MANCHESTER — On Wednesday morning, members of the Augusta Country Club grounds crew were busy working around the 16th green. Bunkers were edged and raked, and raked some more. A group of players came through and noted the green was fast. By Monday, it might even be faster.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Augusta Country Club will host the Charlie’s Maine Open for a fifth consecutive year. Getting the course ready for a field of 120 pros and 36 amateurs to play 36 holes is a process that began weeks ago.

“The greens are healthy,” club superintendent Chris Barnicoat said, “and I have no problems pushing them.”

By pushing them, Barnicoat means making the greens fast. Not absurdly fast, but faster than normal. A Stimpmeter is a device used to gauge the speed of a green. After being struck with the Stimpmeter, the ball’s distance is measured. If the ball goes 8 feet, the green is rated an eight. Reading of 10 or higher are considered fast.

For the Maine Open, Barnicoat said the greens at the Augusta Country Club will be around 11.

“We’ll do a lot of rolling, a lot of grooming. We’ll brush them this week. We’ll double cut this week,” Barnicoat said of prepping the greens for the tournament. “When the greens get up to around 11, you’ve got (players) shaking their knees.”

Barnicoat and club pro Jason Hurd added that rough around the course was grown out a bit in anticipation of the tournament. More could be done to make the course tougher for the Maine Open, Hurd said. While the Maine State Golf Association wants the course to be challenging, it doesn’t want the course to be frustrating, either.

“We don’t want to make (the course) unfair,” Hurd said.

There are some things that can’t be done, like make the course longer. From the back tees, the Augusta Country Club is 6,214 yards, a shorter course than most of the pros playing the Maine Open are used to. Shorter can present its own challenges.

“Just because a course is short doesn’t mean it can’t bite you,” Brian Agee, a pro from Leesburg, Virginia said after playing in the Maine Open last year. Agee led the tournament after Day 1 and finished tied for third. “The greens have a significant amount of movement in them, more than we have at home, but our golf courses are well over 7,000 yards. You have big surfaces to hit to. Out here you have smaller surfaces and you’ve got tree-lined fairways and sloping greens. You’ve got to be in the right spot.”

Making the greens faster on the shorter, relatively narrow course is a way to make the course play longer, Barnicoat said. Think of the greens’ speed as a bee’s sting.

“That’s probably the course’s best defense,” Barnicoat said. “The only thing I heard last year was, it played a little too short.”

Hurd and Barnicoat said Augusta Country Club’s members like when the course is toughened up for the Maine Open, and enjoy playing the amped up conditions themselves.

“The members are very supportive,” Hurd said.

Added Barnicoat: “The members enjoy seeing the players enjoy a good golf course. We mix up the set up. We try not to have them play the same golf course they’re used to.”

Charlie Shuman is a member of Augusta Country Club, and as president of Charlie’s Motor Mall, the primary sponsor of the Maine Open. On Wednesday morning, Shuman was playing the course and he liked what he saw.

“I think it plays great. They don’t get too carried away with the rough. They have some tricky spots. The pros that don’t know the green, it can be very deceptive,” Shuman said after playing the 16th hole.

This is the fifth consecutive year Augusta Country Club hosts the Maine Open. With Charlie’s sponsorship, Augusta has become the tournament’s home. It’s become something Barnicoat and Hurd look forward to.

“I’ve had big tournament experience before,” Barnicoat, who helped prep the Bethpage Black Course for the US Open in 2002 and 2009, said. “I treat (the Maine Open) like my own little US Open.”

Only once in five years did Barnicoat and his crew have trouble getting the course ready for the Maine Open. That was in 2014, when after the toughest winter in recent memory, keeping the course in good shape was a challenge all summer.

“We were concerned with how we were going to pull that off,” Barnicoat said.

Now, the Maine Open is a new Augusta Country Club tradition. Over the last three years, a score of at least seven under par was needed to win the tournament. Standing just to the left of the 16th green, Hurd looked around and predicted scores won’t go much lower than that this week.

“I don’t think 11 or 12 under par will win it this year,” Hurd said. “Before I came here (to work), I loved coming here to play. I’d be surprised if there’s any smoother greens in the state right now.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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