By Matt Jenkins
BEVERLY — An old wooden sign with "Course Closed" spray-painted in yellow rests comfortably on its back next to a bush just outside the Beverly Golf & Tennis Pro Shop.
In a typical year, that same sign would be standing upright, protecting Beverly's 18-hole course from unwanted guests until at least early April. Unseasonably warm temperatures this month, coupled with a very mild winter, have allowed golf courses around the North Shore to open early, however, and a week of record-breaking heat has business booming.
Beverly Golf & Tennis opened March 15, and David Dionne, head golf professional, reported that the course hosted 250 golfers on Sunday, and a steady flow of weekday golf followed.
"The course came through the winter well," Dionne said. "The conditions are improving every day. The greens are smoothing out a lot faster than normal because of the weather. (The grounds crew) has cut the greens at least three or four times so far.
"We didn't want to open too early and do damage to the course. We saw the long-range forecast and knew it was going to be pretty nice weather, so we decided to go along with it. You always think of the golf course first. You don't want to open with a bad product."
The early feedback for Beverly Golf & Tennis has been positive. There are a couple of wet spots on the course, but very few restrictions for golfers.
The same can be said for The Meadow at Peabody, which opened for full play on Feb. 23, the earliest in the course's 11-year history.
Steve Guy of Salem and Tom Konevich of Topsfield finished 18 holes in a tidy 4 hours and 10 minutes at The Meadow yesterday afternoon, just feeling fortunate to have such warm weather this early in the golf season.
Guy said they played Middleton Golf Course five times in February and have been out twice in Peabody.
"It's unbelievable. I remember (The Meadow) opened about three years ago on March 10, and we played a little then," Guy said. "It was warm, but not this warm. Then, the whole month of April, every other day it rained. We got washed out for about six to eight weeks into May.
"This is unheard of; there's no restrictions on the carts, and we're driving wherever we want to. They said it was going to be full, but nobody was around us today. We didn't get pushed or run up anyone's back."
Olde Salem Greens opened last weekend and had a full parking lot yesterday afternoon.
One of the struggles of opening early is that courses aren't dealing with a full complement of employees. Olde Salem Greens was without a starter yesterday, so golfers were lined up at the first tee waiting their turn.
"It hit us so quickly that we're still trying to get everybody in place. We have a skeleton crew trying to get it all together," Olde Salem Greens golf manager Scott MacDonald said. "Originally, you think the first week or two you go short staff anyway, but when you get 70- to 80-degree weather, you have to have somebody in place quickly."
Much like Beverly Golf & Tennis and The Meadow, Olde Salem Greens is already receiving positive feedback. Course Superintendent Paul Lever did a lot of work to the first hole, cutting back growth and working on the tee box. Golfers have taken notice.
MacDonald, who is in his first year as golf manager at Olde Salem Greens, is excited about the fast start to spring.
"It's a great start to the year," MacDonald said. "With the wetness last spring and the spring before, what a great start to be able to open up and get in this early."