A Hole-in-One Capstone
Story by Jake Kavanagh // Photo by Melody Guyton Butts
Miniature golf has always appealed to me, both as a bumbling, budding golfer, and as a scenic designer, hopefully less bumbling. Long before I could hold my putter up straight or swing the club correctly, I was fascinated with courses and the game that I knew growing up as Putt-Putt. The experience of going to a miniature golf course was just that — an experience.
Miniature golf courses are known for their design aesthetics as well as the challenges that lie within those beautiful designs: waterfalls carrying balls off the green and windmills that tease you with the hole just on the other side. These are just some of the memories that children carry with them as they think back to their years of miniature golf outings with family and friends.
As the first Cavalier Capstone proposals started to come together, I thought about what I wanted to share with the students. A course on lighting design? Set design? Obvious choices, however, the Cavalier Capstone offered an opportunity for something different. When it came to DA’s moral, happy and productive mission — I wanted to find something that fell right square in the middle of happy! I wanted to make certain we had a blast designing, building and playing miniature golf. Students responded to the call. Clearly, they have the same nostalgia (or maybe it is not nostalgia at their age) for miniature golf courses.
Soon I had a full class of 18 students. Then fear set in. Could they all design? Could they all be trained well enough to use the tools? How could we design and build all of this in a week? Worst of all — there was no way to get waterfalls and windmills into the quad in five days.
We met as a group for the first time and made introductions. I shared inspiring images of themed miniature golf course designs to get them excited. We discussed the how and where and when and with what. They expressed a combination of excitement, confusion and perhaps boredom. We did not leave that first meeting inspired.
On the first day of the capstone my faculty team — Upper School English teacher Jeff Biersach and Upper School library assistant Katherine Spruill — and I decided that as long as we all had fun and were able to play some mini-golf at the end of the week, that would be a success. Of course, in the back of my mind, I still wanted waterfalls and windmills. Day one, we handed out materials to the teams of student designers/builders. They started designing on the Kenan stage, directly on the plywood sheets that would become the base of their courses. As I walked around and discussed ideas with each group, I realized how excited and invested each team was in the design process. They were all collaborating on ways to make their hole more challenging and creative. Each team had a theme in mind and even teams with less design or artistic experience seemed truly excited by the challenge of creating a miniature golf course out of plywood, two-by-fours and other various supplies from the theatre scene shop.
It is worth pointing out that some of these teams of designers/builders were not close friends. Some had not really known each other well before the capstone. However, everyone joined forces quickly when it came to collaborating on the miniature golf capstone experience. It was evident that our goal of focusing on happy while sneaking in the productive was working.
By all accounts, the week was a success. Designs were completed by the middle of day one, and most teams began construction after lunch. We spent two-and-a-half long days building, gluing carpet, painting and assembling. By the end of the fourth day, we were already setting up the course on the quad. The final day was pretty much all play! Some holes were impossible, and some were pretty easy. Most were challenging and fun. All of them looked cool, and each team was proud of the work they did. Ms. Spruill, Mr. Biersach and I were hot, tired and impressed with what they had accomplished. On top of everything, I heard that the summer camp kids used them throughout the summer.
We will do it again. Maybe this year we can add windmills and waterfalls!