FALMOUTH — Top-flight professional golf is returning to Maine.
A star-studded field of former Ladies Professional Golf Association players who now ply their trade on a relatively new tour known as the Legends Tour will descend on Falmouth Country Club in June for the inaugural Hannaford Community Challenge, one of nine events on the tour's 2012 schedule.
"From my recollection, which goes back a long time, there's never been a significant LPGA tournament in the state of Maine," Legends Tour CEO and 27-time LPGA champion Jane Blalock said. "So, why not? With Hannaford being headquartered in this area, to do something special, to bring world-class players to this area, it's a no-brainer." Among the big names on board to compete in Falmouth at the June 21-24 tournament are LPGA hall of fame golfers Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carter, Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan, as well as two World Golf Hall of Fame members, Donna Caponi and Hollis Stacy.
"When you're out there teeing it up with these women, you know you have to bring your A-game," said Legends Tour golfer Rosie Jones, herself a 13-time LPGA champion. "It's always a lot of fun. Yeah, we don't hit it as far as we used to, but there's a lot of great golf out there." Jones is one of the hottest golfers on the Legends Tour, having won five times, including at the tour's first stop this spring in Arizona.
"Even after my win a couple of weeks ago I have a lot of work to do on my game," Jones said. "Even though we're almost into June, there's so much I want to do, because coming out here, you're talking about playing with people hitting a lot further than I do, and players who are playing more often than I am." Blalock, meanwhile, is the driving force behind the Legends Tour. Seeing the opportunities the men had with the Champions Tour, Blalock figured it was about time retired LPGA golfers had the same chance to keep playing.
"The great players on the PGA have had, going back 35 or 40 years now, a place not only to play, but to continue their great relationship with the fans," Blalock said. "The women of the LPGA did not have that opportunity. We're in an era of equality, and it was time for the women to have their chance." The Legends Tour had only nine events on its schedule this season, and Blalock said there will never be more than 15 events in a year.
"What we have found is, they don't care as much how you play, as much as they do about the names and the recognition, and the opportunity to be up close and personal with their heroes." The event at Falmouth is also unique from many professional events in its involvement with the community.
Three Maine charities -- The Good Shepherd Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine and The First Tee of Maine -- will share the proceeds of the tournament, which is sponsored by Hannaford and also by Kraft Foods.
"We are particularly proud of the kind of event we have here, and we want to underline the 'community' part of this, " Blalock said.
In addition to the tournament itself, one of the unique features includes the involvement of First Tee golfers in the competition. Area junior golfers -- 20 girls and 20 boys -- will tee it up with the professionals on the first day of competition, and compete in their own tourney within the tourney.
"Our tour, yes we're about playing great golf, but we're also about giving back and mentoring young people," Blalock said. "I can't even imagine growing up, having the chance to play with two professionals. That would be really cool, for lack of a better word." The event will also include a pro-am.
Tickets to the event are $10 and are available online at www.thelegendstour.com/tickets, or at the gate on tournament days.