WELLS – Leslie Guenther of Hebron and Stephanie Babin of Saco are happy they played practice rounds at Old Marsh Country Club before Monday’s opening round of the 34th Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association Championship.

The course knowledge served them well, as both shot 7-over-par 77s to tie for the first-round lead. Many in the tournament were at a disadvantage because they hadn’t played the course before.

“I wished I had,” said four-time champion Mary Brandes, who still shot an 80.

Knowing where to avoid trouble and being accurate are keys at the course, which opened in 2008. There are mounds, traps and doglegs, and lateral hazards and water hazards that run alongside fairways and in front of the large greens.

On the dogleg right, par-4, 16th, tee shots that aren’t well placed can run through the fairway on the left, down an embankment and into a hazard. Guenther, the defending champion, found that out and made double bogey.

Still, her score likely would have been higher had she not played the course a couple weeks ago. Her round included nine consecutive 4s. Guenther was looking at a score in the low 70s before she faltered at the end with double bogeys on two of the last three holes.

“Double bogeying those holes was not so much fun, but I can’t complain,” Guenther said.

“I played well until late in the round. Having played a practice round, I was able to make wiser choices.”

Guenther had seen some low scores from Old Marsh’s women’s association in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

“After I played the course with my husband, I wondered how they could shoot those scores,” she said.

“I didn’t think the course was easy. It’s a challenging course. The greens are in beautiful condition, but not real fast.”

Babin had a pair of 7s on the front nine, and like Guenther, had problems finishing, but three birdies helped to cushion her bad holes.

“It’s target golf,” Babin said of the course.

“I had never played the course until Sunday. I played with Nancy Bither, who is a member, and she gave me all kinds of hints. I hit the ball well. My putting and chipping were solid. I was just on today.”

The leaderboard is tightly bunched. Should Guenther and Babin fall back in today’s final round, there are several golfers who could take advantage.

Mary Latini of Portland trails by two shots after opening with a 79. Peggy Wilson of Biddeford matched Brandes’ score with an 80.

Also within striking distance is six-time SMWGA champion Laurie Hyndman of Cumberland, who opened with an 82, as did Barbara Rondeau of Bailey Island. Cindy Choate, the first SMWGA champion in 1977 who also owns six titles, was among a group of three players who opened with an 83.

There are 43 players in the tournament, which concludes today with the leaders teeing off last.

Babin, who has only been golfing for eight years, followed her double-bogey seven on the third hole with a birdie 3 on No. 4.

She birdied the 292-yard 10th and got her final birdie on the par-3 15th, a hole dubbed Waterloo because of the large pond in front.

“All my putts for birdies were in the 4- to 5-foot range,” she said.

Brandes said she couldn’t get the ball close to the pin on her approach shots because the greens weren’t holding. She had a lot of long putts that resulted in five three putts.

“New greens tend to be hard,” said Brandes, a member at The Woodlands. “My shots were bouncing rather than holding.”

Guenther, who won her first championship in 2005, said her putting was tentative.

“I felt I didn’t capitalize on the opportunities I had.”

Guenther will also look to be more aggressive on her tee shots, particularly on No. 16 and 18.

“I need to be more confident that I can take a straighter line on my tee shots on those holes,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]