By CINDY LADAGE
VIRDEN, Ill. — Farmer Farley Cole had a great idea, a way to help finance agriculture education and support the local FFA – by creating Barn to Barn Golf. The innovative idea has been done before, he said, but he didn’t know of it being used in this way.
The game is comprised of teams that travel from one farm or home to another and putt a golf hole. This year’s event will be Feb. 23.
“Barn to Barn Golf was a fundraiser for the North Mac Ag program, as well as FFA,” Cole said. “The Virden and Girard school districts consolidated 3.5 years ago and they added agriculture to the curriculum.
“We grossed over $20,000 the second and third year,” he reported, adding this was before expenses. I am flabbergasted, amazed. This is a great group of individuals helping. Hats off to the committee, they have become empowered.”
The money spent to play goes for a good cause, and players have a good time and learn more about farming while they do it. After Cole’s trial run of the first, everyone saw how well it worked and the program took off like a rocket.
He said they are still working to come up with the proper amount of holes and teams. “This year will be the fourth year and we are still trying to see how many we should have,” he explained.
“The first year we had 35 teams made up of four people, just like in golf. The second year we had too many; I think there were 103 teams. The third year we limited it to 90 teams and this year it will be limited to the first 85 (teams) that register and pay.”
The cost for this year’s event is $120 per team of four players. The FFA helps with this event providing legwork and hosting a hole, as well. The ag class also has a team and assists, but most of the help is “just a bunch of great farmers and like-minded agribusiness people that regard agricultural education as a viable asset to the district,” Cole said.
The person or business that sponsors a hole is asked to create a unique and different golf setup and, if possible, the emphasis should be on agriculture.
“So far we have been doing this for three years and we have not had any repeats,” Cole pointed out. “It is exciting for participants. We want them to have a new and exciting layout. Decorating is what makes each hole unique.”
Past themes have included a roller-coaster design, farm equipment and sports. “Last year the FFA created a hill out of Astroturf. They put a Fisher-Price barn and animals, silos, et cetera. One year an excavating contractor used Tonka toys and brought in his conservation practices creating water.
“Last year a family farm built a large barn and used corn and soybeans as a sand trap. The barn was built into the hillside there was a lot of carpentry.
“We accept $100 donations and create a golf flag with their name on it and display it proudly at a hole. Last year we had nearly 100 such hole sponsors. Beyond that we publish their names in as many local publications as possible thanking them for their sponsorship.”
Team members vote for the best hole and the winner receives a traveling trophy, as does the winning team. “We draw players from a wide geographical area. We are quite proud of what we have going on,” Cole said.
Funding from Barn to Barn Golf has supported the school ag program and helped send FFA members to the national and state conventions. Plans for the future include a scholarship program for students going on in agricultural study. Cole stressed the importance of agricultural education.
“This can and does lead to valuable careers whether as a farm laborer, a farm accountant or a certified crop specialist. As the rural population declines, it has got harder for farmers and agribusiness people to find employees or services in rural communities,” he noted.
“We thought this education in the school district will help open the eyes of the students for occupational opportunities, even if it is not as a farmer.”
The message Cole wants to share with others who wish to support fundraising efforts in their area is to “think outside the box. Get engaged with FFA and 4-H, become a booster to them.”
While many communities have sports boosters, he observed not everyone is athletically inclined and may prefer challenging activities such as those clubs like FFA and 4-H have to offer. By supporting those groups, they can help students learn farm values.
The hope is that community-minded individuals can raise money to help educate students in agricultural endeavors, and then hope the students will return to bring their knowledge back to their communities.