FALMOUTH — Coming off a tournament last weekend in Kansas, where the temperature reached 102 degrees, golfers from the Korn Ferry Tour appreciate the cooler weather in Maine.

“It’s awesome,” said Shad Tuten, a 28-year-old from Aiken, South Carolina. “It’s way better than Wichita. We’re excited.”

So are a lot of people in Maine. Professional golf returns to the state this week with the Live and Work in Maine Open, a 72-hole tournament starting Thursday at the Falmouth Country Club.

This will be Maine’s first pro tournament since 1993, the final year of the New England Classic, which was held at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth and put on by the Ben Hogan Tour – the predecessor to the Korn Ferry Tour.

The event, managed by Shamrock Sports and Entertainment of Portland, will feature 156 golfers playing for a purse of $600,000, with $108,000 going to the winner.

More important for the Korn Ferry Tour golfers is that it’s another chance to take a step to the PGA Tour. The Korn Ferry Tour is a level below the PGA – about 75 percent of the golfers on the PGA Tour began their careers on the Korn Ferry Tour – and already this season 10 players have secured enough points to earn their PGA Tour cards.

Chad Ramey, a 28-year-old from Mississippi, earned his PGA Tour card just last weekend in Wichita.

“It’s a big relief, no doubt about it,” Ramey said during a news conference near the 18th hole Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work my whole life to finally secure a spot, so it’s a big relief.”

The festivities will begin with a Pro-Am tournament on Wednesday before the pros take over the course. It is a strong field, with 20 of the top 25 players in the Korn Ferry Tour point standings competing, including four of the top 10: Taylor Pendrith (No. 5), Ramey (No. 8), Paul Barjon (No. 9) and Lee Hodges (No. 10). Those four have earned their PGA Tour cards.

The inaugural Live and Work in Maine Open was supposed to be held last year but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the five-year contract that Shamrock Sports signed with the PGA Tour begins this year. As part of the deal, the tournament will donate at least $100,000 each year to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Shawn Warren, a Falmouth Country Club pro, talks to the media about the Korn Ferry Tour event this week at Falmouth. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Shawn Warren, a teaching pro at Falmouth Country Club and one of two Maine-based PGA pros (along with Portland Country Club pro Dan Venezio), said the one-year postponement was actually a blessing. It allowed the country club to reconstruct the course – putting in five new tee boxes that lengthened the course to 7,372 yards (from just under 7,000) – and allowed time for the pandemic to slow and bring fans back to the course. Approximately 2,500 fans will be allowed each day.

“I’ve experienced it both ways,” Warren said on Tuesday. “I’ve played in a PGA Championship that I think was the most attended ever and then I’ve played in one where there was no people, last year in San Francisco. The feel and the atmosphere, just being out there, the buzz you get with the fans, just the overall experience, that’s what we’re going to see out there.”

Korn Ferry Tour golfer Andrew Novak, a 26-year-old from South Carolina who is ranked 18th, looked out at the grandstand constructed behind the 18th green and envisioned a full crowd.

“I expect they’re going to have some people,” he said. “And we’ve really missed that. Recently it’s been picking up. Coming out of COVID, there weren’t too many fans. But we appreciate the support. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of locals out here.”

Andrew Novak of South Carolina is happy to be in Maine for the Korn Ferry Tour event this week. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The pros got their first look at the course on Tuesday and came away impressed. They all see it as a tough, but fair, course, with a lot of hazards and tricky spots. Even with the added length, the long hitters can’t just bomb away with their drivers.

Tuten, who didn’t arrive in Maine until Monday afternoon after being stranded in Chicago on Sunday night because of bad weather, calls it “a plotter’s course.”

“You have to keep the ball in front of you, keep ball in play,” he said. “You have to kind of nitpick, where you have to plot your way around. That’s my kind of my game.”

Everyone agrees that 17 and 18 could be the pivotal holes. “Eighteen is probably the best golf hole out here,” Tuten said. “I think it’s probably one of the better finishing holes we’ve had all year, the way it sets up. And it plays dramatically different from which direction the wind blows. I think there’s going to be some fireworks on 18 this week.”

Most of the Korn Ferry Tour golfers have never been to Maine. Several of them have trips to lighthouses and state parks on their agendas this week.

Ramey and his fiancée spent Monday night in downtown Portland, where they dined on lobster rolls. “I’ve been looking forward to coming here ever since they announced this tournament,” he said. “It’s everything I expected.”

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