Students rotated from station to station, measuring moisture content, calculating land area and studying water conservation. But these weren’t agronomy students, they were sixth graders from Ebinger Elementary School. This was not their typical field trip as they explored the immaculate grounds of Conway Farms Golf Club.

As part of The First Green initiative, superintendent Connor Healy welcomed students for a day behind the scenes of a golf course operation. For many, it was the first time they stepped on to a golf course.

The First Green was founded in 1997 as a grassroots organization in the Pacific Northwest. It was acquired by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in 2018 to help grow its mission of pairing golf courses with local schools for unique Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities.

Imperial is proud to be a supporter of the GCSAA and its philanthropic initiatives like The First Green. We caught up with Connor to learn more about his experience hosting a First Green event.

Imperial: Why did you decide to get involved with The First Green? 

CH: I’m a member of the GCSAA and came about the program when I saw a video about hosting an event. I instantly gravitated toward it. I think it’s doing everything that we need to be doing in the game of golf. First, being an advocate for the game and the environmental benefits of golf courses in general. Second, a community outreach element that exists within the golf community and growing the game. And finally, the fun that exists at a golf course and exposing young kids to the potential of making golf a profession.

These students may have never been exposed to the game or know anything about it. That’s really where my interest in the program began and I started researching how to get involved.

Imperial: How did you go about hosting a First Green event? 

CH: I had a relationship with some of the administrative staff at Chicago Public Schools and I knew I could facilitate a field trip. After a few meetings with the principal at Ebinger Elementary School, I could feel the excitement for a field trip to conduct activities that align with what the students were learning in the classroom. I knew we could relate our day-to-day efforts and larger projects on the golf course to topics the students studied in STEM. It was pretty seamless.

The First Green allows for flexibility to cater to a specific class, which we did that day at Conway Farms. With these students living in the city, I wanted to welcome them with that ‘wow factor’ of our driving range and let them enjoy the outdoors.

Imperial: Can you share some of the activities students participate in during an event? 

CH: We had six sets of stations that was led by someone in the industry – top assistants, superintendents and association managers. Stations were about learning the different areas on a golf course, such as the tee, green and fairway. Others included activities that used the students’ STEM skills like using weather stations and moisture meters to measure soil content on the greens. We taught them how to use a stimpmeter and measure irregular shapes to see how much fertilization was needed for the space.

The environmental learning station was really critical to me, as I wanted to share how sensitive we are to the land we have. We shared how much oxygen is created in an area thanks to the trees and grass, the storm water runoff and water conservation principles that we implement as stewards for the land. This session was eye opening for both the kids and even more so for the chaperones.

Of course, we also wanted the students to enjoy all the green space around them, like playing in the bunkers and learning how to putt.

Imperial: What was your favorite moment from The First Green field trip? 

CH: The initial arrival to the course, because the kids were just so happy to be there. I also appreciated the interactions with the chaperones who had never considered golf as an activity for their kids  for the summer. The feedback afterward from the principal gave me the confirmation that we were doing something special.

Imperial: What do you hope for school administrators and the golf industry take away from The First Green program? 

CH:  I’ve been really beating the drum for the program because I think every golf course should be hosting them.  Every golf course has a school nearby and it takes so little effort to make it work. The kids are just happy to be outside and it gives them a positive first experience with golf that they may not have had otherwise.

A way to support the organization is through Imperial’s Superintendent Collection, in which a portion of the proceeds from this collection will be donated back to the GCSAA’s philanthropic initiatives like The First Green. A big thank you to Connor for sharing his experience and passion with us.

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