"Links to Labs" - First Green Program Gets Started at Vancouver Golf Club

14.04.06-First.Green.logoby Jerry Rousseau

While speaking at the Pacific Northwest Golf Alliance Summit in Seattle in early March, Trevor Smith, Western Canada Turfgrass Association (WCTA) President, Stan Kazymerchyk, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU)  Turf Management instructor and I were approached by Karen Armstead, Executive Director of the First Green Foundation, an organization that had developed a program where school aged children are taught science, math and environmental stewardship using golf courses as the classroom and golf course superintendents as the teachers. 

This unique learning program, called First Green, has already seen over 15,000 kids participating since inception in 1997 and organizers were hoping to bring the vastly successful initiative across the border into Canada.

Based in Washington State, the program is funded by a grant from the United States Golf Association and focuses on learning opportunities based on the STEM concept.   According to LiveScience.com, STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.

“Golf courses are a perfect fit for STEM learning,” stated Trevor Smith.  “Students from kindergarten age to high school are taught about soil, eco-systems, wildlife habitat, surface and ground water, storm and sewer water management and a host of environmental benefits golf courses can provide.”

Sponsored and organized by the WCTA, in conjunction with KPU, Keso Turf Supplies and the First Green Foundation, the planning process got underway almost immediately.  Dave Kennedy, Superintendent of the Vancouver Golf Club (VGC) committed to host with full support from his Board and Heidi Gawehns, grade 8 teacher at Pitt River Middle School volunteered her class to be the first to experience the links as a lab in Canada.

On May 5th, experienced First Green presenters including David Phipps, GCSAA’s Northwest Field Representative, Steve Kealy, Superintendent of the Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, Jeff Shelley, First Green President and Karen Armstead, made their way to Coquitlam to deliver the First Green educational message.  

14.05.09-First.Green1GCSAA Northwest Field Rep David Phipps provides Pitt River Middle School Grade 8 students soil science basics. Image credit Morgan Gibbens, BCGA

During the three hour tour, kids rotated through individual learning stations, finishing with a hole cutting demonstration by Assistant Superintendent, Pete Rodrigues, on the 18th green. 

 14.05.14-First.Green.RodriguesPete Rodrigues shows students a cup plug. Image credit Jerry Rousseau

 One of the stops was a putting clinic taught by VGC Head Professional, Randy Smith.

14.05.09-First.Green2The day wasn't all work. After all, the classroom was a golf course! Image credit Morgan Gibbens BCGA

 “It’s a different dynamic when you take them outside the classroom. We could do the same thing in the class with a bucket of water and some soil and it wouldn’t have the same effect at all,” said Gawehns.

Both teachers and kids were highly engaged and enjoyed the clinic.  “I think it’s going to become a pretty popular program, given the enthusiasm of the kids, the feedback from the principal and their volunteers,” stated Kennedy.  “Getting kids involved in golf isn’t really the main goal but it’s certainly a benefit. Many of these kids have never been on a golf course and they have no idea what happens on a golf course.”

The program benefits the golf industry in other ways.  “Very often the teachers and the parents who may accompany the kids have this huge change in their impression of golf courses because initially they’re not sure environmentally about them,” explained Armstead.  “Then they become the strongest advocates, which is very important.”

The WCTA hopes to help market First Green’s value to all golf courses in western Canada and the program easily crosses over to other turf management sectors like sportsfields and parks. 

“Now that we know what’s involved with a First Green event, we can help communicate the program to our members,” explained Kazymerchyk, who along with Trevor Smith, had a big hand in organizing the first, First Green on Canadian soil.  He added, “The educational value is great and exposing students to the game of golf helps ensure the future of the sport.”

For more information on the First Green program, visit http://thefirstgreen.org