For 52 years, the Greater Bangor Open has been a staple of the community and has featured players who went on to win on the PGA Tour such as World Golf Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins, who won 21 PGA tourneys.
But the tour is in jeopardy in the wake of its lowest turnout in recent memory at Bangor Municipal Golf Course. Just 67 pros and amateurs teed it up at the GBO this past weekend.
There were 92 entrants a year ago and 105 in 2016.
“I don’t want the tournament to go away, but we aren’t going to beat our heads against the wall, either. There’s no guarantee (it will be back) at this time,” said Rob Jarvis, Bangor Municipal Golf Course head pro. “You can’t make it happen if you don’t get enough players.
“We aren’t going to tie up a golf course for 67 players although the course does open up in the afternoon (to the public). We need at least 100 golfers to keep this going. If we could get 130 golfers, we’d be golden.”
A number of factors contributed to the low turnout.
The GBO was one of three tournaments that had been held in northern New England in a nine-day span until this season when a scheduling change pushed the Charlie’s Maine Open in Augusta to Aug. 6 and 7. The change was prompted by a merger between the Women’s Maine State Golf Association and the Maine State Golf Association, and the fact that the Maine Women’s Amateur was scheduled for July 23-25.
The GBO, Charlie’s Maine Open and the New Hampshire Open were the three tournaments held in that nine-day span, so the pros, especially those who had to travel a considerable distance, could get the most out of their travel and lodging dollars by playing in all three.
The New Hampshire Open is being held Monday through Wednesday.
In the past, the Charlie’s Maine Open was held on the Monday and Tuesday after the GBO, which concludes on Saturday. The New Hampshire Open was held right before the GBO or right after the Charlie’s Maine Open.
“The pros want to play three tournaments, not just two,” said Jarvis, who also noted that there was a qualifying tournament for the PGA’s Canada-based Mackenzie Tour on Monday and Tuesday of last week which didn’t help, either.
Pro golfers have to pay an entry fee to the GBO, and they aren’t guaranteed any money unless they finish high enough.
For example, 52 pros played in the 54-hole GBO and they each paid a $400 entry fee. Just 23 of them earned a check and only the top 18 made money. The winner, Michael Kartrude from Florida, made $7,000. At the bottom of the list of those who made money were the the five players who tied for 14th. They each made $565.
The five golfers who tied for 19th each earned $185. None of the other pros earned a cent.
The total purse was listed at $28,450, and Jarvis said last year’s purse was $34,000. The 2017 winner, Jason Thresher from Connecticut, took home $9,000.
There were only six senior pros, who pay $225 apiece for their two-day event, and nine amateurs, who pay a $200 entry fee for the three days. Golfers who want to play in both the Pro and Senior Pro divisions pay a $600 fee. There are payouts in the Senior Pro division as well.
The sponsorship money is part of the revenue stream that produces the purse along with the entry fees. Jarvis said the sponsorship base is in “very good standing,” but they could always use more.
Money left over goes to charity with the junior program at Bangor Muni being the beneficiary.
Amateurs win merchandise credit, and Ryan Fillebrown was this year’s winner and earned $525 in credit. The top four among the nine earn merchandise credit with fourth-place finisher Joey Moir earning $250.
Jarvis said the amateur turnout was hurt by the New England Amateur Tournament, which was held last Tuesday through Thursday.
He said he tries to be as flexible as possible when it comes to scheduling the tournament so the tourney can land a large field of golfers.
“My two things are will the other tournaments be willing to do some co-marketing with us to make it a mini-tour and develop a website to make it easier for the pros to find out where and when we are holding them. And, how can we make our dates all line up so we can attract players from other parts of the country to northern New England?” Jarvis said. “We have to make sure we communicate.”
The date for the GBO has to be in place by January, he added.
This is not the first time the GBO has been in jeopardy.
In June, 2007, Jarvis, who was the assistant pro at the time, announced that the upcoming 41st GBO would be the last due to scheduling conflicts with the North American Pro Golf Tour and declining sponsor dollars. But the 2007 the North American tour was canceled due to lack of players, many of whom played in the GBO.
In December, a group of local supporters came to the rescue of the tournament, and it was held again in 2008 and ever since.
It was also threatened in 1994 due to money worries, but it was again saved and the winner, Jason Widner, pocketed $10,000. There was a total purse of $50,000 that year.
Jarvis said the tournament benefits both the community and the golfers.
“The players love coming here and the community loves having them,” he said.
A pro-am tourney and a dinner are held a day before the tournament and a lobster bake after the first round of play. Free physical therapy courtesy of Bangor’s Select Physical Therapy has also been offered.
The lobster bake and free physical therapy have been major hits among the golfers.
“These are things that make this tournament great,” Eric Egloff of Sandy Spring, Maryland, said during the 2013 GBO. “That’s why I’ve come back 19 years in a row.”
Egloff finished fifth last weekend and was the Senior Pro winner.
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