State’s golf association to run the Freeport course in an effort to increase youth play

Freeport High golfer Eli Spaulding hits a drive during a match last fall at Freeport Country Club. Maine Golf, which was formerly the Maine State Golf Association, is taking over the daily operation of the course, now called the Maine Golf Center. Brianna Soukup / Staff Photographer

The organization that administers and promotes Amateur golf in the state has rebranded itself in an effort to grow the sport at the youth and family level.

The 105-year-old Maine State Golf Association is now called Maine Golf. Chief among its new initiatives is taking over the daily operation of the former Freeport Country Club, now called the Maine Golf Center, with a specific purpose of increasing youth play.

The 9-hole par-36 layout that sits aside I-295 “is really that type of golf course where people can start, learn the game, do well and feel like they’re making a difference,” said Brian Bickford, Maine Golf’s executive director.

Last fall, the golf association was approached by LL Bean, which owns the course, about possible leasing the facility, which includes a large driving range.

Bickford said the board saw it as a great opportunity to further grow the sport by having a Maine Golf run a course that would not have membership, tee time and pro shop restrictions common at most Clubs.

“The Freeport golf center is really going to make it easier for Juniors, who might not have enough money to play, or even just a place to be able to play with other Juniors. This will make it so much easier and at a price that is affordable, ”said Eli Spaulding, 16, of Freeport, a top junior golfer who is a member of Maine Golf’s junior golf committee.

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Juniors who pay a $ 5 annual fee to be part of the national Youth on Course initiative, started in Maine last year, will be able to play the course for $ 5. Daily fee rates, without a cart, are $ 15 for nine holes and $ 22 for 18 holes. The rates rise to $ 18 for nine holes and $ 25 for 18 holes from June 16 through Aug. 31.

Season passes for singles, couples, families and students through college age are also offered, with information and rates available through the new mainegolf.org website.

The decision to rebrand the golf association, which for most of its history administered only men’s events, stemmed from its 2018 Merger with two primary women’s golf associations, the Women’s Maine State Golf Association and the Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association.

“It was a fresh beginning because we weren’t just serving the men, we were serving all the amateurs,” Bickford said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to maybe rebrand and provide a new and fresh logo that would bring everybody together.”

The Pandemic slowed the rebranding process, Bickford said. In 2020 and 2021, the organization had to be focused on getting courses open and then back to more normal operational procedures.

But the Pandemic did drive more people to either try golf or return to golf. According to the National Golf Foundation, reported a 2 percent increase in play – equivalent to about 500,000 people – in 2020 compared to 2019. Growth continued in 2021, particularly for new players. In both 2020 and 2021, the foundation reported more than 3 million new golfers. The previous single-year high was 2.4 million in 2000, when Tiger Woods was at the height of his popularity.

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The foundation estimates there are 74,000 golfers in Maine, Bickford said. Of those, about 18,000 Belong to the free-to-join Maine Golf.

The hope is that the rebranding, along with the new golf center, will help attract more people to try the game and, ultimately, more members of Maine Golf. The benefits include the ability to play in Weekly Amateur tournaments at a variety of courses around the state. There are entry fees for those tournaments and players do need to have a Handicap index.

Current Maine Golf members will not experience any significant differences from past operations, Bickford said. The Maine Golf staff remains the same, and the primary focus continues to be running tournaments, both the Weekly events as well as the marquee Championships like the Maine Amateur and Maine Women’s Amateur.

Another benefit of Maine Golf taking over the Freeport course is that, at least for the immediate future, it remains a golf course.

Five Cumberland County courses have closed in recent years: Westbrook nine-hole courses at Rivermeadow Golf Club and Twin Falls Golf Club in 2016; Naples Golf and Country Club in late 2017; Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland after the 2018 season; and most recently, Gorham Country Club in December.

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