FALMOUTH, Maine — Compared to some states, the golf season gets a late start here in Maine. After the recent warmup around Vacationland, courses have been busy. To add in a golf pun, they're now in full swing.
There's momentum behind the sport in Maine and around the country after the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to try or spend more of their time doing activities outside.
Brian Bickford is the executive director of the Maine State Golf Association. He said he didn't know if the growing popularity of golf would continue after a busy 2020 season.
“Women and junior golf [interest] is up and we’re very pleased with that," he said this week during a zoom interview.
Increasing opportunities for women and junior golfers is a priority for the MSGA, Bickford added. The association's "Youth on Course" program is one way it hopes to grow the game for future generations.
“We went from 170 kids [in the program] in 2020 to 651 kids in 2021,” Bickford said.
Bickford said courses in the program are located from Kittery to Caribou. The association is also bringing the program to a course in Freeport, where kids will be able to play rounds for $5, a fraction of the cost of a full-price round of golf at any public course.
While men, women, and juniors flock to courses around the state this summer, Bickford said it will be wise to plan ahead and book tee times early because the slots will fill up regardless of the course.
“Unfortunately waiting until the last second, which used to work years ago, is no longer the case," he added.
Several Maine junior golfers that climbed the ranks both at the state level and in the region are set to take their talents to the national stage this week.
Topsham's Caleb Manuel and Camden's Cole Anderson will represent their respective colleges during this week's NCAA Regional events.
Manuel, the defending Maine Amateur Champion, won the Big East's Individual Championship last month which qualified him for regionals. He will play at the New Haven regional site, one of six around the country.
Anderson has won the Maine Amateur Championship twice. He plays at Florida State which qualified for the regional event as a team. The Seminoles will play in the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida region.
The regional event begins Monday as both golfers will look to advance to the NCAA Championship.
“Being the Big East champion that’s the big goal at the beginning of the year and that’s what it comes down to and I’m just happy I get to play more golf," Manuel said during a zoom interview last month.
Also this week, the 2022 PGA Championship will be held at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tiger Woods may dominate the headlines over the next few weeks as he is playing, but a Mainer will have a locker a few cubbies away from the "Big Cat" this week.
Shawn Warren of Windham is in the field after getting into the major championship after qualifying through the club professional process. Warren is the head professional at Falmouth Country Club. Every year, 20 club pros from across the country qualify for the tournament.
“I think driving the ball this week will be a huge focus and I think if I’m able to do that it will set up the rest of my game," he said Thursday.
Warren got to the course on Thursday and said he was going to be playing practice rounds until this weekend. He added one hard element of this course is the wind, which may play to his advantage.
“Being up in Maine the last couple weeks, I don’t think the wind can be any stronger here than it was there," Warren said.
Even though Maine isn't the biggest golf state in the country, Warren said golfers are passionate in Vacationland and he is excited to represent his home state on the national level.