MANCHESTER, Maine — Ryan Gay began playing competitive golf in 2001 at age 11.
That same year, he watched as Mark Plummer won the Maine Amateur Golf Championship on their home course at Augusta Country Club.
Starting Tuesday, both men are expected to be among the contenders when the 94th Maine Amateur is played at the historic course.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a few chances to win the Maine Am and I’ve come through on those and hopefully I can do it one more time,” he added. “I’d love to do it, more than anything, at Augusta.”
The Gardiner High School graduate, who played in college at New Mexico and St. John’s, will have only one more chance. He plans to turn pro on Friday.
“The Maine Am is my last tournament as an amateur,” Gay said. “I’m really just trying to work on my game, keep improving until I hopefully get to the [PGA] Tour, make a career out of it.”
The 56-hole tournament brings together 132 of the state’s best amateurs. That includes 48 exempted participants, including six former champions, along with 84 who earned their way into the field through one of three qualifying tournaments held in June.
Only the top 40 scores and ties after 36 holes advance to Thursday’s final round.
Plummer, now 63, is the state’s most celebrated amateur, having been a consistent presence on the links for more than four decades. He owns a record 13 Maine Amateur titles, the last of which came in 2002 at Falmouth Country Club.
The six-time runner-up also was the winner at Augusta back in 1994.
“Mark can win any tournament he tees it up in,” Gay said. “Mark’s basically like family to me. He’s been great to me over the years.”
The talented field includes defending champion Seth Sweet, 18, of Madison along with two-time winners Ron Brown of Cumberland Foreside and Rick Ambrose of Bangor. J.J. Harris of Bath also will try to break the ice after posting consecutive second-place finishes.
The tournament will be a family affair for Tim Estabrook and Ben Estabrook of Bangor. Ben plays out of Bangor Muni and his dad Tim is a member at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
Both earned spots in the June 27 qualifier at PVCC and will tee off a half-hour apart in Wednesday’s opening round.
Augusta Country Club is hosting the tournament for the 17th time, but is doing so for the first time in 12 years. It also was the site of the Maine Women’s Amateur and the Charlie’s Maine Open Championship in 2012.
The Maine Open will be held there again later this summer.
The course plays only 6,214 yards, but is known for its small, fast greens and tough pin placements. However, the frequent early-summer rain has softened things up quite a bit.
“I played a practice round [Sunday] and it was a little bit wet. The rough was very thick and the rough around the greens was quite high,” offered Ricky Jones of Rockland, a two-time Maine Amateur champ (2003, 2004) who won the Paul Bunyan Amateur last month by seven strokes.
Jones, 41, was the Amateur runner-up in 2010 and 2012. In spite of limited roll on drives, he expects scores could be lower than usual because of the conditions.
“The greens weren’t as fast I usually expect them to be and they weren’t as hard,” Jones said. “If the greens are as soft as they were [Sunday], there will probably be some low scores.”
Jones admits he hasn’t been playing as often as he once did and instead has been enjoying watching his daughter play all-star softball. However, he hasn’t lost his touch.
Jones departs Friday for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship scheduled July 15-20 at Lorton, Va.
Jones has been a consistent contender at the Maine Amateur, having finished third twice and no lower than sixth since 2008.