January 24, 2017 - The year 2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of First Green. The innovative, environmental and STEM education outreach program that uses golf courses as environmental learning labs started with local, humble beginnings but has since grown nationwide as well as internationally.

Early Efforts

First Green’s roots date back to 1997 when Bill Meyer and Jeff Gullikson founded the nonprofit organization in Bellevue, Wash., east of Seattle. Bill is a consultant who has been extensively involved as a volunteer and board member for junior and amateur golf associations. Jeff, at that time, was the superintendent at Overlake Country Club.

“I hatched the idea of bringing the agriculture teachers, Future Farmer of America students, and golf course superintendents together to create a program and pathway to leverage their skills, experience, knowledge and opportunities,” said Meyer.

“We hosted and facilitated meetings of potential and interested supporters, created the name and logo and byline, ‘Links as Labs,’ and helped develop the curriculum,” he added.

“In the beginning, I helped develop curriculum and lesson plans,” says Gullikson. “I also promoted the program to teachers, education administrators, golf course superintendents, industry supporters, Toro, the USGA, GCSAA, Northwest Turfgrass Association and other groups.”

Meyer promoted the program to the Washington State Golf Association while a member of its board of directors, obtaining funding - which continues today - from the association. This WSGA funding has been a critical factor in First Green’s ability to grow and attract other support.

Of his DIY efforts, Gullikson raised funds and program support for teacher instructional materials, student scholarships and national FFA curriculum. He hosted First Green fundraising tournaments, while partnering with the national FFA to fund and develop national curriculum with assistance from Toro, Scotts and Zeneca (now owned by Syngenta).

When Jeff moved to Eastern Washington to become the golf course superintendent at Spokane (now Kalispel) Country Club, he recruited Steve Kealy, Glendale’s superintendent, to take over the reins of First Green. On a personal note, Jeff says, “Probably the biggest accomplishment was mentoring and introducing Steve to First Green. The rest is history.”

“I've been with First Green since almost the beginning,” observes Kealy, like Gullikson a past recipient of the prestigious Golf Course Superintendent’s President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship, a national award presented by the GCSAA. “Soon after Jeff and Bill came up with the idea and got together with former Washington State Office of Public Instruction Science and Horticulture administrator, Ron Crawford, they asked me to be part of the team.

“I never thought First Green would ever grow past our own backyard,” admits Kealy, the organization’s current Secretary/Treasurer. “After the WSGA committed their financial support in the early-2000s driven by its then-Executive Director, John Bodenhamer (now a USGA executive and still a big First Green supporter), I started thinking it has the backing from the kind of people that could make it successful.”

First Green’s Educational & Outreach Capability Moves Forward

In 2005, Meyer recruited Dr. Karen Armstead to be First Green’s Executive Director, a position she holds today. Karen’s initial task was to help institutionalize the program while expanding it beyond the Pacific Northwest.

Armstead utilized her keen organizational skills, securing First Green’s 501(c)(3) status and the foundation’s trademarks, creating educational resources, developing funding, reporting to grantors and donors, and managing the Foundation’s administrative tasks.

Initially, the program oriented its resource materials toward teachers. “Starting in 2005, we developed superintendent field-trip kits and materials,” Karen says. “The program refocused to be more centered with superintendents.”

Since then, First Green has filed trademarks and created proprietary lesson plans and resources to support golf course superintendents with their own local programs.

Of the Foundation’s evolution, Armstead comments: “First Green became involved in environmental education 20 years ago, helping to showcase the many ways that golf courses are good for the environment and for the community. More recently, this education has become known as STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - all critical skills for our nation that are part of the superintendents’ education and expertise. They are the ‘scientists’ on the golf course educating students and teachers.”

Meyer, Gullikson, Kealy and Armstead all remain as passionate as ever about the environmental and educational benefits of golf courses, seeing them as valuable resources in their local communities. First Green has proven it can link all three of these diverse areas together.

For more information, visit www.thefirstgreen.org.

Next Up: A Bright Future Awaits