Why this matters
To stay relevant and financially healthy, the game of golf needs to include more minorities to reflect the wider sports audience.
At the 2018 PGA Championship, Pete Bevacqua, the CEO of the PGA of America called out the lack of diversity in American golf.
“How do you bring more women into the game?” he said. “How do you bring more minorities into the game? I think we would all agree, or most of us would agree, that the face of this game has to change if it’s going to grow. It needs to look more like the face of America.”
In the 2018 at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods was the only player of African-American descent in the field. In the 2018 Women’s PGA Championship there were two: Mariah Stackhouse and Cheyenne Woods.
In the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, less than one percent of the field was African-American.
One of the few minority golfers in that tournament was Harold Varner III, who spoke about the barriers standing in the way to making golf more diverse.
“Why would I spend $30 a day to play golf when I can spend 30 bucks a month and go to the ‘Y’ and play basketball?” said Varner. “It’s hard to get out on a golf course when you’re a kid with no money.”
The PGA of America has taken steps to try and improve the state of golf by founding the PGA Reach foundation. Through the foundation, the PGA looks to foster a culture of inclusion. They look to do that by collaborating “with those who champion diversity and inclusion — organizations and golf facilities that have successfully demonstrated growth with diverse groups.”
PGA Reach has partnered with Dick’s Sporting Goods to provide scholarships that support under resourced youth’s entry into the PGA Jr. League.
There is reason to be optimistic about the state of diversity in golf. The 2018 United States Ryder Cup team featured two people of color for the first time in more than 30 years — Woods and Tony Finau, who is of Tongan and Samoan descent. Varner broke out in July 2017 scoring two top 10 finishes in the month.
One of the leaders in the effort to diversify the face of golf is The First Tee Foundation. The First Tee uses golf to teach young people about life on and off the golf course. The organization aims to include people of all backgrounds and economic status.
The First Tee aims to teach kids about what they refer to as the core values. There are nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. They believe the game of golf can teach young people all of these skills.
Joe Loehnis, executive director of The First Tee of South Central Wisconsin, believes kids of all backgrounds should have access to these values and has dedicated himself to reaching as many as possible.
“Right now in America, I think we are in somewhat of an epidemic in that kids, whether you come from means or don’t come from means, have a gap between what is needed to be a productive citizen and what is currently being cultivated in our young people,” said Loehnis.
Since the founding of The First Tee in 1997, the sport has grown beyond the white male group that dominated for years. Approximately 33 percent of players age 6-17 are female, which is up percent since 1997. Twenty-five percent of golfers in the age group are now non-caucasian, which is a 19 percent improvement since 1997. While the diversity at the highest levels has not seen major progress, there is hope.
One major success story of the First Tee is Elsa Diaz. Diaz is a Hispanic First Tee alumna who went on to have a stellar college career at the University of Richmond. In May 2018 she played in her first LPGA event at the Kingsmill Championship.
“The First Tee gave my family and me opportunities that we could’ve never imagined experiencing anywhere else,” Diaz said. “The First Tee was a place that let me be a kid full of joy a laughter, and I will forever be grateful that this program is part of my life.”
According to Loehnis the First Tee has reached 10 million young people since its founding.
“Because golf has historically been a very expensive sport, we want to broaden the reach of golf to all income levels” said Loehnis. “Our hope is that all racial demographics and people of all economic backgrounds have access to the sport and all that it has to offer.”