Golf courses in Washington state double as learning labs with the help of the First Green Foundation and dedicated volunteers like Certified Golf Course Superintendent Steve Kealy.
“Community outreach coordinator” is one of the many roles that today’s golf course superintendents have added to their job descriptions. Some superintendents, such as Certified Golf Course Superintendent Steve Kealy at Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, Wash., are embracing this opportunity to serve as an ambassador for golf. Kealy is involved with the First Green Foundation, an environmental education outreach program that partners with local schools to use golf courses as learning labs.
Under the initiative, school students go on field trips to nearby golf courses, where they learn about the environmental and community benefits of golf courses, and maybe generate some interest in the game. Students participate in hands-on activities such as testing water quality, collecting soil samples, identifying plants, designing plantings, assisting in streambed restoration, and learning about the business side of golf course operations.
The First Green Foundation does more than promote golf courses as assets to their communities, however. In addition to introducing the game to potential new golfers, the program also exposes career possibilities to students who might consider future employment on the golf course.
Kealy recently spoke to Club & Resort Business about his involvement with First Green Foundation.
Q. How did you get involved in the program?
A. I inherited my involvement in First Green. Jeff Gullikson, who was a First Green co-founder, was formerly at Overlake Country Club in Medina, Wash. When Jeff took the position as golf course superintendent at Spokane (Wash.) Country Club, he handed off his role to me. At first I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy hosting field trips; however, I soon learned that sharing some of the science on the golf course with students is extremely rewarding.
|Super in the Spotlight:
Steve KealyPosition:Golf Course SuperintendentClub: Glendale Country Club
No. of Holes: 18
Designer: Layout by A.V. McCann; finished by Al Smith, his construction superintendent
No. of Members: 400
Annual Rounds: 25,000-29,000
Year Opened: Original course in 1925; moved to present site in 1957
Golf Season: Year-round; main season is April through October
Fairways: Poa annua
Greens: Poa annua
Honors and Awards: Kealy has won a number of awards, including the Western Washington Golf Course Superintendents Association Superintendent of the Year Award, 2002 and 2005; the GCSAA Environmental Stewardship Award, 2005; and the GCSAA Government Advocacy Award, 2005. He has been a Certified Golf Course Superintendent since 2000, and Glendale Country Club has been certified through Audubon International since 1998.
Q.What did you do to help develop the curriculum?
A. In 2006 First Green had a grant from the United States Golf Association to develop the curriculum into a tool kit for use by golf course superintendents and teachers. I was involved in the focus groups, in creating an informational video for the First Green website, and in working with other golf course superintendents to help them host field trips. All of this activity was part of our curriculum development process. We continue to develop new resource materials for the website. We work on these materials as a team–with the program director, executive director, other board members, and myself.
Q. What kind of training do superintendents need to be able to have field trips at their properties?
A. The best possible training is to review our resource materials and then observe a field trip. However, many superintendents host field trips without ever observing one. They talk with the teachers and develop activities that work well for their locale. We often get phone calls or emails from superintendents who have scheduled field trips, giving specific tips for activities that are appropriate for the age of the kids and the environmental resources available on the golf course. An example would be lessons on soils or on bugs. These are topics that are taught in all grade levels, and soil and bugs are key to healthy soil on all golf courses. The superintendent just needs to adapt the materials to fit.
Q. How do you prepare for the students and coordinate with teachers?
A. The most important aspect of preparing for the students is to understand their age/grade level and to find out from the teacher what the students are covering in class. I fit our learning stations with the level of the students. For example, second-graders need to be moving and doing almost the entire time, whereas with a seventh-grade class, we can go more in-depth with some of the information before the hands-on portion.
Q. How do you plan the lessons?
A. I use the lesson plans that are available on our website, thefirstgreen.org, and make my own outline as well, based on input from the teacher.
Q. What kinds of materials are available for you to use?
A. First Green offers superintendents a tool kit – a duffel bag filled with soil and water testing kits. Plus, the online resources are key. Superintendents can download lesson plans, and follow a step-by-step checklist for pre-field trip planning, day of field trip, and post-field trip suggestions.
Q. How do you coordinate the field trips with the rest of the Glendale staff?
A. It is important to host field trips when the activities don’t interfere with what’s happening on the golf course. Monday is a good day for the golf course, so we try to do field trips then or earlier in the mornings. I check with the golf pro and the general manager to coordinate with what they have planned. We are always glad to have the golf pro and/or the general manager stop by the field trip so they know what is happening. Some of my staff help me when we are hosting the field trips. If we have four learning stations, they assist with the instruction, help set up and tear down the tables and learning materials, and are aware of what we’re doing.
Q. How are club members involved?
A. Club members know about the field trips through my blogs, monthly newsletter, and from seeing the students on the golf course. The club’s Greens Committee chair is usually very interested in the field trips, as are club members who are or have been involved in teaching. It is helpful to have club members who are connected to local schools. One of the challenges of starting a new program is to get the school involved. Until they come to the golf course, they don’t realize how many learning opportunities happen there. Club members are key to connecting to the school where their children or grandchildren attend.
Q. What do you want the students to get out of the field trips?
A. We want the students to have fun with the hands-on science activities, as well as learn about the environmental and community benefits of golf courses. We love introducing potential new golfers to the game in this fun, educational manner
Q. What do you get out of it?
A. I really enjoy having the students come out to our course and see all of the positive benefits of golf and the environment. I see this program as an investment in golf’s future. It’s an opportunity to teach a new generation of kids that golf is good for the environment, and good for the community in which they live. Even if they never play the game, as they get older they will always remember that field trip they took as a kid to our course, the good time they had, and the positive things they learned about golf and the environment.
It is really a lot of fun to share what I do every day in managing the quality and healthiness of the golf course and in making it a challenging and enjoyable place to play golf. Until I started hosting field trips, I didn’t realize how much of what I do is similar to what teachers teach in the classroom. The golf course is or can be an exciting outdoor classroom.
Q. Why is it important?
A. Golf courses matter. They are more than a place for golfers. Many of us consider urban golf courses to be “the lungs of the city.” That is, golf courses are significant to the environmental quality of cities. It is important for students, teachers, and communities to understand these benefits of having golf courses, along with the potential of playing a game that they can enjoy all of their lives.
Q. Do you have any other involvement with the First Green Foundation?
A. I have been on the board of directors for a number of years and am currently Secretary/Treasurer of the organization.
Q. First Green Foundation has heard from other superintendents nationwide seeking information about implementing similar programs in their areas. What have you done to help them?
A. We set up a section of our website (www.thefirstgreen.org) to help superintendents get their program started. They can use our online lesson plans and checklists as they plan their field trips. We are also available via phone and e-mail to provide coaching to superintendents who are new to First Green.