Tips for a successful First Green field trip

Tips for a successful First Green field trip

Tips for a successful First Green field trip 800 600 First Green

Lessons from Michigan State University’s Hancock Turfgrass Research Center
June 26, 2024 | Michael Rabe |

There are many perks to working on a golf course that most people outside the profession don’t consider: You get to watch the sun rise, witness wildlife, and play a pivotal role in preparing a golf course for play. However, while these attributes make for a great job, there are numerous unseen aspects of working on a golf course that can make it a fulfilling career.

GCSAA developed a program called First Green with the goal of communicating these aspects of the occupation to the next generation of turf industry professionals. Per GCSAA’s website:

“The First Green curriculum benefits young students by helping them apply their classroom knowledge in an outdoor setting. By understanding how STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) concepts connect, students find new inspiration in their schoolwork and in the possibility of a career in golf or a STEAM-related field.”

On May 8, 2024, 43 fifth graders participated in a First Green field trip at the Michigan State University Hancock Turfgrass Research Center. Planning the program was straightforward, and the execution was fun for all involved. Here are a few things we learned along the way.

Michael Rabe welcomes fifth graders from Donley Elementary to the Hancock Turfgrass Research Center at Michigan State University.

Making it happen

The first step of hosting a First Green field trip is making a connection with a school. Through my turf industry network, I was able to make a connection with Emmaleigh Richardson, an Interventionist at Donley Elementary School. I reached out to Emmaleigh and after reviewing the First Green program she put me in contact with a couple of fifth grade teachers who were interested in taking their students on a field trip. Richardson told me:

“When I heard about the First Green program, I thought it would be a great opportunity for our students. The topics that are covered connect with our 5th grade Michigan science standards so I knew the experience would enrich our students learning. Knowing that many of our students have never had the opportunity to learn about or experience a golf course this was a way for them to do something they wouldn’t have been able to without this program. This was also a great way to show students about the possibilities that could come from pursuing a degree or even a career in this field. Allowing our students to have an outdoor, hands-on learning experience was exciting for our students to see how their science learning is applied in the real world. Our students came back from the field trip saying it was the best field trip they’ve ever had!”

Planning the field trip was easy for us. The teachers told me they had not been able to take many field trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the students were itching to get out. We had a quick Zoom call outlining the possibilities for lessons, and the teachers trusted us to develop lesson plans that were appropriate. I had a couple of great mentors in Mike Mausolf and Shayne Skolnik who had experience with hosting field trips, and they laid the groundwork for some of these lessons. Others we developed tailoring them to our facility.

We had 5 stations:

  1. Soils. This station covered the basic building blocks of soil, including sand, silt and clay and their characteristics.
  2. Cool tools. This station explored the Spectrum TDR, Spectrum TruFirm, and USGA Stimpmeter. The purpose was to allow the students to get hands-on experience while we informed them how turf managers utilize these technologies and why. The students were also exposed to a drone, and learned how a greens mower works. We also touched on mower safety.
  3. Wildlife. A representative from the USDA spoke to the students about the kinds of wildlife they may see on a golf course. Students had the opportunity to touch and feel pelts from various animals and ask questions.
  4. Math. This station covered how to find the area of a rectangle and allowed students to utilize measurement tools for real-world application to calculate the amount of sod needed to cover an area. This also touched on a more complex topic of ball bounce, a metric typically used to quantify playability of soccer pitches.
  5. Golf Activity. We understood that many of the students may not have played golf before, so we gave them the opportunity to learn the rules of and hit some putts.
Jesse Sholl, turf center manager, and Ben Keeler, Superintendent of Forest Akers Golf Course, teach the visiting students about golf.

The big day

On the day of the field trip, the bus rolled into the Hancock Turf Research Center with 43 students aboard and chaos commenced immediately. The kids were extremely excited, and many had interesting insights and preconceived notions of the turf world. The first question I asked was, “What do you think of when you hear the word turfgrass?” The popular reply was, “fake grass.” I have run into this misconception before, but we set them straight.

Once we commenced tour stops, I was able to chat with the teachers. One thing I have noted from others about involvement with First Green field trips is the impact it has on the adults of the group. and This group was no different. In conversations with the school staff, I learned that many have driven by our facility, but had no idea what took place here.

The teachers were very satisfied with the field trip. “It [the field trip] was educational, interesting, and fun. The kids had a blast learning about turf through hands-on engaging activities. Donley fifth grade will be back next year,” said Katie Ballard, fifth grade teacher at Donley Elementary.

Word to the wise

The next time I host another field trip, I will be sure to have well-defined groups and have them numbered or named in some way. When we broke for lunch, the students became an amalgamation, and it was difficult to get them back on track to the stations they still needed to visit.

I would also reconsider the path between tour stops and be sure to have a very clear delineated path between stops. We had a long path between our first and last stop that allowed for a lot of distractions and increased travel time, which can play a factor in time keeping for the tour stops and having a equal amount of time for each stop.

Take action

When I was a golf course superintendent, I looked for creative ways to draw in employees. I posted on college job boards and hung posters in popular college hangouts. I never received any response. By the time potential recruits get to college, many already have a path in life that doesn’t involve physical labor, so it seemed to me this route of recruiting was not going to work.

My next thought was to target high school juniors and seniors who were looking for a path in life. I thought back to my days as an aimless young person and I wish that I had known about the career path sooner. I learned that the GCSAA was way ahead of me with the First Green program.

Workforce development is a popular phrase now. Reaching youth as early as possible is the key to workforce development. GCSAA has hit the nail on the head for solving the golf course labor shortage. It is now up to the membership to take these opportunities and utilize the resources at your fingertips.