Moraine Country Club superintendent Jason Mahl shows students seeds from various turfgrass varieties found on a golf course.

As golf industry professionals, we know that golf is more than just a game. To us, it is a way of life, our profession, our passion and sometimes even like another child. Many in the golf course maintenance profession have been around golf their entire life, me included. I have vivid memories as a 12-year-old spending long summer days playing golf and working at Yankee Run Golf Course, just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. To me, working on a golf course is the only job I have ever held, and one that has created many opportunities and memories. However, those outside of the golf industry often don’t see golf as something more than a hobby or entertainment. As superintendents, we are commonly known as the unseen heroes of the game. As our industry evolves, however, our role in growing the game of golf becomes even larger.

Zach Wike welcomes 125 fifth-grade students to The First Green field trip at Beavercreek (Ohio) Golf Club.

I was fortunate enough to have great mentors in this industry, helping me land jobs at The Honors Course, Pine Valley and Moraine Country Club. Working at these elite clubs prepared me for a fantastic career in golf course maintenance. The skills that I learned at these facilities have been invaluable to my career. It wasn’t until I accepted a position at Beavercreek Golf Club, a municipal facility in Beavercreek, Ohio, that I learned the true importance of managing the many stakeholders involved in our industry. Every new endeavor teaches us new things. That is how we all grow personally and professionally, and that is what Beavercreek has done for me. Shortly after my start in the public sector, I recognized the need to take all stakeholders’ interests into account. Suddenly, maintaining golf course conditions only became part of the job. The bigger picture involves other City departments, policy makers, neighbors, citizens, patrons, staff and peers. Golf course maintenance plays a role amongst all of these groups, whether they recognize it or not.

Sycamore Creek Country Club’s Brian Burke and Dayton Country Club’s Joe Pastor demonstrate soil percolation tests.

While managing a municipal course, I recognized that many of the citizens do not play golf or use any of the golf course facilities. Some residents only drive by the facility on occasion. It is our job to create positive impressions on the facility, sometimes more than just making the golf course look good from the road. To be viewed as an asset to the community, we worked hard to become a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a Groundwater Guardian Greensite, a junior golf friendly facility and, most recently, a host to Ohio’s first STEM field trip for The First Green.

Students inspect a tee using a measuring wheel.

Our industry has certainly worked hard on growing the game of golf among young people, and The First Green Program is a hole-in-one. In mid-October, Beavercreek Golf Club hosted 125 fifth-grade students from a Beavercreek Elementary School for an inaugural First Green event in the area. The event was comprised of six learning stations covering topics such as soil science, area and volume measurement, tools and technology used in the field, environmental science, golf course etiquette, and golf instruction. This was a big undertaking, and couldn’t have been such a success without the outpouring of support from other local superintendents. Of the 14 volunteers present to help lead the six learning stations, nine were GCSAA members. The dedication of these individuals to help introduce STEM and golf to the next generation is fantastic. The students who participated walked away learning how the subjects that they are taught in the classroom can be used in the real world, but most importantly walked away with smiles on their face and a positive impression on golf.

It is the light you see in the students’ eyes that gives you hope for the next generation of golfers and golf industry professionals. Events such as The First Green also do more than introduce golf and STEM to the next generation, it shows the commitment of our industry to be an asset to the community. It helps bridge the gap between golfers and non-golfers. As golf course maintenance professionals, it is our duty to put the spotlight on all of the positives of our industry for the public to see. Opening the eyes of those outside of our circle to the many benefits that golf brings to the community is a rewarding process. The First Green program is an excellent way to do just that, and is certainly a highlight of my career. We as golf course superintendents are all passionate about what we do, and showing our passion to those around us can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our career.

Zach Wike is the assistant superintendent at Beavercreek Golf Club in Beavercreek, Ohio.