Houlton Community Golf Course. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine – Golfers from throughout Aroostook County and beyond are gearing up to aid health care in the 33rd annual County Open charity golf tournament.

The event is a major fundraiser for the Houlton Regional Health Services Foundation, which supports technology and patient care at Houlton Regional Hospital and community efforts like firefighter safety and health education.

In the last 33 years, the County Open Charity Golf Tournament has contributed more than $668,000 toward critical health care needs in southern Aroostook County. Those funds were instrumental in helping purchase 3D digital imaging for the radiology department, providing faster and more reliable results for patients.

The two-day event will be held over two different golf courses on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13 and 14.

The Open has become one of the premier golfing events held in Aroostook County for the past three decades, and often draws both participants and financial support from former County residents sprinkled all over the country.

“The idea for a charity golf tournament originated with Bob Anderson and Walter Burlock,” explained Lori Weston, executive director for the Health Services Foundation. “They knew it would have more of an impact if it was a charity event, with a real specific purpose.”

Organizers want to lure more golfers back to the links of Houlton Community Golf Course and VaJoWa Golf Course in Island Falls for the event.

Through the dedicated efforts of volunteers, The County Open Weekend sees 250-plus individuals and more than 100 sponsors. This support makes the County Open a win-win situation for both the community and the Foundation, Weston said.

Last year, Ian Gervais was crowned the overall winner of the Houlton tournament as he shot a 73, finishing one stroke ahead of Jerry York. Gervais was awarded the Daniel Tracy Memorial trophy for his efforts.

These days, the County Open typically draws as many 60 golfers, but in its heyday, the tourney regularly drew well over 100 golfers.

“It was once a major gala event,” added Kris Nickerson, a former chair and one of this year’s volunteers. “The dinner alone would draw hundreds of people and it was a major, formal event. People would come in gowns. It was a very formal affair, with a brass band. It was magical.”

The event once featured a coinciding half-marathon and 20-mile bicycle race. Those events have since fallen to the wayside due to lack of participation.

Over the years, the tournament morphed into a more casual affair, as participants’ tastes changed. Today, the dinner gala is less formal, to allow for more socializing outdoors at the Lakeside Restaurant, located on the Houlton Community Golf Course.

The Slice Restaurant, located at VaJoWa, will host a fish fry dinner on Friday, Aug. 12, in preparation for the tournament.

“It really is an iconic golf event,” Weston said. “We have people who used to live here, but have since moved away, that come back to The County for this event every year. I think many of them do that because it is a cause they believe in.”

The foundation’s mission is to “support excellence in health care by seeking funds and administering gifts to assist non-profit health and wellness agencies with financial support to ensure the continuity of health care while supporting education opportunities throughout our region.”

In the past the foundation has helped the hospital fund digital mammography capabilities, nuclear medicine imaging equipment, expansion of its pediatric facilities and the acquisition of a handicapped-accessible van, among other projects.

For more information on the County Open, contact Weston at 207-521-2147 or email hsflweston@pwless.net.