Ruby Haylock of Hartford watches her putt as Rachel Smith studies the green on the ninth hole during the Maine Junior Amateur at Val Halla last month. Haylock and Smith are the only two golfers signed up to play in the first women’s division at the Charlie’s Maine Open. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

A new era for the Charlie’s Maine Open will begin when the 2019 edition of the tournament opens Tuesday.

For the first time in the event’s 101-year history, women will be teeing off at the Maine Open.

The idea for a women’s division came together earlier this summer.

“I always found it interesting there was always an Open for men, but not for women,” Brian Bickford, in his first year as Maine State Golf Association executive director, said. “Joe Alvarez, who’s a good golfer in the state of Maine, it was his suggestion of trying that, as women have very few majors in their schedule.

“They have the Maine (Women’s) Amateur, but essentially that’s the only major. I wanted to give the girls, or women, another opportunity to play in a major tournament — why not the Maine Open?”

‘A LOT OF FUN’

The women’s division, like the men’s, will be open to pros and amateurs. It will be small, though. Hartford’s Ruby Haylock and Cumberland’s Rachael Smith are the two golfers to sign up for the tournament. Each was personally invited to play in the Open by Bickford earlier this summer.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for me, Rachel as well,” Haylock said. “We are really good friends and really good, competitive golfers with each other. I always enjoy competing against Rachel, she pushes me to try to score well.”

Smith didn’t realize until Thursday that she and Haylock are the only two competing in the women’s division.

It’s a small start, but the MSGA knows this is only the beginning.

“You got to start somewhere. Our feeling is I thought we would get a couple of other ladies, but it’s not like (the women’s division) was approved back in January,” Bickford said. “It was approved late in the process as an association, and we are very happy Rachel and Ruby have signed up, and they are two very good competitors and we are excited they are going to play. We would love to have other ladies play, including (Maine Women’s Amateur champion) Jordan (Laplume), but you got to sign up.”

Players were given only a six-week notice to register for the tournament.

Smith understands why there aren’t more women’s players. When the MSGA listed the Maine Open on its 2019 schedule at the beginning of the year, it was listed as a men’s event, and a lot of players build their playing schedules before the season starts.

SCHEDULE CHANGE?

Bickford recognizes that golfers have other obligations or may not have the time in their schedule to add another tournament, especially so late in the season. He hopes to rectify that situation by moving the Maine Open to earlier in the summer.

“What I would like to do, and it really depends on the golf courses, is I would like to move (the tournament) to June and get it out of the end of August,” Bickford said. “There’s a couple reasons: One is golf courses are so busy between July 4 weekend and (Labor) Day, to give up three days in the middle of the season is very, very difficult.

“If I could move that into June, kids are back from college, they are usually back in mid-May, and it’s prior to that window I just talked about, which should help the golf courses’ and players’ schedules.”

Bickford said he talked to other golfers who play in MSGA tour events, such as Kristen Kannegieser, Carrie Langevin and Karen Nicoletti, who is the LPGA pro at Portland Country Club, about playing in the Maine Open. They all agree that it’s a great event but couldn’t make it work out this year.

Th Open will be the final MSGA event for Smith before she heads to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, where she will be a freshman on the golf team and a teammate of Laplume, who will be a sophomore.

FIRST CHAMP

Since there is a women’s division, whoever has the lowest score between Smith and Haylock will be the first official women’s winner of the tournament. The pair won’t be paired together, instead they will be in a group with male players.

They are excited for that opportunity.

“It’s definitely intimidating, but it will be good playing with the men,” Smith said. “Like I said, it will be more intimidating, but in a way, it will help me push me to play better. It’s going to be a matter of not getting in my head so much because they will be driving it way past me and hitting their irons way past me. I just have to play my game and take it from there.”

Haylock said it will be a nice change since she usually plays with women.

Both are excited to be the trailblazers for the women’s division.

“I really hope more women sign up for it next year, and I think they will know this tournament is a very good opportunity for everyone to play in,” Haylock said. “I think it will open a few people’s eyes up knowing Rachel and I are playing in it this year.”


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