First Green: Where Courses Become Environmental Labs

14.04.06-First.Green.logoOriginally published April 25, 2015 in the Seattle Times
reprinted with permission
by Scott Hanson

First Green program uses golf courses as environmental learning labs, where students can do things like study plant species and measure water velocity. 

Steve Kealy, superintendent of Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, is not sure who enjoys the First Green field trips more, the students or him.

“It’s great getting the kids out to the golf course, to teach them stuff they’ve never thought of,” said Kealy, who hosts eight to 10 school field trips to his course each year.

The First Green was founded in Washington in 1997 as a program in which golf courses are used as environmental learning labs, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“They really enjoy getting their hands on things, things they’ve never been able to experience, like the soil, plants, water quality and wildlife habitat,” Kealy said. “And for me, it’s an awesome experience to see your golf course through the kids’ eyes. Many of them have never been on a golf course, and they see it in a different way.”

 The First Green gives lesson plans and ideas to superintendents, and hooks them up with local educators. The program is now in 10 states and in Canada, according to executive director Karen Armstead.

“Our biggest role is to make sure the superintendents are ready when they host the field trips,” Armstead said.

Among the things students do is test water quality, collect soil samples, identify plants and design plantings and assist in stream-bed restoration.

One thing Kealy said is a big hit is testing the velocity of the stream that runs through Glendale, going through a course of procedures that includes dropping a ball into the stream, discovering the depth of the stream and how long it takes for the ball to travel 50 feet.

“They get a chance to get their hands dirty, and they dig that,” Kealy said.

The USGA in December awarded First Green a $112,500 STEM grant, because of First Green’s effort to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics through golf.

While they’re at a course, students often get a chance to hit some balls, too. And for many of the kids, it’s their first experience at a golf course.

“It’s another way we can introduce the game,” Armstead said.