First Green goes pro at Torrey Pines

San Diego GCSA hosts 60 middle school students for STEM event held in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open.


Students and Torrey Pines crew with riding mower
San Diego GCSA members help students from San Diego's Millennial Tech Middle School check out riding mowers during a First Green field trip at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Monday, Jan. 23. A group of 60 students attended the event. Photo by Mike Strauss

While First Green events have been popping up on golf courses all over the country, this week marked a special occasion with a program held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. The event was held in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open.

The San Diego GCSA hosted 60 students from the city’s Millennial Tech Middle School Monday on the North Course at Torrey Pines. Students rotated through several stations as PGA Tour players played through on the adjacent 14th hole during practice rounds ahead of the tournament.

The Farmers Insurance Open is played on both of the city-owned North and South Courses, which are maintained by director of agronomy Devin Cullen and his crew. Cullen and his team of 40 employees and 26 tournament volunteers were not able to take part in the program as tournament week preparations were well underway.

But the 11-year GCSAA member did provide several tools and mowers for the event and noticed the impressive turnout of both students and San Diego GCSA members during his drive-bys while checking on the course.

“It looked like a great event,” he says. “I have to make a point of being a part of it next year.”

Around 15 members of the chapter were on hand to connect with the students, who got their hands dirty while learning about different soil types, water management, protecting wildlife and the environment, drone technology, and cool tools on the green.

“My favorite thing today was seeing how they use tools on the golf courses,” one student said. “One thing that stood out to me was to see how they figure out how much moisture is in the grass and also the specific tool that makes the hole for the ball to go in.”

Managed by the GCSAA Foundation, First Green is an innovative environmental and STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — program that uses golf courses as learning labs. David Marson, a Millennial Tech science teacher, says the event helped bring to life what his students have been learning in their science classes.

“The STEM stations correlate with what they are learning in school,” Marson says. “They see how science applies to real-world jobs and applications in the adult world.”

After the interactive stations and a lunch at the scenic course on the Pacific Ocean, the students took part in a Q&A with industry professionals to learn about careers in the golf business. Professional golfers Rickie Fowler and Michael Herrera also answered questions from the students.

Following the Q&A, students had front-row seats to watch Herrera and fellow Farmers Insurance Open competitors Kamaiu Johnson, Doc Redman and Justin Lower hit golf balls and share stories and advice.

“The students got to meet people – golf professionals and other professionals in the industry — and hear about their career paths, so it makes more sense about what they are studying and learning and what they can do with that knowledge,” Marson says.

Jeff Jensen, GCSAA’s field staff representative in the Southwest, served as the host of the event, which received wide-spread media attention.

“Special thanks to all of our volunteers from the San Diego GCSA, and our partners from the Century Club of San Diego, the city of San Diego and Farmers Insurance,” Jensen says. “It is a super event to bring 60 kids from Millennial Tech out to learn a little bit about the golf industry, our best management practices, our sustainability and give the kids a chance to see the golf course, see some professionals from the PGA Tour hit some balls. It was a great introduction to the game.”

Mike Strauss is GCSAA’s manager, media relations.