Links as labs

May 5, 2014
Morgan Gibbens (British Columbia Golf)

Coquitlam, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Golf courses are used for a number of different functions, from the obvious, playing a round of golf, to hosting banquets and weddings, and on Monday morning the Vancouver Golf Club transformed from links – into a science lab. 

As part of their science curriculum, students from Pitt River Middle School spent the morning learning about soil composition and water quality, and how they’re used in golf course maintenance.

Heidi Gawehns’ eighth grade class was the first in Canada to participate in The First Green program, joining the more than 15,000 kids in Washington State who have visited courses for programs that are tailored to the age of the class, from younger grades learning about wildlife, to more advanced sciences at the high school level. 

Superintendents from courses in Bellevue and Portland, who are experienced in delivering the program, made the trip to Coquitlam to show the students what it takes to take care of a course. They were split into groups and rotated through stations. 

“It’s a different dynamic when you take them outside the classroom. We could do the same thing in the class with a bucket of water and come soil and it wouldn’t have the same effect at all,” said Gawehns’.

The students are able to see the sciences that they’re learning in school applied in real-life settings. 

In addition to the benefits of getting kids out of the classroom and into a unique learning environment, The First Green also introduces many of the students to golf. For 80-85% of the participants, it is the first time they’ve visited a golf course.

“Getting kids involved [in golf] isn’t really the main goal but it’s certainly a benefit. Many of these kids have never been on a golf course and they have no idea what goes on on a golf course,” said Dave Kennedy, Superintendent of The Vancouver Golf Club.

“We’re focusing on what we do in terms of looking after it for our golfers, what a benefit the golf course is in the area with the environmental and recreational benefits. That’s our motivation but it’s great to see the kids out here having fun. Hopefully some of them will take the game up.”

The students were able to try their hands at a bit of golf at one of the stations where the club’s head pro went through the basics of putting.

The First Green states that each child who participates in the event will go on to have 10-12 discussions about it, meaning that a class of 24 students results in around 250 conversations about the course, the program and the game of golf. The First Green is growing the game of golf, exposing kids to courses and potentially sparking enough interest for them to return. Karen Armstead, Executive Director of The First Green says the biggest response is often from the adults.

“Very often the teachers and the parents who may accompany the kids have this huge change in their impression of golf courses because initially they’re not sure environmentally about them,” explained Armstead

“Then they become the strongest advocates, which is very important.”

The program gets golf into the lives of students as well as the adults in a positive way and demonstrates the significance of golf in communities and the response to the day was overwhelmingly positive all around.

“I think it’s going to be pretty popular, given the enthusiasm of the kids, the feedback from the principal and their volunteers. I think it’s been great and will become a popular program,” stated Kennedy.

For more information on the program visit

If you’re interested in bringing The First Green program to a golf course in your area contact Jerry Rousseau ( at The Western Canada Turfgrass Association for more information, and turn the links into labs.