Superintendents deliver field of dreams for foster care kids

Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association project delivers over $40,000 worth of goods and services.

July 1, 2013
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Volunteers from the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association have transformed a weedy, pot-holed pasture into a 60,000 sq. ft. sports field of dreams for boys and young men in the state’s foster care system. The project at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch in Waleska, about an hour north of Atlanta, delivered more than $40,000 worth of goods and services including Patriot bermudagrass sod, an underground irrigation system and grading work.

Goshen Valley has six residences on a 300-acre cattle ranch and serves 10- to 21- year-olds many of whom have been victims of abuse or neglect. The ranch has the highest occupancy rate of any system facility in the state. The ranch’s vice-chairman, Zach Blend, says the new field delivers a first-class sports surface for residents and will also serve as a major fund-raising vehicle for the non-profit facility. Blend says athletic and sports teams from schools and communities in the area will be invited to use the field, raising awareness and money for Goshen Valley.

“It had been a dream of mine for years that the pasture could become a playing field,” he says. “It sits in front of the majority of our housing so I felt it could be such a centerpiece. Everything that has transpired around this project has been pretty extraordinary. The field we have now is beautiful but to see the connections made and the fellowship between the superintendents and the young men of Goshen Valley during the process has been unbelievable.”

The field construction began as a service project for the Georgia GCSA assistant superintendents committee, which reached far and wide within the association to generate donations and attract volunteers. Jordan Bell, from Ansely Golf Club at Settindown in Roswell and co-chair of the committee, says the work was “tiring, hot and sweaty” but also “incredibly inspirational.” He admits to finding a lump in his throat when one boy from the ranch approached him late in the project.

“He asked my name and I told him, Jordan. And then he asks my last name and I told him,” Bell says. “Then he gives me this big hug and says ‘I will never forget your name and what you have done for this place.’ When you think about what these kids have gone through and see what this field means to them, it’s really hard not to get emotional.”

None of it would have been possible without the generous support of several Georgia GCSA industry partners. NG Turf’s Merett Alexander coordinated the donation of six truckloads of sod. Dirk Hessman with Ewing Irrigation provided irrigation materials. Forefront Construction’s Rick Franke provided a track sod machine and I-beam box and Wes Mitcham of WLM Contracting provided grading services.

“The way companies and their representatives rallied behind this project was just fantastic,” says Georgia GCSA director and assistant superintendent committee co-chair, John McCarthy, from Crystal Falls Golf Club in Dawsonville. “These people are vested in the good of their community and this association, not just their business. We can’t thank them enough for stepping up in such a huge way.”

The project stemmed from a relationship that Goshen Valley already had with Billy Fuller, a former golf course superintendent and now principal of Billy Fuller Golf Design. That led to a site visit by Bell and another assistant superintendent committee leader, Luke Ralston, from The Standard Club in Johns Creek.

During that visit, Goshen Valley’s Zach Blend told Bell that despite its poor condition before the project, the pasture had long been a major center for recreational activity. “Zach said the potholes were generally good for at least one sprained ankle every time there was a football game,” Bell says. “After that we told him we’d touch base with some people and see if we could do this thing right.”

Bell discussed the potential project with his boss at Ansley Golf Club, Chris Bennett, a Georgia GCSA director. “It’s an easy sell when you’re talking about Goshen Valley and how many lives you have the potential to impact,” Bell says. “We could have fixed their landscaping, put down some pine straw, that kind of thing. But that wouldn’t last. This field will last for years and years and benefit kids who probably haven’t heard of Goshen Valley yet.”

Another significant factor in the success of the project was the “elbow grease” provided by the boys and young men from Goshen Valley. “Their participation was unbelievable,” Bell says. “They were out there busting their tails from 8am to 8pm. Honestly, they’d work circles around some other guys I know. And their manners and the way they spoke to you were amazing. They spoke to us like we were superstars. They were so fired up. As soon as they finished one thing they’d be right on you, ‘Excuse me sir, what should we do now?’”

Indeed, Goshen Valley’s Blend says the enthusiasm for the work shown by facility residents “speaks to the vibrancy of what the field really means to them.” For some, the field project and its ongoing maintenance may lead to a future in golf course maintenance. Already, four Goshen Valley residents are working on the golf course maintenance crew at the nearby Highlands Course at Lake Arrowhead with superintendent, Rob Chalifoux. “To see these young men work all day then come back here and go straight down to the field to help this past weekend says so much,” Blend says.

“Part of the beauty of this project is that it has an on-going future where the assistants committee can continue to stay involved in the maintenance and development of the field,” McCarthy says. “I really have to pay tribute to the efforts of Jordan Bell and Chris Bennett for the commitment they made to getting the job done, no matter what it took on their part. They’ve really given these kids a field of dreams.”

Goshen Valley’s sports field is just one of a series of community projects the committee has engaged in recent years. Assistant superintendents and other Georgia GCSA members have also made significant contributions to Camp Will-A-Way in Fort Yargo State Park in Winder and Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta.