Local liquor billionaire steps in to remake Boothbay Harbor Country Club.By Wayne Mills
Paul Coulombe was content to retire at 59 after divesting the last of his White Rock Distilleries business in 2012. In just five years, he had pocketed $1.2 billion from selling off such well-known brands as Three Olives vodka, Calico Jack Rum and Pinnacle vodka.
After cashing out, he returned to a place he loved, Boothbay, Maine, and built a palatial waterfront home on Pratt’s Island. It was during construction that the builder, knowing Coulombe’s passion for golf, casually mentioned that Boothbay Harbor Country Club was being auctioned off after going into foreclosure. He suggested that Coulombe take a peek at the club.
“I wasn’t looking for something to do,” he said. “I was ready to relax after going hard for 35 years in the liquor business. I really had no interest but I thought I’d take a look. I thought it might be a fun thing to do.”
One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Coulombe had purchased the 165-acre property and the 18-hole golf course for $1.2 million. And that got his juices flowing again. “I didn’t realize I wasn’t content to just read a book,” he said.
The irrepressible Coulombe knows only one way to go, and that’s full steam ahead. With Boothbay Harbor, he faced serious challenges. The course dates back to 1921 when Wayne Stiles laid out nine holes on the ledge-strewn hills above the village. A second nine wasn’t added until the late 1990s, which left the course with something of a split personality.
Coulombe’s first order of business was to build a first-class driving range. In order to accomplish that, he needed to purchase additional land. That turned into an adventure, but he eventually added 70 acres to the existing property.
He then enticed Michigan-based golf course architect Bruce Hepner to look over the proposed site for the driving range. Hepner, who worked with world-class architect Tom Doak for 17 years, is now a restoration specialist of classic golf courses. Some of his notable New England work has come at Charles River Country Club, Essex County Club, Cape Arundel and Prouts Neck. He wasn’t sure he wanted to travel from Michigan to Maine just to look at a driving range, but he was a fan of Stiles’ designs so he decided to take a look.
Upon arrival, he was shocked to see where Coulombe wanted to place the range. “The land was not good,” he said. “It was all ledges. We would have to dynamite the whole thing.”
Hepner was accustomed to economic factors influencing the proposed work, but he never
met a client like Coulombe. “It wasn’t like he didn’t care what it cost. We had to give him prices. But in the end he would say, ‘Just do it,’” Hepner said.
So after a $5 million investment, Boothbay Harbor had a beautiful new driving range.
Next up was a tour of the golf course. Once again, Hepner was unimpressed. “It was a hodgepodge of different eras. The added nine was kind of a mess. There was no cohesive idea,” he said.
Coulombe asked him to devise a master plan for the entire course, which was right in Hepner’s wheelhouse. “I wanted to make it feel like a great old classic club,” Hepner said. “I looked at each golf hole to apply classic principals of architecture that I’d learned from the Golden Age of the 1920s and ‘30s.”
Once again, money was no object. “Paul taught me to think beyond my frugality,” he said. “He said, ‘Let’s just do what needs to be done.’ His desire was to have something great out there. He told me not worry about the money.”
It took lots of work to make the golf holes look like they had been there forever. New greens were blasted out of ledges, fairways were lowered, bunkers were moved and holes were lengthened with new tee boxes. The result is a modern beauty molded in a classic style.
Coulombe also had a vision for a new clubhouse. Now in place on the site of the former modest structure is a stunning 25,000 square-foot palace in which Coulombe had his hand in every element. “I’m a nut about design,” he said. “I spent a year picking out the woodwork, chairs, baths, tiles and all the fixtures.”
By the time of the grand opening in May, 2016, he had invested $50 million in Boothbay Harbor. When the planned cottages, tennis courts and assorted other amenities are completed, that number will rise to $75 million. “I don’t expect to ever get a return on the investment,” he admitted.
What began as a whim has turned into Coulombe’s pride and joy. “I absolutely love it,” he said of the finished product. “I just want to provide a facility to the members and the community and to boost tourism for the region. That’s all.”