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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Strength in Numbers

by Meredith Donahue

 Jun 12, 2018 at 4:23 PM

Need motivation to exercise? Accountability and encouragement is the secret behind Wakefield Plantation’s thriving group personal-training program.

It's 5:30 A.M. at Wakefield Plantation. The sun peeks through the clouds, the world wakes to another busy day, and Drew Forshey’s first group fitness class is underway.

What motivates someone to show up, day after day, to an early-morning fitness class? The answer is simple: the need for a healthier, positive change in daily life, coupled with the support and motivation of like-minded classmates.

Forshey, instructor of the group personal-training program at Wakefield, knows just what it takes to change the lives of the class participants. When looking for a way to improve your overall health, a program like Forshey’s is just the thing.

“I look forward to my daily workouts with Drew and my group because I’ve found that fitness is fun with friends,” says Pam Boyden, Wakefield Plantation member and active program participant.

Wakefield’s group personal-training program has been successful since its implementation in 2014. Each week, there are 16 available workout times to accommodate varying schedules. From 5:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., there is a slot for everyone. (So no more excuses – “I can’t find the time!”) It’s not unusual for some participants to make it to five sessions each week.

The program’s small-group philosophy is key to creating a one-on-one personal-training style experience — but with the positivity and benefit of friends to lean on for extra motivation.

Wakefield member Jill Brennan-Cook explains: “The people who exercise alongside me at 5:30 a.m. provide me with motivation. They push themselves and never, ever complain about the work. It’s an eclectic group of friendly and supportive people who are interested in being healthy and making the most of the early morning hour.”

To reach this point of commitment and dedication, each group member goes through an intake process that allows the trainer to complete necessary health and medical history checks. It also provides the trainer time to design a specific workout routine based on the individual’s needs, injury history, and goals. Each participant is different, so every program is designed specifically for the individual.

According to Forshey, exercise routines vary depending on the needs of the client. However, most programs focus on cardiovascular, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training. There’s also emphasis on balance, posture, core strengthening, and injury prevention and rehabilitation, if necessary.

As instructor of the program, Forshey reaps the benefits just as much as his students. “I love my job, I really do,” he says. “I’m excited to get to work in the morning. I love to help others however I can, and personal training has always been a way to do that for me. Prevention is worth a pound of treatment. To get someone started, then watch them really own their health and fitness ... that’s one of the best feelings.”

The classes have been truly “lifechanging,” says student Brook Ayres. “It’s the most fun hour of my day, and I am in the best shape of my life!”

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Holding Court!

by Matt McConnell

 Mar 09, 2018 at 12:35 AM

Game, set, dinner!

Exhibition matches have long been a celebrated occasion across the tennis facilities of McConnell Golf; however starting last year, a new twist was added — members can enjoy great food, service, and entertainment right on the court.

“What can be better than dining under the stars while watching local collegiate and professional tennis players compete?” asks Kyle Thortsen, director of tennis operations. “These Dining on the Courts events are a night for the entire family to enjoy.”

Wakefield Plantation launched the Dining on the Courts event in Fall 2016. At the most recent event, Wakefield members enjoyed a raffle for door prizes, and the Wakefield Juniors were cheered on during their matches before local tennis pros, including Pierce Hoover, Brian Rosenthal, Ben Hunter, and Matt Nicholson, competed in the main event. 


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It's Chase with the Ace

by Casey Griffith

 Mar 01, 2018 at 9:05 PM

Meet 10-year-old Chase Duncan. He recently shot his first hole-in-one at Wakefield Plantation, acing hole No. 7 while playing with his father. He is the youngest McConnell Golf member to do so at any property.

“My Dad shot the yardage at 90 and he said maybe an 8 iron,” says Chase. “I said, ‘I think it’s a 9.’ I was right. When I saw it go in, we both yelled and were excited.”

For his father, Jon Duncan, it was both a proud and humbling moment.

“Anything that your child accomplishes that makes them truly excited is always a blessing to watch in person,” he says. “Then when they remind you that you have never accomplished that same thing, you realize that a 10-year-old is better at golf then you.”

Prior to his hole-in-one, Chase was named the 2017 Junior of the Year at WP. He started playing when he was four years old; now, he’s a strong member of the 2017 PGA Junior League squad. Last year, he won the Junior Club Championship Nine & Under Division with a solid round of 39, seven strokes better than his nearest competitor.

This past summer, Chase teamed up with his Dad to post a stellar score of 37 and claim a Modified Pinehurst Parent-Child event at WP. Needless to say, the father-son duo have a lot of golf ahead of them. We’re certain there’s an ace out there for Dad in the future!

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