Had the privilege of tracking the lead group on the second day of the Women’s Maine State Golf Association championship last week.

Privilege is not a word I use flippantly. In this summer of our discontent, spending one of the select cloudless afternoons watching three ladies chase a little, white ball is second only to scaring a few snakes and sketching snowmen on a scorecard myself.

Speaking of snowmen, however, there were so many under construction Tuesday at Augusta Country Club that the pro shop should’ve hung out the shingle for a Christmas in July sale.

One day spent among half Maine’s elite women golfers (more about the “half” later) exposed some harrowing details about the health of a splendid summer pastime in this state.

No, not merely women’s golf. Golf, at large, with a capital ‘G.’

It’s dying. Or at least critically ill. And it’s nobody’s fault, specifically, although clubs’ and sanctioning bodies’ inefficiency in dealing with a perfect storm would make the federal government cringe.

OK, first of all, before I delve more deeply into the obituary, a few words about one of the survivors.

Alexa Rancourt is a phenomenal talent. The South Portland teenager is what happens when you are gifted with talent and passion, and when your family and friends collectively invest the time, energy and finances necessary to fuel that engine.

And therein lies the problem. Precious few young people carry a torch for a game so plodding, snooty and stigmatized as golf. Courses, state organizations and community centers do as much if not more than ever to educate and promote the activity. Getting the students to stick with it for longer than a month of twice-a-week lessons is more difficult than inspiring them to finish their vegetables or brush between meals.

The median age of the sizable but hardly selective field at the women’s amateur was 40 years old if it was a day. That ought to scare the spikes off anyone with a financial or sentimental stake in the future of Maine golf.

Quality of competition also is an issue, to put it mildly. With few exceptions, scores of 90 to 110 were the rule at the WMSGA showcase.

Sorry, but the boys in the Beer and Black Flies League at Divot Head Country Club shouldn’t register triple-digit low gross scores, let alone half the field at an alleged major championship.

Part of the problem is the wall of weirdness that divides an already shallow talent pool. Another organization known as the Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association (yes, the SMWGA … don’t get all confused on me) holds a three-day summer tournament each year and labels it a state championship.

Two organizations. Two titles. And not enough worshippers in the congregation anymore to justify one. It’s kind of like having four Little League baseball programs in Lewiston-Auburn. Merge, already.

This isn’t an attack on the abilities of the fairer sex, because the scene on the men’s side of the equation isn’t any brighter. Sifting through the 85s and 87s littering the agate page after the Maine Amateur was enough to make my eyes bleed.

Sure, our state occasionally sends off Ryan Gay or Jesse Speirs to the national spotlight, where they blend in with America’s best in their age group. But by-and-large Maine men’s golf is the same 12-handicap game played by the same, rapidly aging gang of wheeze kids.

And just this year, Maine’s two, time-honored major golf championships merged into a shadow of themselves. There weren’t enough sponsorship dollars to justify both a Maine Open and a Greater Portland Open, or even to make the remnant longer than a token 36 holes.

There are too many courses and not enough able bodies with the interest or wealth to play them. If you’re reading this from an easy chair in the tri-county region, I’ll bet you a sleeve of Titleists that there’s at least one course within a 15-mile radius that’s another rainy week away from financial disaster.

Private clubs are opening their wrought-iron gates to newspaper columnists and other peons in an effort to stay solvent. Gee, thanks. Really, now, didn’t private golf courses go out of style the nanosecond they were so brilliantly lampooned by Judge Smails, Ty Webb, Carl Spackler and Al Czervik in “Caddyshack?”

There’s certainly no financial gain to be had from selectiveness in an economically downtrodden state with a five-month golf season. Unless you have an endless supply of azaleas, your own theme music and a microphone in Jim Nantz’s greasy palm, you’re pretty much precluded from discrimination on any level.

Golf’s markup has been second only to beer on the open market in my lifetime. These days, those user fees are flying ably as most of my offerings from the driving range mat.

The game must become more inclusive, affordable and creative, soon. Or we won’t have anymore quintuple bogeys to write about.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His e-mail is [email protected]


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