Senior Golf League gains steam

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YARMOUTH — Ventures large and small often begin in the most casual of ways. Take the Srixon Senior Golf League launched three years ago on a summer afternoon at Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray.

Blaine Davis of Yarmouth, a former newspaper executive who in 1993 began a second career marketing golf, and John Fecteau of Windham, whose specialty is security systems, were playing a match when Fecteau mentioned the difficulty of gaining entry into various senior golf associations whose ranks were usually full.

“Not a problem,” Davis responded, and the following season (2007), five golf clubs banded to form the Senior Golf League: Spring Meadows in Gray, Toddy Brook in North Yarmouth, Fox Ridge in Auburn, Point Sebago in Casco and Poland Spring Golf Resort. Brunswick Golf Club has since replaced Point Sebago in the host-club rotation.

“We found commonality in the golf clubs. Each was independent of the established senior associations, they had a large over-50 membership, and were ‘quality’ clubs,” said Davis.

They also formed a convenient block geographically, Davis added, a widely known golf marketer who has also served in the past as tournament director for of the TD Banknorth Portland Open, executive director of the Maine Golf Hall of Fame, and former owner of the Portland Golf Expo annual golf show.

Davis and Scott Neely, a retired investment banker who helps coordinate the league, also established guidelines for membership which are, basically, a full golfing membership in a participating club and an established handicap.

“We didn’t spend a lot of time thinking up rules,” says Davis, who has pronounced Neely ‘Vice President In Charge Of One-Word Answers.’

A July and August tournament schedule continues after three seasons. The only change has been to alternate play weekly between Wednesdays and Thursdays as opposed to the original Wednesday-only format. The change lightened those days when players also have evening men’s league matches at their home clubs.

“The groaning gets louder as players get older, but they approach the extra nine holes [on days players also have home-club matches] in good spirit,” says Davis.

The Srixon Senior League does its best to accommodate those players with same-day Srixon Seniors’ and home-club matches by providing an early-play option with tee times beginning at 8 a.m., followed by lunch (included in the entry fee).

“The host clubs are generous, not just through the early block of tee times and providing lunches, but also by running closest-to-the-pin and skins competitions as well as lending staff support when needed,” Davis said.

League membership has grown to more than 50 players. The clubs that host the weekly matches – many of which have been hammered at the cash register by this season’s record rainfall – have welcomed the added revenue offered by the Srixon Senior League with open arms.

The League also brings an additional source of competition for area golfers and clubs. Points are awarded weekly for individual performances, then translated into points for host clubs.

Poland Spring has dominated club play the first three years, although Toddy Brook’s John Cunningham in 2008 won the individual title and Ron Chenard, also of Toddy Brook, shared honors with Ralph Maines of Poland Spring in 2007.

Chenard and Maines were locked in a playoff for the inaugural individual title at Frye Island Golf Club in 2007, the first year of what has become a traditional September “bonus tourney.” Chebeague Island hosted the “bonus tourney” in 2008.

“They [Chenard and Maines] kept tying scores on the playoff hole [No. 9 at Frye Island], which was ringed by a gallery anxious for the match to end so they could get to a social hour and dinner,” remembers Davis with a chuckle. After several playoff holes with no winner, a thirsty gallery prevailed by calling a halt to the playoff and declaring co-champions.

The league has remained largely unchanged during its first three seasons, although Srixon’s promotional participation beginning this season has lowered player fees and added a recognizable brand. New members pay a one-time $25 initiation fee and an annual $20 player fee. Weekly green fees (lunch included) are $35, with power carts optional at an extra cost.

“I’m surprised, not only by the number of players that walk, but by several who carry their bags [rather than use pull carts]. And these aren’t kids,” notes Davis.

As for the future, the Srixon Seniors’ No. 1 priority is keeping the league enjoyable for the players, Davis says.

“But with that,” he concludes, “players seem to appreciate a level of organization and adherence to rules.”

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