Not many people on this planet can say they went from being an accountant for a shoe company to being the owner and operator of a golf course. That was the transition that the late Frank Bartasius made in the 1950s and 1960s.
Bartasius, who passed away May 8, worked for Fitz Brothers Shoe Co. in Lewiston, and United Shoe, prior to becoming became general manager of Summit Springs Golf Course in Poland in 1953. He held that job for 10 years before opening the Fairlawn Golf & Country Club in 1963, something he did successfully for more than 52 years.
At the time of his death, Bartasius was the oldest golf course owner and PGA professional in Maine. Nationally, there was just one pro older than him, 103-year-old Gus Andreone of northern Florida, and six other pros who were 96. Not only was Bartasius an ageless wonder, but he was revered by a Fairlawn membership that has tremendous pride in the club’s history and ownership. How the course came to be and was operated is a fascinating story.
Before it was built for golf, the Fairlawn property of nearly 500 acres was two potato farms owned by the McKnights and McCleerys, whose wives were sisters. Bartasius literally built the course from scratch without the heavy equipment available to today’s golf course construction companies. Road scrapers leveled the ground for fairways. He imported Vesper bent grass, brought in from the Vesper Country Club in Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most historic part of the course construction phase is the clubhouse, which Bartasius owned at Summit Springs and had transported in two parts to the Fairlawn site on the other side of Poland. That part of the building still exists as the dance floor upstairs in the clubhouse.
Bartasius was his own course architect, regularly walking up to 15 miles a day on the property, envisioning the layout of all 18 holes.
The business part of his success was the product of his upbringing and education. Bartasius’ parents were natives of Lithuania, so the family lived in Lewiston on West Bates Street in a Lithuanian neighborhood. With his father being a shoemaker, young Frank shined shoes, but he also was a caddy at Martindale, Riverside and Poland Spring. He graduated from Bentley College in 1942 with a business degree, but shortly after that was inducted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He was discharged after the war with the rank of technical sergeant.
To have a successful golf course, it took Bartasius’ dedication and determination. Fairlawn made its name by being an 18-hole track, which had memberships but was open to the public, and it never has had tee times. All of this made it unique to the tri-county area.
Some of the highlights of Fairlawn include the fact that it was the 1965 site of the Maine Amateur, in which the famed Maine golfer Dr. Ray Lebel won his sixth championship at age 42. It also was the site of the 1975 Maine Am, and the Maine Open in 1973 and 1977. Two of the Fairlawn pros were well known in Maine — Ron LeClair, 1966 Maine Open champ and a member of the Maine Golf Hall of Fame; and Harvey Lemontagne, a 2002 Hall of Fame inductee.
Bartasius had some personal moments in the golf sun, having been on the Maine Pro Golfers Association four-ball championship team in 1958 at Springbrook, and in a 2010 pro-am at Springbrook when he was 91, carding better than his age with an 86 while playing in a group of Fairlawn members. Perhaps the crowning moment of his career also took place in 2010, when he was inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame.
Today at Fairlawn will be bittersweet. In the morning the annual member-guest tournament will be conducted with a field of 112. In the afternoon the tournament banquet will be held with many tributes to Bartasius, the founder, owner and head pro emeritus of Fairlawn.
There is good news for Fairlawn members. Frank Bartasius’ son, David, has stated that the club will not be sold and that he will uphold his father’s legacy.
Francis J. Bartasius, may he rest in peace.