First Green Teaches Kids Environmental Benefits of Golf

By Tony Dear

When Steve Kealy hosts a First Green field trip, he likes to send the kids home with an incentive to protect water quality in their homes and surrounding neighborhoods. “I teach them about storm water and waste water,” says the 27-year Superintendent at Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, Wash. “And I give them four things they and their families can do to make a difference.”

Kealy’s simple four-point plan is:
1. Scoop up your pet’s waste.
2. Wash your car at a car wash, not on the driveway at home.
3. Make sure all fertilizer and other lawn products hit the target, and don’t end up on hard surfaces.
4. Keep your cars in good repair. If it’s leaking oil, get it fixed asap!

“The kids usually go home and ask their parents if they know the difference between storm water and sewage,” says Kealy. “If they don’t, the kids teach them. They tell them nothing but rain should go down the storm drain.”

Founded in 1997 by internationally-known golf coach, psychologist, and speaker Dr. Bill Meyer, and Jeff Gullikson, the superintendent at Kalispel Country Club in Spokane, Wash., the First Green is a 501 (c ) (3) non-profit based in Bellevue that provides school kids with valuable STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-based learning experiences at golf facilities. “Golf courses are essentially environmental learning labs,” says Dr. Karen Armstead, the organization’s Executive Director.

Kealy has welcomed local elementary and middle-school students to Glendale over 100 times since the year 2000, and through him roughly 2,500 schoolkids have learned how golf courses influence the surrounding watershed, provide wildlife habitats, and can actually benefit the environment. According to statistics issued by the First Green, that means almost 23,000 people (extended family members and friends of the participant) in the Bellevue and Greater Seattle area have heard Kealy’s message one way or another, and have probably developed a far more positive attitude towards the game and its playing fields than they once had. What’s more, a number of the children Kealy has instructed have worked summers at Glendale, and/or gone on to study subjects such as environmental protection, land management, and landscape architecture at college.

Jeff Glaser, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Louise School in Bellevue has allowed his students to take advantage of Kealy’s experience and expertise several times. “I want them to see a real-life application of what we learn in class,” he says. “And I want them to see how our local golf course is putting environmental science to work.”

Glaser’s students learn about Glendale’s holding pond and how it filters water before it enters Kelsey Creek which runs through the course. “They take water samples and count macro invertebrates that live in the pond,” he says. “They take soil samples and learn about water conservation. And they become familiar with the course’s different types of turf.”

The kids are introduced to the course’s different mowing machines, and Kealy has them work out the stream flow to see how much water moves down Kelsey Creek. “There is lots of science, math, and technology at each station the students visit,” says Glaser. “Steve and the First Green do a wonderful job of connecting what we learn in the classroom to what actually happens outside the school.”

The First Green’s focus was limited in its early days, reaching courses almost entirely in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, however, its impact has been felt nationwide with courses across the country getting involved.

The highest-profile club to have participated is probably Philadelphia Cricket Club in Flourtown, Penn. which had nearly 100 students from Whitemarsh Elementary School in nearby Lafayette Hill on the grounds in June of this year. “We usually advise against groups that large,” says Armstead, “but Dan Meersman, the club’s Director of Grounds, had been preparing the event for a long time and had a good deal of assistance from other organizations.” Indeed, in addition to Meersman, his staff, and several club members, the children heard from representatives of the Golf Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Association of Golf Course Superintendents, the Philadelphia Section of the PGA, the First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, Montgomery County Conservation District, the Morris Arboretum, Temple University, the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, and the USGA which has provided funding for the First Green since 2000.

“It was a really memorable day,” says Meersman who’d had the idea for the event after meeting Armstead in Seattle a couple of years before. “It was shortly after completion of Keith Foster’s restoration of our Wissahickon Course,” he says. “A group of Seattle-area superintendents had invited me to speak about the project, and while there I had the opportunity to speak with Karen about the First Green.”

Meersman set up six learning stations on the 1st and 18th holes. At four of them, the kids learned about responsible golf course maintenance, and at the other two they got a chance to try their hand a golf.

“They learned a lot, and had a great time,” says Meersman. “At the end of the day, one boy came up and gave me a hug, and at a follow-up meeting at the school a little while later, several students told me how much they’d enjoyed it. That was special. The day was a great success, and we’ll definitely be doing it again.”


What do you think about programs like First Green? Do they help to grow golf or do they simply better society? Let us know in the comments below!

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