The New England PGA Championships return to Maine for the first time since 1997, beginning Tuesday at The Woodlands and Portland Country Club.

The tournament, with a field of 150 golfers, continues with the second round Wednesday at both clubs, followed by the final round Thursday at The Woodlands. Play will begin at 8 a.m.

“I refer to this tournament as the crown jewel,” said Nathan Robbins, the executive director of the NEPGA. “It is the one tournament that the players really gear up for and the professionals, as a whole, set their schedule around. It is the biggest event on our schedule and we try to make it the best competition possible.”

If there is a favorite, it could be Troy Pare of Rumford, R.I., and the Wannamoisett Country Club. He played in last week’s PGA Championships at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis., and just missed the cut.

“He’s been playing great,” said Robbins. “But you have to wonder if there’s gong to be someone with local knowledge, like a Bobby Darling (of Fox Ridge Golf Club in Lewiston) or someone else, who knows the courses a little better and knows how to play them.”

Mike Baker of Hermon and the Tarratine Golf Club was the last Mainer to win the NEPGA championship, in 1998. John Hickson of Topsham won it in 1995. Hickson was third in the recent State of Maine Championship, which was won by Jeff Seavey of the Samoset Resort. Baker was 10th.

The Woodlands and Portland CC also hosted the tournament the last time it was held in Maine, with the finals at Portland CC. Robbins said the tournament also serves as a qualifier for the professional national championship.

Pare, who won the NEPGA in 2005, and Ron Philo Jr. of Stowe, Vt., automatically qualify for the national tournament as former champs. Philo won the NEPGA in both 2004 and 2008. Robbins expects 12 others to qualify.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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