The First Green program, GCSAA’s outreach initiative introducing school children to golf courses and the role golf course superintendents, made its Carolinas debuts recently with field trips on each side of the border. About 30 children attended a Saturday event hosted by Mike Pilo at Sunset Hills Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., and 16 visited the Walker Course at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., as guests of Don Garrett, CGCS.
For Garrett, the takeaway message for other superintendents was clear. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s just not that hard,” he said. “You just take the kids out, show them the golf course and talk about what you do. They love it.”
As GCSAA southeast field representative, Ron Wright, CGCS, who helped out at both events, explained, “Lots of kids are hungry for this kind of education and experience.” He also Tweeted: “Don Garrett knocked it out of the park with the students! Great presentation with lots of questions answered.”
The First Green pairs local schools with golf courses to present on-site science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning for students. Golf course exposure helps students appreciate golf’s role in providing wildlife habitat, mitigating stormwater impacts and so much more. It also opens students’ eyes to possible careers in the industry.
Garrett says students were fascinated to hear that greens are mowed to within 1/1000th of an inch, then to see the mowers, how they work and what greens looked like as a result. “You can see some of them are very interested in the technical side of things once they see it in practice,” Garrett said. “GCSAA was very helpful, and they have some great lesson plans for the kids.”
Beyond students, Garrett believes The First Green program provides a real opportunity to improve the perspective some parents have of golf as an industry. “These kids go home and talk about what they’ve done and seen so that’s great,” he said. “But I think it would be fantastic to get parents to come along too and see for themselves what really goes on on golf courses. I think that could give a lot of people a powerful new perspective.”
Students at the Walker Course outing came from R.C. Edwards Middle School in Central, S.C., where Garrett’s daughter, Mary Cate, is a teacher and also runs a summer program. In addition to seeing radios, irrigation systems, stimpmeters and mowers in action, students got to take their own soil samples and moisture readings. Garrett’s wife, Cathy, also delivered pizza for the kids and each of them received a Walker Course greens staff t-shirt.
A highlight of The First Green outing at Sunset Hills was an in-field lab session led by Dr. Jim Kerns of North Carolina State University. Kerns drove from Raleigh to Charlotte on a Saturday to help, bringing microscopes so students could investigate plant diseases. GCSAA’s Wright said Kerns deserves a “big shout out” for taking time on a weekend to help.
Students at the Sunset Hills outing rangedin age from seven to 15 and were members of A Perfect Swing Foundation. The foundation is run by the LPGA’s Southeast Section president Ashaunta Epps. “Ashaunta is doing great things growing the game with the young and not-so young in the Charlotte area,” said GCSAA’s senior manager of chapter services, Leann Cooper, who traveled from Kansas to help.
Superintendents interested in hosting their own outing for The First Green can reach Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or Wright at email@example.com or visit www.thefirstgreen.org. Garrett says he is also willing to answer questions and have superintendents visit during future outings at the Walker Course.
Article originally appeared in the July-August 2021 issue of Carolinas Green online magazine.