FALMOUTH — Massachusetts golfers had a strong presence at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the 83rd men’s New England Amateur golf championship Tuesday at the Falmouth Country Club.

But one spot they couldn’t claim was the top one, which belonged to Craig Steckowych, 53, of Greenland, N.H., who shot a 6-under 65 to grab a one-shot lead in the three-day, 72-hole event.

Steckowych, the 2001 champion, made eight birdies. His only mistake was hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 15th and taking a double bogey, but he recovered nicely.

Steckowych had a 7:50 a.m. starting time on the 10th hole with Frank Vana Jr. of Massachusetts and Ricky Jones of Thomaston. Jones struggled on his front nine and finished with a 75.

After Steckowych came a slew of Massachusetts golfers, with a player each from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire in the mix.

Brian Higgins of Bellingham, Mass., also an early starter off the back, had the lead at 66 for about a half-hour until Steckowych posted his score.

Other Massachusetts golfers near the lead are Herbie Aikens of Kingston with a 68 and Daniel Falcucci of Worcester with a 69. Joining Aikens at 68 was Chris Swift of New Canaan, Conn.

Also shooting 2-under 69s were Kyle Hoffman of Pawtucket, R.I., and D.J. Lantz of Lake Sunapee, N.H.

Jack Whelan of South Hamilton, Mass., had a 70. Vana, a top player for years, shot a 71

The top Maine scorer was Ryan Gay of Pittston with a 70. Next came Tommy Stirling of Gorham with a 71, followed by the newly crowned Maine Amateur champion, Seth Sweet of Madison, with a 72.

The 6,879-yard layout is playing as a par-71 for the tournament. The sixth hole, a 481-yard, par 5 for the members, is a par 4 for the region’s top amateurs.

Maine last hosted the tourney in 2006 at The Woodlands in Falmouth, which was won by Brad Valois of Warwick, R.I. Valois opened with a 72.

The field will be cut to the low 40 and ties after today’s round. They will play 36 holes Thursday, which is the custom.

With soft greens and little wind, the course was ripe for scoring. Nine players broke par and the average score was 76.

Steckowych, a two-time New Hampshire amateur champion, capitalized on a hot putter.

“I just hit a lot of good shots but mainly it was exceptional putting,” he said.

“It was just one of those days when the game seemed easy. Golf is funny that way. Most of the time you struggle. There’s no telling what will happen the rest of the way but it was certainly fun today.”

Steckowych dropped from 3 under to 1 under after his double on his sixth hole of the day.

“I forgot about it and kept playing,” he said. “I made the turn at 2 under and made four birdies on the back nine (the regular front). The greens were very receptive, which made things a little easier.”

Even though some of the pin positions were tucked behind mounds, the softness of the greens led to aggressive approaches.

“You could shoot right at the flags with confidence, knowing that they weren’t going to roll any more than a few feet away,” said Steckowych.

Higgins, who won the tournament two years ago, was 5 under through nine holes.

Starting on the back nine, he parred the first two holes before canning three consecutive birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 14. He closed the side with birdies on 17 and 18.

Higgins three-putted the first hole (his 10th) for his only bogey. He made it up with a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 fourth.

“I made a great up and down to save par on the third hole,” said Higgins, 37.

“It kept my momentum going.”

Gay, a three-time state amateur champ, had five birdies, a double and two bogeys. He was looking at a 69 but three-putted No. 18.

Sweet was 3 over on the front nine but recovered with three birdies on the back to shoot a 34.

On Monday, Sweet played 36 holes at Sanford in a U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament.

He missed qualifying for the national event because only two spots were available.

“I had to get up early for my tee time here,” he said.

Judd Parsons of York, Mike Arsenault of Gorham and Joe Walp of Portland shot 73s.

Walp was 2 under on the front nine, but said he started missing fairways and greens on the back nine.

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

Twitter: TomChardPPH