James Madison University

Golf, Fitness, and Fun for Girls!

By: Hannah Austin
Posted: October 9, 2012

PHOTO: JMU Students warm upThe first official autumnal breezes were blowing softly over the lawn of Mulligan’s Golf Center on Saturday, September 22, carrying with it the excited chatter of thirty girls and twelve JMU students. The girls have gathered to socialize, gain knowledge on health and fitness, and above all, learn the game of golf. Finally the group quiets as six year old Cindy Liu swings her tiny club and sends a ball bouncing across the grass. A brand new season of Girl’s Golf is now underway.

Girl’s Golf is a nationwide program directed by the LPGA that boasts over 8,000 members in 230 different locations. In 2008 Dr. Judith A. Flohr, founding director of the Morrison Bruce Center, implemented the program at JMU, adding an informative health and wellness component and physical activity to the girl’s bi-monthly sessions. This unique aspect makes JMU the only site in the country that strives to teach and engage girls in lifelong fitness as well as the game of golf.

These days the program is headed by executive director Dr. Elizabeth Edwards, who believes the program meets the Morrison Bruce Center’s mission, which is to develop and provide physical activity programming for girls and women and conduct research to enhance the understanding of the impact of an active lifestyle on women's health. Edwards explained, “Golf is great because it is a game these girls can play for life, but we also want to teach them that a few Saturdays a month of physical activity is not enough. You have to be active on a larger scale.”

Although Edwards approves each health lesson, the subject and teaching techniques are left to students, who create agendas, themes, games, and coordinate with the LPGA members. Layne Eidemiller was one such student who became involved in order to complete service hours for her B.S. in Exercise Science, but she soon found herself more wrapped up the program then she ever expected.

“By the time I had completed my service hours for class I fell in love with the program and just started volunteering my time,” she said. “I became the Undergraduate Student Director of the Morrison Bruce Center, essentially taking over the Girl’s Golf program. I was able to take away leadership skills, which has already led me to many more opportunities such as doing my graduate work here at JMU.”

PHOTO: Wendy Kern works with studentLayne, like most JMU students who come into the program, had virtually no experience with golf, but she learned the basics such as proper club swing and stance from local LPGA member and JMU alumni Wendy Kern. Kern has been involved in the program since it began, holding workshops that train students to be golf instructors and giving direction to the girls at each weekly meeting. A similar workshop hosted by associate director Dr. Sarah Carson teaches students leadership and coaching.  The two women combine very different skill sets to guarantee the students are ready to be mentors when the season begins.

A typical Saturday session is three hours long. During the first half, the girls rotate though three golf activities: a chance to practice a powerful swing on the driving range with guidance from Kern, an obstacle course which teaches aim, and a run through the on-site putt-putt course that allows them to develop precision with close range shots. The second half of the morning belongs to the students and wellness instruction coupled with fitness activities, which include applicable lessons such as diet or muscle development. The mood is kept light and fun and girls walk away with lessons they can use in their everyday life.

Although golf has historically been a male-dominated sport, Dr. Edwards says that girls often develop a real passion for the game.  “A lot of girls really enjoy the outlet and let loose. They enjoy the power they can generate with golf, rather than the majority of female sports which emphasize aesthetics.”

Ten year old Anna Jeffrey agreed that this is what she loves most about the sport, saying, “I like hitting the ball really hard and seeing how far it will go.” For eleven year old Emily Vilacrusis, “making new friends is the best part,” and nine year old Ivy Gibbons says, “I just want to be able to play with my grandad.” Eight year old Abby Vilacruisis listens to the girl's debate solemnly before flashing a smile and stating simply, “Golf is fun.”

The program has certainly opened up new possibilities to participants, such as three lucky girls who received LPGA grants last year to travel to Kiawah Island for three days of intensive golf instruction with the LPGA National Academy. “I believe that girls should have the same opportunities as boys in all facets of life, not just sports,” said Flohr. “The Girl’s Golf Program provides that.”

Equal opportunity is also important to Dr. Edwards, whose newest goal is to expand the program to areas of greater need. Currently a year long membership costs a girl only $25, which includes admission to any LPGA event, a snack at each meeting, and free use of clubs and balls; however, Edwards acknowledges that there are girls in the community that cannot afford this and is seeking the funding necessary to involve them.

“We are trying to work on the logistics,” she said. “We realize that population would probably be in need of transportation and we are working that out. We are also busy finding contacts of people that would be interested if we did expand in this way.”

The group’s second goal is to involve more teenagers in the program, which is open to ages 6 to 17 but comprised mostly of 6 to 12 year olds. The Morrison-Bruce Center is developing ways to make golf appealing to older girls, as well as creating health and fitness lessons that would be appropriate for their age group. With over thirty members this season and a focused group of goal-oriented students and faculty, the program is sure to expand even further.

Girls who are interested are invited to come to their first meeting for FREE! Girls can join the program at any time and do not have to own a set of golf clubs to participate.
Call or email the Morrison Bruce Center to register:  540-568-4348 or morrisonbrucecenter@jmu.edu

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