Portland, Maine – Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland is closing after three decades to make way for a new housing development scheduled to break-ground in the near future.
Sable Oaks, an 18-hole, 6,359-yard par 70 public course built in 1989 covers nearly 179 acres near the Maine Mall, is the latest casualty in a decade-long decline in the number of golf courses nationwide, which totaled 200 closings in 2018, with only 15 new courses opened. Greens fees posted on the website showed $21 for weekday play and $28 on weekends.
According to Randy Hodsdon, tournament director for the Maine State Golf Association, the course had a membership of about 200 golfers.
“It’s probably the most significant 18-hole course that’s ever gone away in the state of Maine, without a doubt,” Hodsdon told the Portland Press Herald last week. “I think we have not seen the last of golf courses closing in the United States in general or in Maine.”
Club members learned of the closing via an email dated Thursday January 24, 2019, from Sable Oaks General Manager Mark Anderson. In the email, Anderson apologized for the late notice for the upcoming season and assured members that any deposits for 2019 would be refunded. He thanked members for their loyalty and noted the course “has a storied history that dates back thirty years.”
“It’s not life and death,” longtime member Micki Meggison told the Portland Herald Press. “It’s a game. It’s golf. But it’s our community and our friends and our home. It’s more than just a surprise. It’s bigger than that.”
Ocean Properties Hotels Resorts & Affiliates owns the Sable Oaks property. Peter Connell, an Ocean Properties executive, said the land will be redeveloped for residential use.
“We have a conceptual master plan,” he told the Portland Herald Press last week. “but it will be marketed to housing developers.”
The Sable Oaks property includes 12 different parcels in its nearly 179 acres. A concept plan introduced to the city of South Portland in 2016 showed the course redeveloped into several apartment buildings, an assisted-living facility and more than two dozen single- and multi-family homes.
Connell said the company has been involved with rezoning the property with the city for the past few years, so golfers should not have been caught by surprise.
“Once it came before the City Council, it became evident what was ultimately going to happen,” Connell said. “It’s going to be residential and not golf.”
The area was rezoned from professional office to suburban commercial in 2017, a change that allows high-density residential development, South Portland Planning Director Tex Haeuser said.
Ocean Properties, founded by the late Tom Walsh, also owns Samoset Resort in Rockport, which has been a renowned New England golf destination for more than 100 years. The first nine-hole course was built there in 1902 expanding to 18 holes in 1974.
According to the National Golf Foundation the number of U.S. courses has declined by about 7 percent between 2006 and 2017.
In 2016, Twin Falls Golf Club, a nine-hole course in Westbrook, closed after being sold to a developer who plans to build 38 single-family homes on the property.
Also in 2016, the nine-hole River Meadow Golf Club in Westbrook closed. Other courses that have closed in recent years include Pleasant Hill, a nine-hole course in Scarborough, and Kennebec Heights, an 18-hole layout in Gardiner.
Meggison said she recently spoke with a club employee and was under the impression the pro shop would be open this weekend to accept deposits for the upcoming season.
She said Ocean Properties put out membership rates for 2019, “which gave us some confidence that we’d be able to play again this year.”
The Maine State Golf Association was planning to run three of its events at the club in 2019. The aging population in Maine and its impact on the state’s golf scene has been an oft-discussed issue. While Sable Oaks’ membership was strong, other courses could be affected by a combination of fewer golfers and increasing land value.
So the beat goes on. Another popular New England golf course bites the dust! Which course is next?