Caleb Manuel, winner of the Maine Amateur earlier this summer, will play again in the Maine Event at Waterville Country Club. Manuel finished second last year behind fellow amateur Brian Bilodeau. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

OAKLAND — Ron Leclair drove his golf cart down the fourth fairway at Waterville Country Club. It’s been decades since Leclair played the course, where he was club pro from 1962-63, and it felt new.

“I haven’t seen this course in over 50 years. The trees have grown up so much I don’t even recognize it,” Leclair said as he approached the fourth green.

The winner of the Maine Open in 1966 and an inductee to the Maine Golf Hall of Fame, Leclair will celebrate his 85th birthday Wednesday by playing in the Maine Event. Created by the Maine State Golf Association last summer when the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Maine Open, the 36-hole tournament that starts Tuesday features the top golfers from the state – amateurs and pros, women and men.

Last summer, the tournament was played on two courses – Augusta Country Club for the first day and Waterville Country Club for the second. This year, both rounds will be at Waterville Country Club. The top prize money for a professional player is $2,200, with $700 in credit to any pro shop in the state for the top amateur. Brian Bilodeau of Auburn is back to defend his title and will tee off in the first group at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“I think the people like playing here. It’s good for us,” said Waterville club pro Don Roberts, who plans to play in the tournament. “On a normal year, with no rain, we’d have a lot of dead rough, but everything’s green.”

The field will be made up of 132 golfers, including 25 pros. The list of pros includes Shawn Warren of Falmouth Country Club and Dan Venezio of Portland Country Club, both of whom played in the Live and Work in Maine Open, the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour tournament at Falmouth Country Club in June.


Last year’s Maine Event runner-up, Caleb Manuel of Topsham, won the Maine Amateur last month at Kebo Valley Club in Bar Harbor, and at 19 was the youngest player in the Live and Work in Maine Open. Manuel said he’s looking forward to playing alongside pros again. Like Kebo Valley, Waterville is a shorter course at just 6,301 yards, but with narrow fairways, it can be tricky.

“The more I can play with those guys, the better,” said Manuel, who also placed second in the New England Amateur championship last month. “I like (Waterville). It’s definitely not too long, but normally they maintain it pretty well. The greens are quick but in great shape.”

Manuel will tee off at 8 a.m. Tuesday in a group with Ricky Jones and Jack Wyman, both multiple-time Maine Amateur champions.

Luke Ruffing, who won the state mixed title with Ruby Haylock earlier this month, also is eager to play against the pros.

“I always try to rise to the level of my competition, and just seeing those pure ball flights all the time, how they manage their way around the course, and just being able to pick up off that and go head to head and see if you can beat them, it’s really fun,” Ruffing said. “(I need to) do my homework ahead of time. Know where you’re going to hit the shots, stay patient and see if you can make a bunch of pars and hopefully get a couple of birdies to fall in. Stay patient and see where it falls.”

Leclair, who now lives in Orlando, Florida, decided to play the tournament when it coincided with his trip back to Maine for his Orono High School 65th reunion. Still a 4 handicap, these days Leclair settles for 220-yard drives rather than longer shots off the tee.

“I really just want to play the course, since it’s been so long,” Leclair said.

Mark Plummer, the 13-time Maine Amateur champion who Leclair called “that boy from Augusta,” will tee off at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday with Warren and Drew Powell, who won the Match Play Invitational earlier this month.

Drew Bonifant of the Kennebec Journal contributed to this report. 

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