’re already conserving to a certain extent,” he said. “We’re hand-watering the dryer spots, and not just going out with the sprinkler heads. … We’ll hit those greens and tees by hand and just do the dry spots, and not the entire thing so we’re not using as much water. Right now, if you threw that water up in the air, how much are you really using?”

There are some benefits to the weather, however. Many golfers prefer a drier course, since the rough is thinner and the ball rolls more. And the less rain there is, the less the courses need to be mowed, allowing them to save on fuel costs.

That’s a reason courses aren’t panicking just yet.

“This will be fine, we’re used to it, if it doesn’t last the next two months,” Browne said. “Then it would be a problem.”

• • •

Going into Tuesday’s Senior Four-Ball Championship, Tom Bean and John Downing were confident they’d be one of the teams to beat.

The way they played surprised even themselves.

Bean and Downing combined to shoot a 6-under 64 in the best-ball format, holding off the team of Keith Patterson and Scott Dewitt by two strokes at Augusta Country Club in the first tournament of the Maine State Golf Association season.

“We were pretty steady with chances on almost every hole, and didn’t really even sniff a bogey until 17,” said Salmon Falls Golf Club’s Bean, who shot 67. “We always have the potential to be there, we’ve won it a couple of times. But I think with some people turning 55 it’s getting a little harder, because we’re both in our early 60s. I figured Cole and Plummer were the team to beat for sure.”

That would be Len Cole and Mark Plummer, who won the event the last two years and made a bid for a third straight win at 3 under. But there was no catching Bean and Downing, who returned to first place after winning at Riverside in 2017.

“We kept it in play, hit a lot of greens, and Tommy played great,” said Purpoodock Club’s Downing, who carded a 71. “A couple of mistakes, I managed to cover for him, but he just played great.”

That chemistry has served Bean and Downing since they became friends at 10 and 11 years old, respectively, and started playing 36 to 45 holes a day together. It was on display again Tuesday, as Bean used his knowledge of the course as a 15-year Augusta member to make sure he and Downing were taking the best shots they could.

It still took some drama — Bean chipped in for an eagle on 18 that became all the more valuable as Patterson and Dewitt made their surge.

“We know when we play well, we have a chance to be near the top,” Downing said. “We push each other.”

• • •

The Maine PGA Junior Tour, for players 21 years old and younger, began play this week, with 89 juniors playing at Belgrade Lakes on Wednesday and 82 playing at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth on Thursday.

There are 10 more events on the schedule, with the next one being at Martindale Country Club in Auburn on Tuesday. Registration for the event closes on Saturday.

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