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Golf industry aims to diversify “The Game of Kings”

By Michael H. Cottman

Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, says strong words about an overwhelmingly white, $70 billion business.

“The golf industry should look like America,” Mona told Urban News Service. “Diversity is fundamental to the future success of the golf industry.”

Mona, who is white, says that when he surveys golf courses around the country, he says he mainly sees two colors: green and white.

Golf industry reports confirm Mona’s impression. American golfers are 77 percent male and 80 percent white, according to the 2015 Golf Diversity & Inclusion Report. Among professional golfers, 75 percent are male and 86 percent are white. And golf-industry workers–every one from caddies to greens-keepers– are 90 percent male and 88 percent white.

Golf remains a big business in America. Some 25 million Americans play 455 million rounds annually on 15,350 links, according to World Golf Foundation. Golf generates some $55.6 billion in annual wages.

Asked why a white executive like Mona worries about racial diversity, Mona didn’t hesitate. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We want to make young people and parents from diverse backgrounds aware that there are 2 million jobs in the golf industry.”

He is matching his words with action. He created a Diversity Task Force, established partnerships with major companies and will host a diversity forum in December with major industry leaders.

Mona plans to create job opportunities for minorities with a range of diversity initiatives including:

  • A 10-week paid internship program with the Professional Golf Association Tour.
  • The Golf Channel’s internship openings now appear on the careers website of its parent company, NBC-Universal.
  • Nike Golf now offers a 12-week internship that explores all of the company’s divisions.

The World Golf Foundation also seeks African-Americans and other minorities, Mona said, for full-time jobs at courses across America, including head golf professionals, course superintendents, caddy masters, and food and beverage managers.

These steps are afoot even as younger golfers are leaving the sport. About 200,000 Millennial golfers walked away in 2013, according to the National Golf Federation, mainly because of costs in time and money. Golfers between 18 and 34 have drifted off for the last 20 years, according to NGF research.

Major golf gear manufacturers also are retrenching. Nike recently announced that it would stop making golf clubs, balls and bags. Instead, Nike will focus on golf attire.

While Tiger Woods remains Earth’s highest-profile Black golfer, Mona’s Diversity Task Force confirms just how rare his face is on the greens.

Little has changed in golf since the demographics of its players and staff was first studied in 2003, said Diversity Task Force member Dr. Michael Cooper. “I haven’t seen a lot of what is supposed to be taking place, and I can’t vouch for golf becoming more inclusive and diverse than it is,’” Cooper said. “But I do have faith in Steve Mona.”

“With regard to racial diversity, this is a work in progress,” said Cooper, who has played for 48 years. “And we have an awful long way to go.”

Can Mona convince other golf industry leaders to take diversity seriously?

“If we don’t have Steve Mona, we’re nowhere,” Cooper said. “He’s a fair man, and he’s the most committed [white] guy in a leadership position in the golf industry I’ve seen. But can he move this boulder by himself?”

Clemmie Perry, the founder of Women of Color Golf, is looking to introduce more minority women to the “sport of kings.” She said she has trained more than 250 women — 95 percent of whom are Black — to play golf since she launched her group in 2013.

“I didn’t see any women on the golf course who looked like me,” Perry said. “I’m creating pathways for women to enter the game. Golf is about access. Golf is giving [Black] women access to business relationships they would never have. We can’t get the jobs if we don’t have the relationships.”

Perry, a Tampa resident, first took up golf after finding a set of clubs on the side of the road. When Lockheed Martin laid her off from an executive post in 2012, she used her severance to start Women of Color Golf.

Even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an avid golfer, wants to see more minorities on the putting greens. It’s important that “golf look like America,” Rice said.

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