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The Maine State Golf Association will begin holding its weekly tournaments next week with a women’s event at the Bangor Municipal Golf Course kicking things off on Tuesday.
The development comes after Gov. Janet Mills announced on Wednesday that she was relaxing a number of restrictions on golf courses prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That included one that forced golfers to play on courses located in the county in which they reside — unless they were members at a course in another county.
Players from all across the state play in MSGA-sponsored events, so it was imperative to have the county restriction lifted.
“We’re excited to get going,” said MSGA executive director Brian Bickford, who praised golf pros, course workers and the golfers themselves for adhering to the restrictions that had been put in place.
That made it possible for Mills to lift some of them, he said.
Even with the guidelines in place, Bickford said the month of May has been a good one for golf courses across the state despite the restrictions.
“I talked to two dozen golf courses and they are up 30-50 percent from last year,” he said.
Even so, Bickford had to cancel the Maine Open. Instead, the MSGA is adding a two-day tournament in August to take its place. Like the Maine Open, it will be for pros and amateurs and will be held at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester.
It is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 12 and 13.
It’s the first time since World War II that the Maine Open has been canceled, Bickford said.
He said the Maine Open was not doable because Maine regulations require visitors from out of state, which would have included numerous participants, to quarantine for two weeks after entering the state.
The Massachusetts Open and New Hampshire Open also were canceled and the Vermont Open has been postponed.
The Vermont (June 22-24), New Hampshire (June 25-27) and Maine open (June 30-July 1) tournaments had been scheduled to be held in a 10-day span so the pros could remain in the region and play all three tournaments.
The new tournament will be called the Maine Event and Bickford said he expects it to be a good event featuring the state’s best pros and amateurs, both men and women.
Bickford likes having the tournament centrally located in Manchester, “because, probably, 80 to 90 percent of the field won’t have to stay overnight.”
Longtime Maine Open sponsor Charlie’s Motor Mall in Augusta will be the primary sponsor.
Bickford said the MSGA also is adding junior play days at courses across the state that will begin next week with the aim of getting kids involved in the game.
“We are planning to have two or three a week through the end of June,” he said. “These won’t be tournaments. There won’t be any scoring. They will play nine holes. There will be a maximum of eight shots per hole. They will be social distancing.
“Our junior golf figures are way up. Kids haven’t been able to play other sports [due to the coronavirus] and some of them are out of [virtual] school by 10 in the morning,” he said.
Bickford is hoping these golfers will move up to play on their junior tour someday.
The three major summer events on the MSGA schedule are the Maine Amateur men’s championship tournament July 7-9 at the Biddeford-Saco Country Club, the Maine Women’s Amateur July 20-22 at Augusta Country Club and the junior boys and girls amateur July 28-29 at Gorham Country Club.
Golf is a sport that lends itself to social distancing and since there are very few adult sports available now due to the pandemic, if “anyone has an inkling to try it, it’s a great sport to play,” he added.
Watch: Maine CDC press conference, May 29