While most of the planet reeled under the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the golf world boomed. With Americans desperate to escape quarantine and social distancing protocols, golf’s traditional wide open spaces, fresh air, and small groups attracted more rookies and pushed more rounds through the nation’s courses.
A February study from the National Golf Foundation looked at monthly rounds between 2019 and 2020 and found August saw a 20.6% increase compared to the same month in 2019—a total of more than 10 million extra rounds.
Still, as Black History Month in the U.S winds down, concerns remain that the influx of new golfers fails to include enough of a diverse population. Multiple new efforts are underway this year to answer that challenge and bring underserved communities into the game.
Greg McLaughlin serves as CEO of First Tee . Partnered with the PGA and LPGA, the organization works to make golf affordable and accessible for all children. He reports the number of non-white golfers increased last year by about 6% and remains about 20% of overall golfers.
“For First Tee, more than half of the young people we reach are non-Caucasian,” McLaughlin says. “Through First Tee chapters and school programs, we have always sought to welcome kids and teens from diverse backgrounds and are intentional about expanding that reach within communities.”
McLaughlin points to ongoing efforts to increase minority participation. First Tee is expanding reach to more Title I schools and into communities that are underserved, including recruiting diverse coaches and reinforcing an inclusive environment.
“The biggest benefit for us is knowing that more kids of color will have access to First Tee’s youth development programs, including participation in our national events and First Tee College Scholars Program,” McLaughlin says.
Ken Bentley , CEO of the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, highlights the concern that underserved communities are less likely to take up playing golf because of the game’s price points. The non-profit APGA works to bring greater diversity to the game by exposing it to a wider range of children in the hope it brings life lessons with it.
“Golf teaches you a lot of important life lessons, like sportsmanship, the value of hard work and personal integrity,” Bentley says. “If we want the game we love to survive and thrive, it has to look like America. We need to make the game more welcoming and affordable. We need to have teaching pros and other employees at golf facilities that look like the people we want to attract.”
To open the door for Black youth to get on courses across the country, the United Golfers Association and Youth on Course partnered recently to allow all UGA Juniors between the ages of six and 18 to play golf rounds for $5 or less at more than 1,400 courses nationwide. Junior members will also receive career opportunities through the YOC caddie internship programs and college scholarships.
Tarek DeLavallade , UGA executive director, sees more minority adults than children coming to the game—making the $5 round program necessary.
“There are a plethora of efforts being made (to bring non-white kids to the game), and most of them are on paper with minimal execution on the ground and with minimal funding support,” DeLavallade says. “The United Golfers Association was founded 95 years ago to provide an opportunity for people of color to have a platform where they felt welcome and supported. Black golfers from the juniors to the professionals still need the same.”
The new $5 offering is the core junior program of Youth on Course and its 100,000 members. YOC grew the concept from California, stretching it to 50 states and Canada. DeLavallade believes lowering the price of accessing golf opens an entire world of life opportunities that would remain closed otherwise.
“Life is about relationships,” he says. “The conversations had on the golf course are different than on the basketball court, football field, or dugout because golf is more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle and a culture within itself.”
While golf teaches the young people humility, perseverance, patience, and problem solving, DeLavallade believes the overall benefits to their community will come from the financial and personal investments made by golf organizations serving the youth.
“If done properly, the young people will be given tools to prepare them for a lifetime of confidence and self-worth,” DeLavallade adds. “They’ll benefit from exposure to a culture outside of their backyard.”
To tackle the inclusion issue on a more worldwide scale, the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) recently announced the inaugural Bermuda Black Golf Summit and Championship for Nov. 2-7, 2021. The event will take place at Port Royal Golf Course following the Bermuda Championship.
According to Hazel Clark , three-time U.S. Olympian runner and current director of sports business development in Bermuda, the event will convene thought leaders in the world of golf to drive diversity and inclusion in the sport.
“This really began with our research around some of the sports that were the best fit for Bermuda,” Clark says. “Those happened to be sports that traditionally had lower participation from people of color. We saw that as an opportunity to create pathways for entry.”
Clark and the BTA want the event to feed into a global movement of diversity and inclusivity. They expect the conference to attract golf stakeholders who have a desire to address some of the existing barriers creating the lack of diversity.
“We acknowledge that it is time for change, and we are proud to lead this charge along with our partners,” Clark says. “We aim to topple existing racial barriers, and we know it will take a collective effort from golf stakeholders in Bermuda and overseas.”