New book by TTU authors aims to help students learn the game

In a year that has seen Tiger Woods streak across the golf scene like the human equivalent of the Hale-Bopp Comet, if there's one point to be made about golf, it is this: interest in the game is booming.

The swirl of excitement over Woods' triumph at the Augusta Masters underscores the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are watching golf, talking about it, learning it and playing it. And that comes as no surprise to Rhonda Folio and Robert (Bobby) Nichols.

The two Cookevillians are co-authors of "Skill Building for Beginning Golf" (Allyn & Bacon, Boston), a new book designed to teach the fundamentals of the game. Primary users of the text will be students taking beginning golf at colleges and universities, like the courses Folio and Nichols teach through Tennessee Technological University's Department of Health and Physical Education.

"It's unbelievable how the game is growing and all the golf courses that are being built," says Nichols, a PGA professional who is owner and resident pro at Ironwood Golf Course. "Right here there are six or seven courses in the county, and we stay busy. When I started to play golf, there were two nine-hole courses Q the Cookeville Country Club and Belle Acres Q and that was it."

Tiger Woods, who brings youth, style and sheer physical ability to the game, is a powerful factor in attracting newcomers to the game, yet Nichols is quick to point back to the influence other golfing giants have had in sparking interest in the sport. "Arnold Palmer got it started, and all the great players have had a hand in building the game and attracting interest to golf. Not only that, a lot of credit goes to the golf professionals who hold junior clinics and promote the game."

Courses taken each year by thousands of college students across the U.S. also help, as Nichols and Folio, a professor of physical education and special education, well know.

Nichols has coached the Tennessee Tech golf team for 24 years, teaching golf courses at the university for much of the time. Six years ago, Folio began teaching sections of golf classes, too. She noticed the unusual techniques Nichols was using with students. Nichols was struck by Folio's deftness in structuring lesson units and her expertise in teaching motor skills and physical education. Neither was satisfied with the textbook choices available to them.

What happened next was inevitable: the two found themselves collaborating on a book to use in teaching golf that solves many of the problems they see in other texts currently used in instruction.

Folio and Nichol's book distills his 40 years of experience in learning, playing and teaching the game and it combines that knowledge with Folio's own teaching ideas, along with strategies for learning, skill building drills and checklists that learners can use to monitor their progress. With each skill, an error detection and correction strategy is included.

That structured approach, which allows students to check and correct their progress, is one feature that sets the book apart, Folio says. Another is that the crisp photos used to illustrate skills feature college students as models -- a natural connection to the book's intended audience and one that other textbooks generally overlook.

Other aspects that give the book an edge include its emphasis upon simple and inexpensive equipment to use in learning the game, an emphasis on peer teaching, in which students work together to learn and evaluate each other, and a drill sequence that moves from easy to more difficult. Sensitive to the needs of instructors, as well, Folio and Nichols developed a 138-page instructor's guide to supplement information presented in the text.

Golf is a challenge to learn and to teach, Folio says. "It's the most interesting subject I've ever studied and part of that is due to the fact that once you learn the basics, there are still so many intricacies to master, such as course management and the psychology behind playing the game and winning. It's related to a lot you do in life.

"For instructors, the challenge is to present concepts simply in ways that connect to students' past experience and other skills, and to do so with a minimum of equipment and gadgetry. That's one of the book's strengths since the equipment required is very simple and some of it, like rulers used to check alignment, consists of things found around the home."

While the text offered Nichols a chance to record and preserve techniques he has developed during years of playing and teaching the game, it offered Folio something much more: a heartpiece of a project to focus upon while she battled and recovered from Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, a form of cancer of the lymph nodes.

Folio dedicated the text to, among others, the physicians and friends who assisted her in recovery. Nichols dedicated the work to the family, friends and those who have positively influenced his life.

It is the third book for Folio and first for Nichols, and the two are already planning revisions for a second edition. Further information on their text is available at the publisher's web site, www.abacon.com. The book can be ordered through any local bookstore.
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