CAPE ELIZABETH – The consensus thought entering the 2024 Maine Amateur Championship was that it would be a wide-open tournament. The two young guns who had combined to win the past five tournaments – Caleb Manuel and Cole Anderson – turned pro.

But after Tuesday’s opening round in the 54-hole stroke-play tournament, the list of contenders has been narrowed considerably and there appears to be a common theme: Home course knowledge matters on the roller coaster fairways and undulating greens of the par-71 Purpoodock Club.

Club member John Hayes IV, the 2015 winner, is tied for the lead after shooting 3-under 68 in the first round. Last year’s runner-up Ron Kelton, another Purpoodock player and a Cape Elizabeth native is tied for third at 1-under.

Even co-leader Eli Spaulding, 18, the three-time Maine high school Class B winner from Freeport and Brunswick Golf Club, has a local edge. His uncle Mitch Spaulding is the course’s head mechanic.

“I know the course pretty well. I felt I had a plan. I knew what I wanted to hit off the tee,” Spaulding said.

The only other player under par on Tuesday was Gregory Kalagias, 25, of Saco. A former Thornton Academy and University of Southern Maine golfer, Kalagias plays out of Biddeford-Saco and finished 1-under despite a double-bogey on the par-5 16th.


Four golfers finished tied for fifth at 1-over par: three-time winner Ricky Jones (Samoset Resort), Jeff Cole (Brunswick GC), Benjamin Bell (Sanford CC), and Kellen Adickes (Goose River Golf Club).

Nine players had yet to finish their round when a thunderstorm began around 6:15. Those players will finish round one beginning at 7:30 a.m., which is also the first tee times for the second round.

For the first time, this year’s winner of the Maine Amateur will earn automatic entry into the 2024 U.S. Amateur on Aug. 12-18 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.

To get that privilege, two more rounds need to be played at a high level and local knowledge adds confidence.

“I just know I can make a lot of birdies on this course,” Hayes said.

Talking of his birdie-birdie-birdie close on holes 16-18, Kelton said, “that was great momentum into tomorrow. I know I can do that every day on those three holes.”


Hayes’ 3-under featured six birdies (four on the front side) and a near tap-in eagle at No. 17. He also had a double-bogey on the par-4 fourth hole and consecutive bogeys on 10, 11, 12.

“I played really good. This might sound pretentious but that’s probably the worst score I could have shot with how well I played,” Hayes said.

Hayes, 34, is one of just three past champions in the field and the most recent winner, taking the title nine years ago at Waterville Country Club. Jones won in 2003, 2004, and 2013. The 2014 winner Andrew Slattery (Portland CC) was 9-over.

Kelton, 36, was the runner-up last year at Samoset Resort, finishing 11 strokes behind when Manuel won his third straight title. Manuel and Anderson (2019 and 2020 winner) both turned pro following their senior seasons at Georgia and Florida State, respectively.

Kelton was a club pro for six years, including one year as an assistant at Purpoodock. Three years ago he regained his amateur status and was tied for third in his return to the Maine Am in 2022.

“So, if things go right, three-two-one,” Kelton said with a laugh. “But I’m not getting ahead of myself.”


At 5-foot-4, 130 pounds, Kelton is one of the smallest players in the 132-player field, even compared to the multiple 16-year-olds.

Talking about how far he hits the ball, Kelton said, “I’m probably the shortest player out here.”

But his round one playing partner Drew Glasheen of Waterville (2-over) said Kelton’s precision is what sets him apart.

“He knows exactly where he’s putting every single shot,” Glasheen said.

Kelton said he did feel some nerves early in his round, with about 20 family and club members watching him on the first tee. His sister Candace and three other supporters walked the course wearing white T-shirts with a bold green “Kelton” on the back.

This is the first time Purpoodock has hosted the Maine Amateur since 2000. Mark Plummer won his 11th of a record 13 titles that year. The 102-year-old course, playing at its maximum of 6,403 yards, is one of Maine’s golf gems and was the site of Arnold Palmer’s penultimate professional victory.


Palmer earned $38,000 at Purpoodock on Sept. 28, 1986, when he bested an invitational field of top senior professionals by three shots with rounds of 65-67-68 at the Unionmutual Seniors Golf Classic, which was held from 1984-86. Current golfers are reminded of how good Palmer was, even at the age of 57, when they come to the 16th tee. That’s where a plaque commemorates Palmer’s 1986 feat of making eagle on the par-5 all three days of the tournament.

All of the Maine Am players will be back at the course for another 18 holes on Wednesday trying to make the low-50 plus ties cut for Thursday’s final round.

One player to watch could be Reese McFarlane, the 2018 New England Amateur champion and one of the longest hitters in the tournament. He’s a Purpoodock member who played to 3-over in the windier afternoon. Now he and the other afternoon starters will get their chance to play in the morning, when there is typically less wind, and should be done while Hayes, Spaulding, Kelton and Kalagias play in what could be a rainstorm in the afternoon.

“There’s always a chance,” McFarlane said. “You need to make a lot of birdies on this course and limit mistakes and today I didn’t make enough birdies. The greens are tricky and being a member gives you an advantage.”

What will it take to win the tournament? Estimates ranged from 5-under (Kelton) to 7-under (Hayes) to 10 or more under par.

“Getting in double digits is always a good target,” Spaulding said.

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