Joe Alvarez of Hampden and Ricky Jones of Thomaston will pick up almost where they left off when the 45th Harris Golf Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament kicks off today.
Alvarez edged his friend Jones by a stroke in a shootout last year at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono. This came after Alvarez finished tied for second in 2007 as Jones won his fourth Bunyan.
“Joe called and told me my tee time and that I was playing with him and [Keith] Patterson [of Saco],” said Jones on Friday.
They will tee off at 9:10 a.m. at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor, which is hosting the A and B flights today. The C and D flights are opening at PVCC today, and the flights will swap courses for Sunday’s 18-hole finale. The flight leaders will be re-paired for Sunday’s round.
“I enjoy playing with Ricky,” said Alvarez. “He makes you focus on every shot, and I know Keith pretty well. He’s a good player, too.
“I couldn’t ask for a better pairing.”
Alvarez got in a practice round late Friday at PVCC, his home club.
“I’m trying to get warmed up,” he said.
He hasn’t played as much this year as he has in the past, in a good way.
“My wife and I had a daughter about six months ago,” he said. “My free time at night is not as free as before.”
But he’s still confident about defending his title.
“I feel fine, my game is fine,” he said.
Jones had been unsure if he would play since the Bunyan was trimmed from three days to two this year.
“When I saw they were giving [Maine State Golf Association] points, I decided to play,” he said with a laugh.
The points count toward the Player of the Year title as well as for making the Tri-State (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) team and the USGA state team championship. This is the first time the MSGA has awarded points to the top finishers.
Jones, who has been competing mostly in the MSGA’s southern division tournament schedule, said his play “has been all right” this season, an underplayed endorsement of his game.
“I’m not playing as much as I usually do. I’ve got a lot of things going on. Business and my daughter is playing softball,” said Jones, who also has Maine Amateur and Maine Open championships to his credit.
Although he has won four Bunyans and contended for others, he still uses the Bunyan as a gauge of the state of his game.
“I take the Bunyan as a tuneup,” he said. “I look at it as the first step, since it comes so early, and use it to get ready for the season.
“I try to see where my game’s at.”
He doesn’t have any special plan for his approach to the tourney.
“I’m just going to go out and play,” he said.
Alvarez and Jones could find themselves in a tight race with a number of other golfers.
“The A flight handicaps run from 0 to about 5.4,” said Chad Curley, the head pro at PVCC. “And the B flight goes from there to about 9.9. [Flights] C and D are close, also.”
Seven of last year’s top nine finishers are back, including third-place Tom Ellsworth out of Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland and four of the six who tied for fourth.
“This is a lot stronger field,” said Alvarez. “It’s going to be a good tournament.”
The number of competitors is up more than 20 percent over last year to approximately 260 players, according to Curley. Part of the credit for that is given to the fact there is only weekend play because the number of golf courses was cut from three to two, allowing more people to play who might not have been able to get Friday off to play.
Alvarez doesn’t see an advantage to finishing at home this year due to the changes.
“In this format, where it’s only 36 holes, you have to play good golf for 36 holes,” he said.
New this year, the MSGA will be conducting the scoring, and live scoring will be available by going to www.bunyangolf.com, which switches automatically to the harrisgolfonline.com Web site. Then click on live scoring.