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Ice golf returns to Jericho Lake



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The Auger Open last year featured more ice than snow, allowing 450 yard drives. The competition occurs, snow or shine, on March 6 this year, to benefit the Special Olympics. (Photo courtesy of the Auger Open organizing committee) (click for larger version)
February 17, 2010
BERLIN — Local greens may be brown and covered with snow, but it's still a great time to pull out the golf clubs.

That's because ice golf doesn't require grass, and the Auger Open, Berlin's premier ice golf tournament, will be here on March 6.

The Auger Open is a charity golf tournament played on Jericho Lake. The worse the weather, the better the competition, with outdoor fun and a good cause.

"It's good for the area, good for the people, good for the park and good for everybody," said Ernie Blais, one of the event organizers. He, along with Randy Blais, Mike Fodor and Casey Mitchell, are the organizers putting on the tournament.

This year the goal is to raise $5,000 for the Great North Woods region Special Olympians. It's a big step up from their goal last year, which was their first tournament, but they've had three times the entries and months instead of weeks to plan.

The tournament pits two person teams against each other as they drive for augered holes and putt across cleared "whites" on the ice.

"People are going to be out on the ice for four to five hours," Mr. Blais said, playing their way through the 18 hole course, but if this year is anything like last year they'll have loads of support.

People donated food and brought down grills to feed players on the ice, and everyone had a wonderful time. Organizers will send everyone out with a bag full of food to make sure they are adequately provisioned for the cold.

The cold can make things easier in some ways. Depending on conditions, long drives become easy. The ball will bounce forever if there's no snow covering the ice. Last year they didn't have a single hole in one; maybe this will be the year.

The course has been both expanded and shortened this year. Organizers doubled the number of holes but shortened the distances, Mr. Blais said, "so we could get more people out on the course to play."

If there's snow there is a good chance players will lose a ball, but it isn't a problem; the rules allow a drop near where a player thinks they lost it.

If a player hits their ball off the lake, however, it's a single stroke penalty, and there are no mulligans.

The video their website, www.augeropen.com, makes ice golf look like a blast, and Mr. Blais said it's even better in person. No matter the weather they'll be out there, he said.

"If it's snowing, good for us," he said, at least it'll keep people from over-driving their hole.

The real goal, however, isn't just to have fun in the cold, it's to raise money.

"It's local money going to local people," he said.

And they have garnered local support. The committee was able to enlist Smith and Town Printers to print score cards for the second year in a row, and AutoNorth in Gorham donated $1,000.

Still, they have a long way to go before they reach their goal of $5,000. The committee chose to support the Great North Woods region Special Olympians this year to combat cuts other supporters have had to make because of the tight financial times.

Over time they hope the event grows to where they can provide as much as $10,000 to the charity of their choice, but this year they are keeping their aspirations more moderate.

For now they are preparing for the 75 participants that will be descending on Jericho Lake in two weeks. Hopefully they won't have rain, Mr. Blais said, but really they aren't too worried either way.

"Is weather a factor? Absolutely not."

It's more than just the green that differentiates ice golf.

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