First Green gains traction in Maryland

The STEM education program has a waiting list, TV coverage and an engaged network of superintendent hosts in the Mid-Atlantic.


First Green Westminster
Three members of the Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS — (from left) Alan Cusick from Argyle CC, Mike Bostian from Waverly Woods GC and Joseph Roberts, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland — take students through a session on water and its use on golf courses during a First Green educational event at Westminster (Md.) National GC in early October. Photos by Scott Hollister

Steve Lockard may be new to his job as the superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools — he started in the position in July — but he’s definitely no stranger to the area.

Lockard grew up in Carroll County, Md., and knows the people who call this area home well. In his first few months on the job, he has leaned heavily on that local knowledge to settle in and has been charting his own course for the school district.

That’s one of the reasons Lockard spent a recent morning at Westminster National Golf Course.

No, he wasn’t teeing it up in some chamber of commerce tournament. Instead, he was observing nearly 60 students from Eldersburg Elementary School take part in a First Green educational event hosted by members of the Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS.

To Lockard, the spirit of giving back and helping the community that was so evident at the First Green outing was one of the reasons he returned home to Carroll County, and it’s the kind of thing he hopes to see more of as his tenure there continues.

“Here’s what I know ... there is a tremendous amount of collaborative spirit with all the different agencies and community groups and businesses in this area,” Lockard says. “This is just another great example of that. It’s a natural fit with the work we’re trying to do with STEM, and a great opportunity for kids who might not necessarily find themselves on a golf course to see what it’s all about and all the science, math and technology that goes into maintaining a golf course.”

For the uninitiated, First Green is an educational and environmental outreach program and the only STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program in the country that uses golf courses as learning labs, with golf course superintendents leading the efforts. The program was founded in 1997 by superintendents in the Pacific Northwest, and GCSAA assumed nationwide administration of the program earlier this year.

The Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS has embraced First Green over the past three years, with the event at Westminster National being the organization’s 10th such offering in that span of time. The interest in the program was sparked after several chapter members — including the host of the event at Westminster National, Ryan Kraushofer— attended a First Green field trip during the 2016 Golf Industry Show in San Diego.

First Green Maryland
The volunteers who helped make the First Green event at Westminster National happen.

Kraushofer and Westminster National have been regular hosts of First Green events. For the most recent one, the current vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS had custom signage and putting green flags created, made First Green T-shirts for the students, and even secured media coverage from the local newspaper, the Carroll County News, and Baltimore’s Fox television affiliate, WBFF Fox 45, which did four live segments from the golf course for its morning show.

“We’re really starting to see some traction here with First Green,” says Kraushofer, a 16-year GCSAA member. “We’ve had a lot of these events at my course for our local schools, but we’ve even had interest from Baltimore County schools about coming up here. We’ve got a bit of a waiting list right now, but that’s a good thing and speaks to the value of the program.”

Mike Bostian, president of the Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS and the superintendent at Waverly Woods Golf Course in Marriottsville, Md., says the First Green has had a positive impact not only on students, but also on their parents and others who have helped chaperone the field trips.

“I’ve bumped into people at the grocery store or the gas station or even when they come to play at my golf course who have thanked me for the First Green, for what it’s teaching their kids and for what they’re all learning about the golf industry,” the 18-year GCSAA member says. “It’s been really rewarding.”

During the Westminster National stop, students spent time at stations focused on water use and how golf courses employ this important resource. They used math skills to calculate the distance of various golf shots, examined soils found around the golf course and some of the pests that superintendents in the Mid-Atlantic deal with in maintaining their properties, and even tried their hand at putting, which for many was the first time they had ever held a golf club.

Brandy Hunt is a physical education teacher at Eldersburg Elementary and worked with Kraushofer and the Mid-Atlantic chapter to organize the event. She says programs like First Green can pay immediate educational dividends for students.

“I’m a firm believer in tactile learning,” Hunt says. “I think kids need to move and get their hands on whatever it is they’re focusing on. So, I think this program really hits home. The kids are super excited to be here, and they’re definitely going to take home the message a lot more effectively because they’re seeing and feeling what it is we’re talking about.”

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.