A golden anniversary represents a golden opportunity for Leslie Guenther.

Guenther, who has emerged in this decade as one of the top local women’s amateur golfers, is one of 12 Maine players who will enjoy the home-state advantage this week when the 50th annual New England Women’s Golf Association championship unfolds at Sunday River Golf Club in Newry.

“I hope I’m a player,” Guenther said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

The 54-hole tournament begins Tuesday at the mountainside gem recently named Golfweek magazine’s top-ranked new course in Maine.

Last year’s Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association champion and Women’s Maine State Golf Association runner-up hopes to use her toughest competition of the season as a tune-up for her run at those two titles.

The SMWGA tourney tees off on July 18 and 19, with the WMSGA state amateur scheduled for July 25, 26 and 27.

“Hopefully I’ll be peaking,” said Guenther. “It’s a big three weeks.”

June’s wet weather sent everyone scrambling for tee times and avoiding temporary water hazards, but the tropical rain was an even bigger problem for Guenther.

As director of athletics at Hebron Academy, her window of available play dates is smaller than most.

“It’s coming along,” the Norway Country Club member said of her game. “I didn’t play my first 18-hole round of the year until June 20. I’ve certainly played a lot since then. This happens every year. I don’t have a lot of time to work on my game until school gets out.”

Guenther has a decent scouting report, having played three full rounds at Sunday River during its short existence.

She scheduled a practice round with her husband on their anniversary in June when (you guessed it) rain intervened after nine holes.

Renowned designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. sketched the sloping course. Fairways jump out like runways and greens are inviting, too, but looks are deceiving.

“If you don’t keep the ball in play, it’s not very forgiving. You must be accurate. The fairways give you a lot of room, but the elevation changes are a big thing,” Guenther said. “So much of the terrain is rolling, so often you’re either hitting up onto a green or looking down on a green.”

Hitting those greens in regulation is no guarantee of a low score, either.

“They’re nice and big. The other times I’ve played there, I’ve put the ball on the green and thought, Hey, isn’t this wonderful?’ Then I realize I’m 40 feet away from the hole, and I end up three-putting,” Guenther said.

Guenther’s entry into the tournament wasn’t a strenuous process. She believes that Maine has a quota of 18 players each year, and she’s the only local woman among a dozen Mainers entered.

She first played the New England tournament in the mid-1990s, when Martindale Country Club in Auburn hosted the event. Guenther enjoyed that experience so much that she traveled to New Hampshire and Massachusetts the next two years before falling out of the loop.

“I figured this year it’s in Maine, nice and close to Hebron,” she said.

Formed in 1956, the New England Women’s Golf Association held its first championship in Connecticut the following year. Many big names in women’s golf have won the title, including Pat Bradley, Jane Blalock and Joanne Carner.

Guenther is more concerned with having fun than making history or breaking par.

Golf remains a hobby and a source of stress relief. She first played the game at age 9, then gave it up for roughly 10 years after graduating from high school.

“It was probably 1993 when I started participating in organized women’s events,” she said. “I enjoy the golf, but most of all I enjoy the friendships I’ve made through it.”


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