Alumni tee off for 9 in the Spine

April 9, 2014
9 in the Spine

Spirit tests his skills at Putin Putt-Putt, a Nine in the Spine mini golf hole designed by the Russian Culture Club. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

Last Thursday, UAA alumni and student leaders teed up and hit the links on campus—”links,” in this case, of course referring to the sky bridges that link campus buildings.

The Alumni ParTee: Nine in the Spine was a brand-new event from the UAA Office of Alumni Relations that reimagined the Spine as an after-hours mini golf course. The Spine—a series of elevated walkways stitching together the heart of campus— is one of UAA’s signature Northern features, allowing students and staff to crisscross the bulk of campus without ever stepping outside (a much-appreciated treat on certain winter days). For one night only, the long sky bridges boasted nine innovative mini golf designs alongside the Spine’s always-available study spaces and epic mountain views.

9 in the Spine

Jayson Smart, who first imagined a UAA mini golf tournament as a student in the early ’90s, welcomes fellow alumni back to campus. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

The event was a decades-long dream for alumni Jayson Smart. “For years it kind of stewed in the back of my mind,” he said. Smart worked as a student at UAA in the 1990s and stayed on after graduation to develop the Concert Board and build the conference and catering services department, among other accomplishments. He spent a lot of time in the student center back in those days and, he said, “way back then I remember thinking ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do an indoor golf event through this architecture that’s so unique to the university?’” Fast forward a few decades and Smart finally pitched the idea to Alumni Relations. He found a lot of support for his fun idea and, after several years of dreaming and several more months of planning, the event finally teed off last Thursday.

The UAA Open

Nine in the Spine invited UAA alumni back to campus to represent their companies on 4-person golf teams. The 18 participating teams represented a wide swath of Anchorage businesses, from architects to engineers and accountants and orthodontists. While most alumni showed up in business casual, the team from KPMG in Anchorage arrived in the familiar gear often sported by pro golfer (and KPMG spokesman) Phil Mickelson.

Additionally, each participating UAA club nominated one student to play the course, joining an existing team of four alumni. These select students earned a unique opportunity to meet and network with Anchorage business owners while showing off their putt-putt skills.

9 in the Spine

Students from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and their mini golf windmill, built on campus and powered by a repurposed fan blade. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

Seven student groups and two UAA departments crafted the event’s mini golf masterpieces (including a design named “Putin Putt-Putt” from the Russian Culture Club). The student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers even built the classic putt-putt windmill, only with an open-sided design displaying the interior workings of their homemade creation. The ASME students crafted their windmill at UAA’s on-campus design studio, using the engine from a dismantled table fan and a series of interconnected gears and pulleys to rotate the windmill blades at an optimally difficult rate. “We’re mechanical engineering students so we wanted to put our education to work,” ASME student president Kristina Sorlie said, “but we wanted it to be challenging.”

The rapidly rotating windmill certainly lived up to its challenge factor—several golfers may have to raise their handicap for next year’s Alumni ParTee after attempting this season’s crop of student designs.

Alumni weigh in

9 in the Spine

Staff from Coombs Orthodontics tee off in the UAA Student Center. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

The alumni who returned to campus found the event well above par. “It’s good to be back and see everything that’s new,” said Nicole Knox, a civil engineer at R&M Consultants. “It’s really good to see all these students involved in something like this.” As a student, Knox was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers at UAA, and Nine in the Spine allowed her to connect with current students in the club at their mini golf station. “It’s neat to see students doing local things,” she said. “As a civil engineer at a local firm, it’s great to come and see them working and being involved.”

Trevor Hudson, a geologist at R&M Consultants, was similarly impressed. “There’s so much new stuff here,” he said after completing the cross-campus course. “When I first came through UAA there wasn’t a sense of school spirit, but this is boosting it and I feel that’s really important. We used to complain about school spirit, how you wouldn’t see people wearing UAA gear,” he explained, “I’d like to see more of that and hopefully more events like this.” As a geology graduate, he’s also optimistic that the geology club will get on board next year. “Yeah, where are those guys?,” he laughed. “I should call them.”

The 19th Hole

The new UAA Office of Alumni Relations, located at the end of the Spine’s connected buildings, served as the clubhouse for the event. Business cards were exchanged, cake was sliced and awards were doled out as players returned from the course. The last-place team graciously walked off with vouchers for golf lessons while the only lucky putter to nab a hole in one earned a set of Seawolf-embellished golf balls.

9 in the Spine

Behold, Mt. Rasmuson–the prize-winning volcanic creation from the UAA Accounting Club. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

The accounting club won the hotly-contested, highly-anticipated people’s choice award for best golf hole. Their design featured a Plexiglas runway over glow sticks and rope lights, leading into a giant papier-mâché volcano (complete with fog machine for effects). “Accountants can be creative,” laughed Accounting Club vice president Kylie Kroeker. “We put a lot of time and thought into this, so I’m glad people like it. It was a lot of fun to design.” When asked how the steaming mountain of lava represented accounting, club member Kirsten Pearce joked, “We spent money on it.” “And we stuck to a budget,” added Kroeker. “Tell our professors to give us extra credit.” For their hard work and presentation skills, the accounting club members each earned Kaladi Brothers Coffee gift cards, a welcome treat leading up to finals week.

The inaugural golf tournament was a strong success thanks to a full slate of teams, a spirited crew of alumni and an excellent repurposing of a unique campus feature. “This was our first go at this event and it was wonderful to have everybody involved in helping us raise money for the UAA alumni scholarship fund,” Smart said of his decades-long vision. “They’re all doing great work by helping us support students here at the university.”

Net proceeds from the event benefited the UAA Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund and, although the Alumni ParTee won’t be added to the prestigious list of national tournaments anytime soon, the Spine will surely be a future fairway again next year.

9 in the Spine

Alumni from Siemens Industry, Inc. meet Spirit in the Spine. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement.

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