By: Mike Mausolf
I’ve been in the business for 20+ years and have a tendency to get bored with the monotony of the daily grind of mowing, changing cups, mowing rough, etc. I look for new things to stimulate my brain and change the normal routine.
Recently, I embarked on GCSAA’s Assistant Certification Program and to fulfill one of the requirements, I had the option of hosting a First Green Field Trip. Some of you may be aware of the program and others may not. This program is not new and has been around for 20+ years. In a nutshell, the field trip turns a golf course into a STEM Learning Lab for a day by hosting a group of kids between 4th-12th grade. Lyon Oaks is the second facility in the state to host this event behind Pine Lake Country Club and Terry Poley who hosted the event in 2019 pre-Covid.
What started out as an idea to host one field trip quickly turned into two. The first step in the process required finding a school that would be willing to venture to a golf course for an educational opportunity. After sending out numerous emails and cold calling a few schools, there was no response.
My wife is a teacher in a district so I reached out to one of her former supervisors who is now a counselor at Cranbrook. After one night of deliberation, her 6th grade teachers unanimously said “yes” to the field trip. While I was working the Cranbrook angle, my supervisor, Shayne Skolnik, had also reached out to a number of schools. Low and behold to both of us, the day after Cranbrook said “yes,” the 5th grade class at Heritage Elementary in Huron Valley also said “yes.”
With 2 schools in-line for the field trip, the next step was to line up dates and presenters. The first field trip was set for Friday April 22 and the second, Thursday May 12.
April 22 turned out to be a cool spring day for Cranbrook. With intermittent clouds and sun, the students were treated to 4 labs: Cool Tools on the Green, Soils, Math of an Irregular Shape and Water Conservation. Each lab was 30 minutes long with a 5 minute rotation. Cool Tools on the Green was led by Ryan Moore, Bret Roberts and Lyon Oaks’ Park Supervisor, Aaron Bush. Here the students learned how to change a cup, use a moisture meter, climb on equipment and how to putt. Next, they moved on to Soils, taught by Paul Giordano. Once the students had their fill of soils, they were then treated to Math of an Irregular Shape taught by Dar Howard. Here the students learned how to use a tape measure, measuring wheel and how to find the area and volume of the driving range bunker. And the final lab was Water Conservation on the Golf Course taught by Chad Kempf and Tom Schemmel where students learned about evapotranspiration, how a superintendent uses a central irrigation controller and finally they were treated to hand watering via a 1-inch hose. Once all the students had been through each lab, we reconvened on the patio where Shane Conroy rallied the students with some important questions from the day, we passed out treats and drinks and then they were on their way.
May 12 quickly approached and it turned out to be a beautiful spring day at Lyon Oaks. The program was very similar for this second field trip when we hosted Heritage Elementary from Huron Valley Schools. The students were exposed to 4 labs that included Putting Lessons on the putting green taught by Lyon Oaks’ Park Supervisor, Aaron Bush where the students learned how to putt and proper etiquette on a putting green. Paul Giordano and Soils was next where the students learned about different particle sizes of sand, silt and clay and the importance of different soils as proper growing medium. From there the students learned about Birds of Michigan led by Theresa Celesta and Benjamin Prowse of Oakland County Parks and Recreation who had the chance to use binoculars and field guides to identify birds on the property while also having the opportunity to dress up like birds and understand the predator/prey relationship. To round out the lessons, the students were treated to Cool Tools on the Green hosted by Jeff Monnette, Parks Crew Chief at White Lake Oaks Golf Course. The students were tasked with changing a cup, using a soil probe, looking at various grasses using a macroscope and climbing on equipment that, we as professionals take for granted everyday. Once the lessons concluded, again we reconvened on the patio, said our farewells and sent them off with snacks, drinks and a grab bag
Both of the field trips were a huge success. All of the feedback was positive, and fortunately, both schools want to come back next year. Each field trip was about 2 and half hours long which turned out to be the right length for us. For future events, we may extend that to incorporate lunch or add another lesson. For, Cranbrook, the teachers dictated a lot of what we discussed and presented, whereas Heritage, let us do what we wanted to do. We found that it was easy to teach about golf since we were able to utilize our park supervisor who is a PGA Professional. The cool tools on the green were also very easy to teach since those are tools and equipment that we use day-in and day-out. The snacks, drinks and grab bags were a huge hit since most kids and adults love free stuff. Logistics is a huge part of hosting any kind of event. We are fortunate at Lyon Oaks that the routing and logistics turned out to be very simple. From the entrance, to the bathroom locations, to the golf course, it flowed extremely well.
I’m sure there are some questions and thoughts that you’ve been asking yourself while reading the article. First and foremost, why did you host a FirstGreen field trip? How do I pick which lessons to present? How do I find teachers for each lesson? And another thought that might be running through your head is, I don’t have enough time or the proper facility to host this type of event.
I decided to host this field trip after completing GCSAA’s Assistant Certification Program. Having been in the business for 20 + years, out of boredom, curiosity, or both, the wheels were set in motion. There is not a day that goes by that I regret hosting these field trips and I don’t look back at those days and think of all of the work on the course that was not completed. Hosting was extremely rewarding and one of the best decisions I’ve made while working on a golf course. It’s exciting to see the authenticity of excitement that resonates from a 5th or 6th grader while climbing on a fairway mower or tractor for the first time in his or her life. To see the joy in their eyes while putting on real grass and getting their hands dirty while learning about soil is gratifying and enjoyable.
I believe everyone should host one of these events because it is rewarding and fun. The best place to start is GCSAA’s website and reach out to Shane Conroy, who is a great resource. It turned out that picking lessons was fairly simple by looking at the website and utilizing the tools that we use everyday on the golf course. As for finding teachers for each lesson, reach out to industry partners, other superintendent’s and your golf pro or supervisor. I’ve always known we were in a great industry and sometimes it’s taken for granted but, when I reached out to people requesting help, the answer was a resounding yes. And quite honestly, the field trips would not have been as successful without the help.
For those of you thinking you don’t have enough time or resources to host this event, I disagree. We all get wrapped up into the day-to-day and month-to-month operations of the golf course. There is and always will be something that isn’t complete or could be done better at the end of every day no matter whether you work 8 hours a day or 16. You won’t remember the time Timmy set a tee marker in the wrong location or when Sally mis-raked a bunker but you’ll remember the excitement and enthusiasm of a middle-school child. This is an event that you will remember for the rest of your life, I guarantee it.
There are many thanks to go around and if I forget anyone, my apologies. This event wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Shayne Skolnik, Lyon Oaks Maintenance Staff, Paul Giordano, Ryan Moore, Bret Roberts, Dar Howard, Chad Kempf, Tom Schemmel, Aaron Bush, Jeff Monnette, Shane Conroy and Adam Ikamas.