American golfers reluctant to cross border to play Aroostook Valley Country Club 

3 weeks ago

Business has changed for Aroostook Valley Country Club, which straddles the Canadian and American border between Fort Fairfield and Four Falls, New Brunswick. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, golfers could park in the parking lot in Fort Fairfield and walk across to Four Falls where they would sign in at the clubhouse and tee off. Crossing the border was informal and easy.

When the border closed due to the pandemic in 2020, American golfers couldn’t get on the course.

The border finally reopened on May 5, 2022 and Americans who hadn’t been able to play on the scenic 6,304-yard, par-72 layout were able to return. The catch is, crossing the border remains a formal process. Americans now have to go through the Canadian port of entry to play Aroostook Valley, which means there’s more travel time.

And that has cost the course a lot of business.

Aroostook Valley manager and golf pro Steve Leitch said the club had 28 American members last year compared to its pre-pandemic average of 100.

But he also noted that the number of Canadian members grew from an average of 90-95 to 114 a year ago.

And he said they are off to a “very positive” start this season and feels there is a good chance the number of members will increase, particularly among Canadians.

The condition of the course itself will help, he said.

Aroostook Valley Country Club’s pro shop and clubhouse are located in Four Falls, New Brunswick.

“In my 31 years here, the course has never been in better shape,” said Leitch. “The greens are impeccable.”

The course opened in 1929 and the reason it straddles the two countries is prohibition.

From 1920-’33, liquor sales were banned in the United States as a result of the 18th Amendment.

So golf courses began popping up just on the Canadian side of the border because people could consume alcohol in Canada.

Aroostook Valley was one of those courses.

Leitch said he doesn’t foresee returning to a pre-pandemic scenario where golfers will be able to park in Fort Fairfield and walk across to Canada and tee off.

It is a government issue, not a Covid issue any more, and he said the governments are treating the course just like “any other piece of property” that straddles the border, requiring people to meet port-of-entry requirements when they cross from one country into another.

“That’s just the way it is,” said Leitch.

Many of the former American members who haven’t returned have joined other golf clubs and Leitch said he understands it.

“They want something that is convenient. They don’t want to spend the extra 15 minutes of travel time,” he said.

However, he also said that if they decide to return, they will be welcomed with open arms.

He said American golfers and tourists who travel a significant distance to play the course aren’t bothered by the extra travel time.

Leitch said the golf course is “fine” financially although he noted that the loss of American members has certainly had a negative impact when it comes to dollars and cents.

They haven’t been able to make all the capital improvements they would like to, he said.

And while most courses have flourished during the Covid era because golf is a safe, outdoor activity, that hasn’t been the case at Aroostook Valley due to the border situation, he said.

But Leitch is upbeat about the season and the future and said the club will again hold the 36-hole St. John Valley Open golf tournament on Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1.

It returned for the first time since the Covid pandemic last summer and he anticipates an even better turnout this year. One hundred golfers played in the tourney last year.

Story by BDN Sports reporter Larry Mahoney