The clubhouse at Biddeford-Saco Country Club – site of the Maine Amateur golf tournament this week – as viewed from the fairway on the 9th hole. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Almost everything on the Maine sports calendar this summer has been canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic, from the Beach to Beacon 10K to Portland Sea Dogs games.

Everything but golf tournaments, that is. They’ll be taking center stage over the next month, starting with the 101st Maine Amateur this week in Saco.

Golfers returned to Maine’s courses in May, facing new guidelines designed to keep them safe. The sport’s very nature – being outside and played in small groups – lends itself to the social distancing required to reduce the spread of the virus.

But adjustments had to be made in other areas. And some of the guidelines have taken a little more time to get used to.

Like the one concerning the flag, or pin, that marks each hole. It must remain in the hole at all times. And some golfers, both young and old, have to resist the urge to pull it out of the hole each time they step on the green.

“While I’m playing the weirdest part is not taking the flag out,” said 20-year-old Bailey Plourde, the 2018 Maine Women’s Amateur champ who is returning to the tournament after missing last year. “I do not like it being in, especially on short putts. Seeing the flag there messes with me … I always want to take it out.”

Mark Plummer is a 13-time winner of the Maine Amateur. “We’re fortunate we’re one of the few sports that can get out to play,” he says. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mark Plummer, 67 and a 13-time winner of the Maine Amateur, understands exactly what she means.

“God,” he said, “I’m a creature of habit, I’m still going to reach to pull the pin. I’ve gotten used to it but personally I don’t like putting with the pin in. I think most guys don’t. But whatever we have to do to play, we’ll do. We’re fortunate we’re one of the few sports that can get out to play.”

The state’s most prestigious tournament, the  Maine Amateur, will be held this week at the Biddeford-Saco Country Club. The first group of defending champ Cole Anderson, John Hayes IV (the 2019 Mid-Amateur champ) and Plummer (the 2019 Senior Amateur champ) will tee off at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The field includes 132 players, with the final round of the 54-hole tournament scheduled for Thursday.

The Women’s Amateur will be played July 20-22 at the Augusta Country Club and the Maine Junior Championships will be July 28-29 at the Gorham Country Club.

“People are excited to be out and playing,” said Mike Doran, director of communications for the Maine State Golf Association. “Even though the landscape of golf looks different, people are excited to be out there.”

Many of Maine’s courses opened in March but had to shut down in April after being deemed a nonessential outdoor activity. MSGA executive director Brian Bickford worked with Gov. Janet Mills and her staff to come up with guidelines to help make the sport safe. Courses were allowed to reopen on May 1.

While that caused the MSGA to cancel some events, Bickford said they were always hoping to get in the July tournaments. “We had a plan A, B, C and D,” he said.”Given everything that has happened, I’m very pleased.”

Several of the guidelines dealt with personal habits: social distancing, no handshakes or high-fives, wearing a face mask while in the clubhouse. Others dealt with the game: leaving the pin in the hole, no rakes in the sand bunkers – which will allow golfers to take a preferred lie if they put a ball into a bunker. In the Maine Am, there will be no caddies and golf carts will be limited to one rider.

Holes at Biddeford-Saco Country Club have been fitted with foam pool noodles to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Officials also don’t want anyone reaching into the cup to get their ball after it goes in. So courses have used a variety of objects, such as a ball lifter, in the holes. At Biddeford-Saco, the holes are plugged with pieces of foam pool noodles. The long pool noodles are cut into small pieces that fit perfectly into the hole – they even have a hole in the middle to allow the flag to fit – and allow the ball to drop slightly into the hole. The golfer can retrieve it without reaching into the cup or touching the pin.

Doran said that golfers seem to be following all the rules so far.

“I don’t know what’s going on at all 120 clubs, but people are taking it seriously and doing their part,” he said. “The last thing they want is to lose golf again.”

For many, the changes to social interaction are significant. Handshakes or high-fives have been replaced by fist bumps, golf club taps or, Bickford said, “the Corona kick, touching toes. The kids showed me that one the other day.”

“Personally, I’m an in-your-face kind of golfer,” said Kristen Kannegieser. “It’s hard to see all these women you haven’t seen all year and not be able to go give a hug. It’s hard that you can’t be affectionate.”

“I’m a big hugger,” said Jordan Laplume, the defending Maine Women’s Amateur champ. “I love to hug after rounds. I’ve been giving the elbow bump or touching putters but it doesn’t feel as  … I don’t know what the word is. To me to give a hug is nice. To give an elbow is meh.”

Plummer, who has finished second in the Maine Am seven times, said he misses being able to get together after a round of golf. “The social part is really missing,” he said. “That’s the fun part, going in (to the club house) and commiserating and talking about bad shots and good shots and having a couple of beers.”

As far as the tournaments? They figure to be exciting.

Cole Anderson of Camden won the 2019 Maine Amateur at Portland Country Club in Falmouth. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Anderson, the defending Maine Am champ, said his plan was to “just keep winning it. That’s all there really is to do. That’s the goal obviously every year … You’ve got to trying to push the boundaries as much as possible.”

Anderson, who finished third three years ago and second two years ago, knows he’ll face challenges, especially from young golfers such as Reese McFarlane, who finished second last year, and Caleb Manuel, the 2020 Mt. Ararat graduate who shot a Brunswick Golf Club record 59 in May.

“There are a few guys with the ability to shoot,” said Anderson, a 19-year-old from Camden who returned to Maine in mid-May after finishing his freshman year at Florida State.

Hayes, who won the Maine Am in 2015, said there are many contenders.

“The college kids have an edge,” said Hayes. “But in any given year, there are probably 10 people who can win it.”

Bailey Plourde won the 2018 Maine Women’s Amateur, and will compete again this summer after missing the tournament last year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Plourde’s return to the Women’s Amateur certainly adds some intrigue. She missed last year while serving an internship with the Kentucky state golf association. She’s going to enter her senior year at Centre College of Danville, Kentucky.

She did pay attention, though, following Laplume’s victory online. “I kept refreshing the leader board all the time,” said Plourde.

Laplume is ready to defend her title. She was the top Maine finisher – tied for seventh overall – in last week’s New England Women’s Amateur at the North Conway (New Hampshire) Country Club.

“It’s a little overwhelming (being the defending champ),” said Laplume, who will be a junior at Merrimack College. “I’m trying not to think about it like that so I don’t stress myself out.”

Kannegiser said the younger golfers certainly have an edge.

“It’s going to be the young kids again, which is fabulous,” she said. “That’s the way it should be … They play so much more competitive golf. It’s all great. If for a couple of days I play my normal game, I’ll be fine.”

The action doesn’t slow in August. With the Maine Open canceled earlier this year for the first time since World War II, the MSGA created the Maine Event, to be held Aug. 12-13 at Augusta. It is open to only Maine golfers: men, women, pros, amateurs, seniors and juniors.

“We felt it was important to offer championship golf to some players who couldn’t travel out of state,” said Bickford. “We wanted to add another championship level of golf.”

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