SOUTH PORTLAND – Friends and golfers Jen Goldman and Kate Neale are regulars at the South Portland Golf Course. But, they said last week, it could use a re-design with more challenging holes.
That’s the type of input that Rick Towle, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, is looking for as he gears up to hire a consultant to create a master plan for the golf course, which hasn’t changed significantly from when the city purchased it in the mid-1960s.
Towle has asked the City Council for $10,000 to create the master plan, which would include both programming and capital improvements to ensure the property is being used in the best way possible and to ensure that the golf course functions well for players.
The municipally owned golf course is about 25 acres and is made up of nine holes. Golfers can play up to 27 holes per day. Towle’s goal with the master planning process is to ensure the viability of the course into the future, while also having green and other fees pay for both the operation and maintenance costs.
The course opened for the season last week and on Friday, groups of golfers came out to enjoy some of the first good golfing weather. Goldman and Neale said what they like best about the South Portland Golf Course is the price, as well as the ability to play through even if you only have a couple of hours available.
“This is a nice little course, but it could use a re-design,” Neale said.
Goldman agreed, but said what’s great about it is that it’s an urban golf course with a neighborhood feel. Both women also said the course is a great place to learn how to play the game of golf.
Howard Littlefield, another South Portland resident, who has played the course for years, said it was “laid out pretty well” and playing for an hour or two is “very enjoyable.”
Towle said his goal, if the City Council approves his request, is to get a report from the consultant sometime in the fall. He would then start planning both short-term and longer-term improvements.
“I want the course to be an asset,” he said.
When it comes to making improvements at the golf course, Towle said, he would like to pay for them by using grants or other non-property tax revenue.
His annual budget for the course is about $221,000. This includes a seasonal maintenance crew of eight, a course superintendent and people to staff the clubhouse, which shares space with the branch library on Wescott Road, across from Memorial Middle School.
Towle said instructors for special programs or clinics are paid out of the participation fees charged. With the guidance of a master plan, Towle is hoping to offer more programming, particularly to youth in order to get them interested in golf.
He said the number of people playing golf has dropped off significantly in the past several years. At its peak, the South Portland Golf Course saw 21,000 rounds of golf annually. Now it’s at about 13,500 per year.
Towle said the drop in the number of people playing golf is a national issue and that’s one reason he would like to bring in programs like, First Tee, which is offered by the Professional Golf Association. He would also like to see more league play to get the number of rounds played in South Portland on the rise.
“This is a game played by World War II veterans,” he said. “We need to create a new generation of golfers. It alarms me that we are becoming more sedentary as a society and that youngsters are not outdoors as much.”
Towle said people need to recreate more socially and golf “is in fact a social game.” And, he said, “It’s absolutely fun. It’s about science, math and pure luck. No two games are ever the same and every shot you take is a different shot because there are so many factors to consider.”
But, Towle said, once the course is used more, it would also be a challenge to make sure that it remains playable. Towle said it’s not unusual for golf courses to take a step back and review their overall practices every 10 years or so.
However, this would be the first time South Portland would go through the master planning process for the golf course, he said.
Towle said he wants to make sure that the course is following best practices in terms of programming and course upkeep, particularly in terms of environmentally friendly practices.
On the city’s website the golf course is described as “a fun course for players who are new to the game, and seniors who are looking to relax, get outside, and enjoy a round of golf. Yet it is tricky enough to challenge the intermediate player.”
The website adds that, “the more experienced player will gain the benefit of working on (the) short game, as the doglegs, and hidden, postage stamp greens, can make shot-making a challenge.”
Towle said anyone with suggestions for making improvements to the golf course can call him at 767-7650 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Witherell, left, and Kyle Roscoe, putting on one of the greens at the South Portland Golf Course last week. Jen Goldman prepares to hit a ball during her first time out on the South Portland Golf Course this season.