Ryan Gay of Pittston will defend the first of his two major state amateur golf titles Saturday when the 47th Harris Golf Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament gets under way at two of eastern Maine’s most challenging golf courses.
Gay, who was also the 2010 Maine Amateur champion, won last year’s rain-shortened Bunyan with a 2-under-par 68 at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor, two strokes better than runner-up Mike Norris of Newburgh.
Norris is not entered this year, but the winners of five of the six Bunyans prior to last year’s will also be trying to add to their title totals.
Jason Harvey of Bangor (2009 champ), Joe Alvarez of Hampden (2008) and Ricky Jones of Thomaston (2004, ’05, ’07 as well as ‘01) are all included in the 7 a.m. opening foursome at Kebo with Mike Doran of Topsham.
“I definitely feel like this is a great tournament and good competition,” said Gay.
The field is set up into four divisions with the A- and B-flight players at Kebo on Saturday and Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono on Sunday. The C and D flights play the same courses but in reverse order. Players will be re-paired for Sunday’s round based on Saturday’s scores.
Gay played a Maine State Golf Association weekend tournament round Friday at Boothbay Country Club where he tried to bomb his way around the course.
“They had it set up so short, I tried to drive the greens on the par 4s,” he said. “I lost a few balls.”
He hit the ball farther when he was playing at altitude for the University of New Mexico and now he has to adjust his game.
“I’ve got to get back on sea-level numbers,” he said with a little laugh.
His approach, literally, will be different in the Bunyan.
“If you hit fairways and leave short irons into the greens, you’ll have a chance,” Gay said. “The greens are so treacherous, you want to make sure to be below the hole.
“The fairways are the key. You can’t control the ball out of the rough.”
Gay may be playing under entirely different conditions than the first group as he is teeing off in the last foursome at 1:20 p.m., but he doesn’t believe it will have as much effect as it might during the summer.
In July and August, temperatures tend to be cooler in the morning and the greens are softer.
“This time of year, maybe it’ll be warmer in the afternoon,” he said.
But he likes how his play in Maine is coming back to him.
“Everything is coming into place,” he said.
There were 314 competitors on board as of Thursday, significantly higher than the 288 that had been originally planned to constitute a full field.
“The interest was, to use a Maine expression, wicked strong,” said Matt Barnard, marketing director for Harris Golf.
“We have more new people than I’ve ever seen,” he added.
The interest shown and the fact some people have to withdraw for one reason or another were reasons cited for adding players.
“We wanted to make sure we have a good, full field,” said Barnard. “This decision was made with a lot of deliberation.”
Organizers believe the golf courses can handle the extra traffic, and Barnard thinks the decision will turn out well.
“It’s an exciting field,” he said.
That field includes 24 women, more than four times as many as last year’s field, and defending women’s champ Whitney Hand of Bucksport will have to fend off a strong set of challengers.
She won’t have to look far because she is playing in the same group with three of them — Liz Coffin and Jennifer Weiland of Hampden and Kathi O’Grady of Portland, and Micki Meggison of Gorham is in the next group.
“We kind of push each other,” said Hand. “It should be really good this year.”
Because of the wet spring, Hand said she hasn’t been able to practice as much as she would have liked, but she doesn’t have to go far when she does practice. She helps her father Wayne run Bucksport Golf Club.
“I go out every night after work (when weather allows) and play until it gets dark,” she said.
Although she won last year, Hand was still disappointed.
“I was sick last year, and I’m not this year. I’m excited to play,” she said.
She doesn’t want to play excited, though.
“I just think I need to be patient … and keep my tempo,” said Hand.