POLAND — The clubs had names like mashie, niblick and spoon.

Woods were wooden, irons were made from iron, and golfers stored them in special braces over the winter to keep the shafts — made of hickory — from warping.

Ernest Newnham was on the cusp of winning five consecutive Maine Open championships, and Isaac Merrill Jr. earned a victory for a fourth time in the Maine Amateur.

In 1932, Maine was still suffering in the throes of the Great Depression. Golf was a game for the well-to-do — the businessmen, the shop owners.

Teenagers in working-class families — guys like Frank Bartasius — who enjoyed the game of golf, found their way into the game any way they could.

“Businessmen and professionals, they were the ones who had the money in the Depression years,” Bartasius said. “I always kind of liked it, but never went to the courses to play. We couldn’t afford it. There wasn’t much traffic on my street, so we used to hit balls there, and then my friend used to have this big field at their place, so we’d hit balls there.”

Bartasius caddied, too, sometimes at the expense of a day or two of schooling.

But it was never his intent to build his life around the sport. He graduated high school, went to school at Bentley College in Massachusetts, and entered the service during World War II. When he returned, he built his life as an accountant.

But a chance meeting — during a round of golf, of course — altered Bartasius’ life.

“I happened to play with the gentleman who’d bought Summit Springs out of bankruptcy to sell off the pieces,” Bartasius said. “He said to me, ‘You’re young. Why don’t you take over the golf course up there?’ I didn’t have that kind of money, but he owned two holes, and he told me I could lease the other seven holes. It was just a coincidence. I had never had an idea that I’d ever get into golf.”

Fifty-seven years later, now 91 years old, he’s still out on the course — his course. A pioneer of the sport in the greater Lewiston-Auburn area and founder of Fairlawn Golf Course in Poland, Bartasius will, in September, achieve the highest honor in Maine golf when he’s inducted into the state’s golf hall of fame. In a class of three, Bartasius will bring to 93 the number of golfers and/or builders inducted into the hall since its inception in 1993.

“I look at the list of guys that are in there, a lot of those guys weren’t even born when I got into this business,” Bartasius cracked. “

Getting started

After his chance meeting during a round of golf at Martindale, Bartasius dove in head first.

“It really was all coincidence,” he said. “I was affiliated at the time with United Shoe, and they were folding up their local branch and moving to St. Louis at that same time. So, I had a choice to go to St. Louis with them. But this golf course business broke in at the right time. Everything was just a coincidence.”

After nearly 10 years, he left Summit Springs — and he took his clubhouse with him. He purchased two farms on the other side of town, two tracts of land near the Auburn/Poland line, including Fairlawn Farm.

With some help, he also had the clubhouse split into two sections and transported to the farm on Empire Road, where it was then pieced back together.

“You couldn’t even find where it was cut,” Bartasius said. “They did a wonderful job. It fit back together in two pieces. It was remarkable the way they were able to save it.”

But what he had was still only farmland. Then, he had to figure out how to create a course.

“I used to walk about 15 miles a day, just pacing off the land, thinking, ‘OK, where do you start,'” Bartasius said. “It was a pair of farms with fields and woods out there.”

A chance meeting in Florida led to the creation of the course’s unique greens, which at the time were revolutionary in both construction and composition.

“That one year, when we were down in Florida, there was a course down there being built about 10 or 15 miles from the trailer park where we were staying,” Bartasius said. “I met the architect, took him out to lunch and just wanted to get some information from him. I don’t know if I would be here now if it wasn’t for him. He said he’d send me one of his superintendents.

“These guys, they’d never been this far north in their lives,” he continued. “When they looked at the older courses in the area, like Poland Spring and Summit Spring and the old nine at Martindale, the greens were flat. They couldn’t understand why the greens were so flat. In Florida, all the land was flat, but the greens had to be elevated because of the water level. So when he came out to help, he started building all of our greens up.”

In 1963, Fairlawn Golf Course was born. It was rough at first, but it was a place to play.

“We had to use a road scraper to level off the ground,” Bartasius said. “There were no machines like they have now to level things off and build fairways. It was rough out here at first, because I ran out of money. But we had good greens. Everything else followed from that.”

PGA, and proud of it

When Bartasius first started in the golf business, he made it a point to become a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, the PGA.

Since 1958, he’s maintained that membership, and he’s one of two active golf professionals  in Maine to have been a member for more than 50 years.

“I used to play out of the PGA courses at Dunedin, Florida,” Bartasius said. “I  saw so many of the old-time pros play there, Gene Sarazen, all those guys. It was like a puzzle that fell into place.”

Despite his membership, Bartasius never played often enough to compete in tournaments.

“I raised four children, building a golf course, I didn’t really have the time,” he said. “I never could spend the time to play all day like a (touring) pro would.”

Recognize your roots

Having worked his way through college working in the Twin Cities’ shoe industry, and using his background in accounting and business, Bartasius knew he had to do something differently for his course to be successful.

But instead of turning to straight dollar figures, he decided to study the family dynamic.

“Around here, you’ll find a few kids out playing, but you won’t find a lot of them,” Bartasius said. “Most of them are contact-sport kids. Those kids, they’ll go to high school, they probably won’t play golf. The kids then, say, will go to college, they get married, they can’t afford to play expensive courses. They start a family, and they can’t get away from the family responsibilities. When the husband and wife get to about 45, 50 years old, now the kids are older and they’re getting away, now they have time to play, to get into golf. That’s why you see the trend, where most golfers here are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old.”

Using that theory, he crafted his well-maintained, affordable golf course close enough to the population center of Lewiston-Auburn, and it continues to thrive.

“We have lower rates, because we know that people like to play, but people can’t afford the big prices all the time,” Bartasius said. “We want to be able to give people a place to play that they can afford to play.”

Alive and well

Now in his 10th decade on earth, Bartasius hasn’t slowed down all that much. He lives a short walk — and even shorter drive — from the course, and he’s there almost every day.

“I played 14 holes the other day, sometimes I don’t have the time I’ll just go to the range,” Bartasius said. “I just take my cart out and hop around from hole to hole where there’s room so I don’t get in anyone’s way.”

These days, his concern is more with the course’s upkeep. He leaves the pro shop and day-to-day operations to his son, Dave.

And when he’s not keeping up with the superintendent or — quite literally — watching the grass grow, he has a club in his hand — a spoon, a mashie or a niblick, of course.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.