When organizations start planning charitable golf tournaments, Mike Dugas can tell you, they typically pick a distant future date, then get to work figuring out all the details.
The tournament Dugas is helping put on Saturday at J.W. Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield, however, doesn’t fall into that category.
Instead, the first Pine Grove Invitational is a nearly spur-of-the-moment event that originated when Dugas, one of the owners of J.W. Parks and Central Maine Golf Carts, headed to Pleasant Ridge Plantation outside of Bingham to hunt with Pine Grove Lodge owner Bob Howe.
Howe owns a couple of golf carts that he uses at the lodge. Dugas mentioned that he’d like to go on a bear hunt someday, and Howe made it happen.
And on the appointed day, Dugas met four others hunters who were taking part in the Pine Grove Program.
According to Howe’s Web site, the Pine Grove Program donates wilderness trips — hunting, fishing, sight-seeing, rafting, among other choices — to those who have been victims of manmade and natural disasters, as well as to war veterans and their families.
That program sounded like a winner to Dugas, and he told Howe so.
“I told him I really believe in what he’s doing, and that I’d like to have a golf event for him,” Dugas said.
The two agreed the event sounded like a fun way to raise some money for the program, and headed their separate ways.
“He called me back two days later and said, ‘Shane Benoit’s available these days,’” Dugas remembers. “I said, ‘Bob, are you talking about this year?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Why not?”
Dugas paused and chuckled.
“That was three weeks ago,” he said, delivering the punch line that explains why his life has been a bit more hectic than usual lately.
Shane Benoit, avid deer hunters will realize, is a member of one of the nation’s best-known deer-hunting families. He and his dad and brother, who live in Vermont, are famous for tracking and bagging monster bucks, and have written books about their tactics. The Benoits are popular speakers on the sporting show circuit, and give frequent seminars.
As it turns out, Howe knows Shane Benoit. And he knew the hunter had another passion in his life.
“He loves golf like I love deer hunting,” Dugas said. “The guy’s an 8 handicap.”
Dugas said when he and Howe began talking about the tournament, they quickly realized they needed a high-profile guest to raise local interest.
“We really needed a draw,” Dugas said. “Certainly in my area, Pittsfield, [Wildlife Management District] 23 and 17 [are] two of the largest populated deer areas.”
And while some might assume the only way golfers end up in the woods is when they hit an errant shot, Dugas says there’s plenty of overlap between the pastimes among the golfers he knows.
“The majority of my membership both hunts and fishes,” Dugas said. “And the majority of the folks that are playing [in the tournament] are my members.”
Andrea Howe, who owns Pine Grove Lodge with her husband, said Bob Howe has a long history of stepping forward to help others enjoy the outdoors.
“When he was 18, 19 years old, he used to go get people at the VFW and take them fishing,” Andrea Howe said.
And when he was working at sporting shows, he’d sometimes see a sportsman in a wheelchair and invite him to come to the lodge and enjoy some time fishing or hunting.
“He said, ‘We’ve got an empty bed, why not give it away?’” Andrea Howe said.
Andrea Howe said her husband bought a pontoon boat to replace his more traditional fishing boat about five years ago so that he could get wheelchairs onto it, and the Pine Grove Program was formally introduced about two years ago. She said he enjoys sharing his outdoor playground with those who might not get to spend as much time in the woods as they would like.
“He’s just had a lot of compassion for people who would like to enjoy the outdoors but can’t, for whatever reason,” she said.
Andrea Howe said the only problem is, some trip recipients are understandably skeptical when they hear that they’re getting something for free.
“It took a long time to get the word out. You won’t believe how hard it is to give something away,” Andrea Howe said. “They think there’s a catch. They think when they get here, you’re going to charge them something.”
Dugas said his membership is excited at the chance to raise some money for a good cause, and to meet with a deer hunter with such a well-documented record of tracking huge deer.
Dugas said he read a book the Benoits published and was amazed to learn that one year the smallest of the three bucks the Benoits shot weighed 268 pounds.
“[Golfers] won’t have a better chance to shake hands and talk deer hunting with Shane Benoit than this, unless they pay three grand to go hunting with him for a week,” Dugas said.
The tournament begins Saturday with a shotgun start at 10 a.m., and Dugas said 36 players have already committed to participate.
The entry fee is $50 per person for the four-person scramble. The fee includes 18 holes of golf, cart and lunch. Prizes and giveaways are also planned.
For more information or to enter the event, call 487-5545.
Dugas is donating the use of the course to the cause and expects to raise a fair sum of money for the Pine Grove Program.
And he’s already setting his sights on future years … when he gets a bit more time to plan ahead.
“Maybe [we’ll make it] a Pine Grove weekend,” Dugas said. “Trout fishing, skeet shooting, 3-D archery. Turn it into a weekend.”