Building Up STEAM

by Kristina Hernandez

 Jul 16, 2019 at 8:38 PM

Clubs offer tons of fun for all ages, from camps to nights out

Modern play has taken on new meaning and direction as parents and childcare advocates incorporate applicable education into everyday activities. STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics — careers are the fastest growing in the country and salaries are sometimes more than double non-STEAM jobs.

STEAM-based learning recognizes that life is not a series of multiple-choice questions, but rather a messy, hands-on world where teamwork and creativity reign. It moves away from traditional instruction into more cross-curricular methods like teaching kids how to build a LEGO bridge and test its strength, or using marshmallows and pasta to construct atoms.

Inspiring Curiosity At Camp

Many McConnell Golf clubs offer camps during summertime and shorter school breaks to help kids (and parents) get the most out of their time away from school. No matter the occasion, camps are planned to maximize fun and feature a different theme each week over the summer — or for a day the kids are out of school, like President’s Day or a teacher workday.

The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation offers summer camps for kids ages 3-5 and 6-11 and feature a variety of entertaining themes, including Animal Planet, Disney, LEGOs, wet ‘n wild, and sports camps for golf and tennis.

The club partners with Challenge Island, a local,member-owned STEAM-based company that creates appealing activities to grab kid’s attention but also engage with them to use logic, reasoning, and creativity.

One of the more popular STEAM-based camps at Wakefield is Slime Camp. Each day is based on a different theme, like Space Day or Ghostbusters. All activities use some aspects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math throughout the day. Kids often don’t notice they are learning because it’s so much fun.

“For younger kids, we did a Polynesian-quest theme with Moana, and for older kids we have a camp where they will be making their own videos,” said Karen Weathers, owner of Challenge Island in Raleigh, NC. “Using Challenge Island’s model, we’ve created camps based on Minecraft, Fortnite, and superheroes.

An Evening Just For Kids

While adult-oriented social events occur a few times monthly, that doesn’t necessarily require parents to find a babysitter. The club also coordinates Kids Night Out programs with more popular adult events to make it easy for all members of the family to enjoy the club.

Wakefield’s Kids Night Out usually happens twice a month to coincide with special dining events or summer cookouts. From 5:30-9:30 p.m., the kids participate in crafts and games and enjoy a kid-centric meal. Activities center on a theme like science or art, and always incorporate a learning aspect into lively fun.

“I think parents really appreciate our programs and activities,” said Natalie Clemens, director of activities at Wakefield. “We’ve grown our program a lot recently and many of my ideas come from members telling me what they want and think their kids would enjoy. We work with a wonderful group of people, which makes the kids really want to come back.”


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Striking A Balance

by Brad King

 Jul 16, 2019 at 8:26 PM

Agronomy teams blend peak course conditions with sustainable practices

Governing nearly 2,000 acres of greenspace across three states, McConnell Golf takes its impact on the environment seriously. While striking the perfect balance between pure course conditions for golfers and sustainable environmental practices for the planet takes years of effort, agronomy teams have dutifully accepted the challenge. Let’s catch up on their latest efforts.

High Standards

As far as eco-friendly golf courses go, the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) is the Holy Grail.

The award-winning environmental education and certification program helps courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game. The program aims to enhance valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats surrounding golf courses in order to improve efficiency and minimize potentially harmful practices.

Achieving Audubon certification can also gain golf courses and clubs recognition for their efforts toward saving the planet. Membership in the ACSP has grown steadily since the program began in 1991 - bolstered by collaborative efforts with the United States Golf Association (USGA) – and now includes more than 2,300 golf courses in the United States and three dozen countries worldwide.

The ACSP assists each participating golf course in taking stock of its environmental resources and any potential liabilities, then develops a plan that fits the course’s unique setting, goals, staff, budget and time. The path to certification encompasses six key components:

• Environmental planning

• Wildlife and habitat management

• Chemical use reduction and safety

• Water conservation

• Water quality management

• Outreach and education

McConnell Golf Director of Agronomy Michael Shoun says achieving Audubon certification is an involved process that demonstrates an organization’s leadership, commitment and high standards of environmental management. Once a course’s unique plan is implemented and the results carefully documented, Audubon International staff visit the property to ensure compliance. Recertification is required every three years to maintain the Certified Sanctuary designation.

Among the McConnell Golf stable of golf courses, The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation is Audubon certified, while Sedgefield Country Club and The Reserve Golf Club are several years into the process, and Old North State Club on Badin Lake has taken steps to renew its certification.

Power To The Pollinators

Scientists have known for decades that North America’s monarch butterfly population is in trouble. Habitat loss, weather changes and pesticides have all at one time or another been listed as the primary cause, but the truth is not so simple. There is no easy or single answer and what can be done to stop the monarchs’ decline remains unclear.

Last year, The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation started the “Monarchs in the Rough” program in which a variety of plants are allowed to grow in the golf course’s natural areas as habitat for butterflies.

"It’s a program that the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has requested people try so we can increase areas for butterflies to nest and reproduce,” Shoun said. “They’re hoping this will help [the decline] and that if we allow these specific plants to grow in those areas, we’ll see populations start to increase again."

Like the monarch butterflies, there has also been a crisis sweeping the world’s honeybee population. Not only are there fears that there might be a global shortage of honey, but also grave concern about the critical role honeybees play in pollinating much of the food we eat today. The American Beekeeping Federation estimates close to one-third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination.

To address the problem, CC Wakefield Plantation Superintendent Todd Lawrence introduced beehives three years ago. He initially purchased two, then later captured and relocated a third.

“With everything you hear about how quickly bees are dying off, we wanted to help increase the population – and also look at producing some honey,” he said.

As she often does, Mother Nature has thrown a few curve balls. While last year Lawrence was able to fill his first jar of honey, the weakest hive perished that fall and the remaining two were lost over the winter.

“It’s all part of the learning process,” Lawrence says, “There are many variables at play that impact the health of the bees.

The effort certainly isn’t being abandoned as losing the hives has only underscored their delicate nature and how susceptible they are to environmental changes. Later this year, Lawrence hopes to reinstate the bees.

Worldwide, the pollinating efforts of bats, birds, bees and insects such as monarchs is worth an estimated $100 billion per year in crop yields according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However impactful the efforts of McConnell Golf are to aide local ecosystems and bolster the beauty and enjoyment of its courses, it is but one small part in the overall health of the planet. Perhaps the lesson learned here, in helping to re-establish pollinators, is that every little bit counts.

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Plan Your Getaway

by Jamie Waggoner

 Jul 16, 2019 at 7:02 PM

Tennis groups head out of town for competition – but mostly for fun

Being new is challenging. We’ve all been the new kid at school who wants to meet new people and find his or her place. Well, if you’re a tennis player and new to McConnell Golf there’s a great way to make friends via the Men’s and Women’s tennis groups that travel to sister properties for fun weekend getaways.

According to Kyle Thortsen, McConnell Golf director of tennis, Old North State Club has been the most desired destination for both women’s and men’s trips. In addition to the club’s extraordinary tennis and golf offerings, the marina epitomizes fun in the sun. Down time during these trips centers on boating and taking in sweeping views of Badin Lake.

“The men’s group has traveled to Old North State, while the women’s group has explored both Old North State and Country Club of Asheville."

The groups keep a tight schedule to make the most out of their three-day weekends. On the Friday they arrive, members enjoy a meet and greet round robin to break the ice, which is great for the newcomers. Next, members participate in a clinic to sharpen their skills, followed by a delicious lunch held at the tennis center.

The day on the courts closes with a tournament to challenge each member to the best of his or her abilities. After the thrill of competition and a long day of tennis, the group welcomes a little down time before dinner.

At Old North State this could include hanging out by the pool, boating or watching the sunset lakeside from the club’s trademark Adirondack chairs. If the tennis group is at Country Club of Asheville, they can explore the scenic and historic downtown area or venture into Pisgah National Forest’s natural beauty.

For Country Club at Wakefield Plantation member Phil Gugliotta one of his favorite memories on one of two tennis trips he’s been on is his win during a championship round with his friend Chris Bricker. The two won store credit for their victory! Surrounding Father’s Day, he adds, the trips serve as an excellent Dad’s retreat.

Gugliotta says, “The trips are a lot of fun because there are all different levels attending, so it is nice to be able to experience different levels of play.” He added that they are also a great way for new members to meet people. 

He applauds Thortsen and Head Tennis Pro Cory Oliphant for keeping the trips fun and organized, on and off the court.

“I enjoy a round of golf on the Friday we arrive, tennis all day Saturday, and being able to relax with friends,” he shares.

The real magic, of course, is how comradery from the courts transitions into recreation. Gugliotta laughs as he recounts one of his funniest tennis trip memories. While boating, the group ran out of supplies. Rather than everyone go back to the dock, one of the men eagerly took the plunge and swam back to restock. Now that’s teamwork!

If you’re looking to meet new people, take a well-deserved trip, or even tune-up your game, McConnell Golf tennis trips are a great way to do so. From casual round robins to competitive championship matches, all levels are welcome. It’s all about coming together and having a great time.


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Learning the Game

by Brad King

 Mar 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM

The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation’s Junior Golf program is firing on all cylinders.

Mastering fundamentals has long been  at the core of junior golf, followed closely by making the sport appealing to kids. But the pros at Wakefield Plantation are taking things to the next level with technology, fitness, and contagious enthusiasm. In so doing, they have not only doubled the size of the program but are paving the way for golf’s next generation.

Under the guidance of Wakefield’s Director of Golf Adam McLaughlin, his assistants Monique “Mo” Gesualdi, Ryan Vance, Matt Brennan, and teaching professional Erica Britt, Wakefield’s junior program runs year-round and totals about 100 players. Within that junior golf program, the club’s PGA Junior League program is up to 56 participants and four in-house teams, while the Wakefield Junior League has grown to more than 60 young golfers.

The club’s junior players take advantage of the Wakefield Plantation Learning Center, including its two indoor-outdoor bays and an indoor putting area equipped with video technology. The cameras offer instant swing feedback, while also allowing the Wakefield instructors and coaches to monitor swing improvement, and modify specific golf moves.

The Learning Center is also equipped with Flightscope, a leader in golf radar technology providing detailed information about club movement and ball flight. In addition, this winter, Gesualdi teamed with Wakefield’s personal trainer, Drew Forshey, to add a junior fitness program to the golf training regimen. The fitness program includes high- intensity interval training plus stretching, balance, stability, and flexibility exercises.

“The combination of fitness training and golf technique is often overlooked by junior golfers,” says Jason Butcher, whose 14-year-old son Jace has competed in national tournaments. “Many juniors, my son included, can’t practice properly because of physical limitations due to a lack of strength or mobility. This program emphasizes the importance of both, and keeps it fun.”


“We have a really solid group of junior golfers,” says Gesualdi, an accomplished former Furman University golfer, who adds that her passion has always been junior golf.

Gesualdi points to 14-year-old Lily Kate Watson. “She has a lot of potential that we are working on unleashing and will be one to watch,” says Gesualdi.

According to Lily Kate’s father, Josh Watson, the golf fitness program has been a wonderful experience. “Not only has the high level of instruction helped to improve her game, she’s also really enjoyed connecting with the coaches and players,” he says.

Lily Kate echoes her father’s sentiment: “As a female junior golfer, I feel so fortunate to be a part of a club that supports high-level golf instruction for both boys and girls,” she says.

Gesualdi calls 9-year-old Isaiah Adel her “stud” — and little wonder, considering Adel has fired a 32 for nine holes.

“The Junior Golf Fitness Program is great because it works on sharpening the kids’ golf skills while also teaching them how to stay physically healthy for the sport,” says Christian Adel, Isaiah’s dad. “Mo and Drew keep it entertaining, with some friendly competition mixed in, which the kids always enjoy.”

Gesualdi says Dylan Johnson, who recently turned 12, possesses the “smoothest left-handed swing” she has ever seen. Dylan’s 2017 club champion-ship scores were 87-89, and in 2018, he shot 76-82 — 18 shots lower over two days in one year.

Other rising stars include 10-year-old Chase Duncan, who had his first hole- in-one at age 9 and competes on the regional and national level. Ten-year-old Cooper Pleasants, in the Junior Golf Fitness program, is newly competing but has great athletic ability and will be one to watch as he continues to develop his game over the next few years.

Gesualdi also points to 8-year-old Harrison Hunt, who has yet to play tournament golf, but exhibits a “great, natural swing.”

Beyond an increase in skill for these juniors, both parents and players agree that it’s the camaraderie among the kids that’s just as important.

“The connections our kids are making with other juniors makes the whole process seem more like fun, less like work,” says Erik Johnson, Dylan’s dad.

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A Special Bond with the Special Olympics

by Lauren Thedieck

 Mar 22, 2019 at 12:30 PM

McConnell Golf's Footprints on the Green program unites staff and members in giving back to the community.

This past year, the warm smiles and genuine hearts of Special Olympics athletes brought McConnell Golf properties together.

Director of Tennis Operations Kyle Thortsen and The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation hosted the Wake County Special Olympics team at the tennis complex. Together, club staff and junior players led practices, games, and lessons to help Special Olympics athletes prepare for state competitions.

“We encouraged our juniors to get involved and see how rewarding it is to give back to the community,” says Thortsen. “Next year, our goal is to extend our commitment with this organization to our Sedgefield, Providence, and Asheville properties.”

Also at Wakefield, Director of Golf Adam McLaughlin hosted an invitational tournament at the nine-hole Plantation Course. It allowed athletes that did not get a chance to compete in the state championship an opportunity to play in a local tournament.

“We are humbled by their courage, contagious spirit, and eagerness to get better as individuals and teams alongside their family and their loved ones,” says Michael Thomas, club manager at Wakefield.

Over the past six years, members and staff from Treyburn CC, Wakefield, and Raleigh CC have volunteered for the Track and Field Spring Games in Raleigh. They’ve taken on roles to announce winners, organize races, and cheer on athletes throughout the games.

Nearby, Brook Valley CC welcomed all Special Olympic athletes from Greenville County to enjoy an end-of-year pool party celebration. East Carolina University Assistant Athletics Director Matt Maloney was in attendance and shared a little about the celebration with Brian Bailey of WNCT News.

“I started 21 years ago coaching these wonderful friends ... a few years later, we wanted to celebrate all the good things they do not only in the pool but also in the community,” said Maloney.

On a personal level, I have been involved with the Special Olympics in every stage of my life and am so proud of our clubs for continuing to engage with our community. I believe lending our facilities, our resources, and our time deepens our relationships with those we support and teaches us all of the power of giving.


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Thank You For Your Service

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Jun 22, 2018 at 4:47 PM

Wakefield Plantation’s We Care Golf Classic supports military families.

Now in its sixth year, the We Care Golf Classic brings together members of the military not only for a day of golf, but also to raise money for North Carolina military charities. The 2017 event distributed $80,000 to USO of NC, the Soldiers & Airmen Assistance Fund, and the Wakefield Senior Men’s Golf Association (SMGA) Scholarship Fund, which provides college funds for kids from military families. Since the first tournament in 2013, the event has raised more than $350,000.

Stephanie Nissen, Director of the Integrated Behavioral Health System at the North Carolina National Guard, shared her gratitude for all who participated. "Your donations and contributions made the 2018 Operation Christmas Cheer very successful and 18 fortunate families of the Army and Air National Guard were richly benefitted."

We Care began as a grassroots effort by Wakefield’s SMGA, a group of some 90 men who are very involved with local military outreach. When one of the SMGA member’s grandsons was deployed, the group sent care packages to his unit. They began sending packages to another unit, too; during this time, they decided to launch a new golf tournament with a focus on military outreach, and thus, We Care was born.

For the 2018 We Care tournament, the focus of the golf outing is the men and women in the NC National Guard. Each foursome will include civilians and a member of the military.

“For our military guests, this is a great day of golf, food, and fellowship,” says Michael Thomas, Wakefield’s club manager. “The joy they get out of this day is incredible. But it’s nothing compared to the sacrifices they make for us.”

In addition to spearheading the We Care event, SMGA members stay busy year-round. They volunteer as a group at a Raleigh soup kitchen. Each Thanksgiving, they donate turkeys and cook them for the community. And they work with the Special Olympics every year as well.

“They do an extraordinary amount of good stuff both on and off the course,” says Thomas. “It’s the most amazing thing. They’re an unbelievable group of gentlemen with hearts and priorities to help others. They play golf three days a week, and in their spare time, they’re volunteering. They could easily write a check, but instead they donate their own time, energy, and efforts to make things happen. Of all the things that have taken place during my 15 years at Wakefield, the creation of SMGA and all they do for our community is what I’m most proud of. It’s very rare to have such a large number of members who share the same vision and passion to give back without ever being asked. They just jump right in.”

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Rising Stars

by Matt McConnell

 Jun 20, 2018 at 4:48 PM

Christina Bricker

Fourteen-year-old Christina Bricker is a young, powerful player at Wakefield Plantation. A right-handed hitter, Christina started playing tennis when she was just eight and quickly advanced through clinics, lessons, and practice time on the courts.

During her short, impressive tennis career, Christina has placed first or second in a total of 12 USTA tournaments at 12u and 14u. She’s also contributed on three Wakefield JTT championship teams.

One of her most memorable matches occurred during a 14u USTA tournament. She lost the first set 1-6 and was behind in the second set 1-4 against a tough player. But she defied the odds. Christina came back and won the second set before pulling out a win in the third set tie breaker.

Christina plays a big part at Wakefield in the high-performance group. Four days a week, this group works for two hours a day pushing players physically and mentally in all aspects of competitive tennis. It’s a great program to be a part of now as Christina enters high school tennis this fall at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh.

Besides the competitive side of tennis, one of her favorite things about the sport is playing doubles with her family. No doubt, the future is bright for Christina in the years to come as she continues to grow her game.

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