By Melissa Castro / Daily Progress
Albemarle school, first tee link up for stem program
At the Meadowcreek Golf Course on Friday, the air was clear, a mild breeze kept the humidity at bay and the view from the first tee was magnificent, as the fairway seemed to roll down to the base of Montalto, the mountain seen from Monticello.
For most casual golfers, that’s pretty much the extent of detail they would have noticed from a day on the links. They might have even kept score.
But a group of fifth-graders at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School were about to learn much, much more as part of the new STEMLinks program sponsored by The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge.
Teaching the math, biology, engineering and physics behind golf and golf courses has become another way for the nonprofit First Tee to teach character education and practical life skills through golf, according to Jin Ellington, the organization’s executive director.
“Not all kids are going to care about playing the game of golf, but they may really like science, so they might enjoy the innovation behind it,” Ellington said. “We find ways to connect the STEM pieces with being on a golf course.”
After breaking into groups of three or four and piling into golf carts, the students set out to explore the front nine holes, with specific science-based activities assigned at each tee.
At the first tee box, lanky fifth-grader Jazmyne Tolliver peered through a rangefinder camera.
“Start on the left and tell me what you see,” asked Marc Boston, a parent volunteer who was working with Jazmyne’s group to measure the distance and topography of the hole. “Give me the numbers you see. She’s the one jumping and waving at you — how far away is she?”
“It’s 54 yards, 54 yards!” Jazmyne replied.
“Alright, 54 and 85 — let’s go,” Boston said.
The group then departed for the second hole, where another science-based activity awaited.
Even before First Tee offered a STEMLinks grant to pilot the program at Agnor-Hurt, Mia Shand for four years had been using golf concepts to teach the promising and talented students in the Gateway program.
Shand’s uncle, Michael Hebron, is a legendary golf instructor and author who was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2013.
Shand doesn’t claim to be a golf expert herself, so she reached out to First Tee two years ago to request a guest speaker who could “come in and talk about what a golf course actually looks like, talk about the clubs and balls, talk about the purpose of the dimples in the balls, and the science and math involved in a deeper way,” she said.
When the STEMLinks grant came along this summer, Shand was able to buy nine graphic design tablets, as well as digital microscopes to examine the contents of divots.
The students will input data collected from the golf course measurements and then use the tablets to design and physically build their own plywood and Astroturf golf course by November.
They’ll also write and present a business plan for how to operate and manage their course for the benefit of the other 500-plus students at the Albemarle County school.
When it’s over, the Gateway class will leave the portable golf course behind to help teach future Agnor-Hurt students how to swing a club.
While building the course, they’ll have expert guidance from the community. So far, that includes a presentation by Chris Schooley, who is leading the redevelopment of the Birdwood Golf Course for the University of Virginia.
Schooley will discuss how the Birdwood course is being redesigned, how blueprints are used in the process and how design issues are identified and resolved, Ellington said.
First Tee is still hoping to line up engineering and construction experts to help the students design and build the course, she said.
“It’s just been really great to be able to bring in all these partners and members of the community to help these kids get excited about this project, even though it’s really more about STEM than about golf,” Ellington said. “But maybe they will end up having an interest in golf as a sport.”
Just before she hopped in her golf cart, Shand was bubbling over with excitement.
“The class was always about math and science, but STEMLinks just deepened it and gives us a way to teach information that they’ll retain,” she said. “I’ve actually got goosebumps thinking about it.”