Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why aren't there more black golfers? (Don't) Blame it on Tiger

ESPN has an article that came out on April 5 (so before the Masters and Tiger's impressive rally/duel with Phil Mickelson--really, it speaks volumes about the skill of both players that they should come from behind and make a real push at the end--and both came close to being in that 3-way final sudden-death round with Cabrera (the winner), Perry, and Campbell) about Tiger Woods, his racial identity, and the dearth of black golfers on the PGA. In other words, it's an article about why Tiger hasn't heralded a new wave of young black golfers into the professional ranks, which is what everyone was talking about/predicting back when Tiger turned pro and won the first of his Master's green jackets by an impressive margin (12--the largest in Master's history).

Here is ESPN's "video" article and the actual "article" (click here) about Tiger and race and the lack of black golfers on the PGA:

Of course, regular readers can imagine that I have an opinion about all of this because (1) I am a golfer (2) I am a Tiger Woods fan (3) I work/teach/write on issues of race (4) I've written about the specific issue of Tiger and race before (actually many times, but the post that is most pertinent is "Let Tiger Be Tiger" as is this one "Gee You Don't Look 'Asian'").

So here it is in a nutshell: Tiger is not the sole person responsible for the PGA identifying, supporting, and promoting young African American golfers into its ranks. He's not even the main person responsible. The main body responsible for identifying, recruiting, and ensuring that there is a cadre of black, as well as other non-white American golfers is the PGA (which at last glance was comprised of mostly white American middle-aged men). And guess what? There are others, aside from Tiger or other professional golfers, who should be working on this issue--golf instructors/pros, golf writers, golf club members of all races could all be putting their individual and collective weight behind this issue.

Because here's the thing: this is not just a "black" issue. Wanting the Professional Golf Association of AMERICA to look more like the actual demographics and composition of AMERICA seems to be an issue that all AMERICANS can get behind. And whether or not Tiger identifies as African American or mixed-race American or Afro-Asian or Cablinasian, the issue of diversifying the PGA is a responsibility of everyone associated with golf in the U.S.

I also think that it's silly for Eddie Payton to say that Tiger doesn't identify as African American. That statement implies that somehow Tiger is ashamed of his African American heritage or his relationship with his father or his friends (among whom are some of the most prominent African American professional sports figures, like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan). Just because Tiger chooses to identify as mixed-race (which he has says he does so as not to deny/ignore the existence and influence of his Thai mother) doesn't mean he doesn't affiliate with his African American heritage or doesn't appreciate the black community.

Should Tiger be doing more politically active and social justice oriented work, given his power and influence? That would be my own personal wish. However, I don't think it's his especial responsibility to take on "racial" issues because he is the most powerful and visible non-white person in the PGA. I understand the logic of believing that he should--because the assumption is that no white person is going to care about identifying, recruiting, and promoting African American golfers, nor will they care about changing the culture of golf so that it is much less privileged/racist/classist/sexist and more inclusive of diversity in all its permutations.

I should also note that while there have been, recently, some prominent Asian American golfers (a shout out to Anthony Kim, "AK"), the PGA is pretty white. I mean, one could ask, where is the next Lee Trevino? I recognize that an Argentinian recently won the Master's championship, but what about an Argentinian AMERICAN? Where are all the Latino golfers? And American Indian? And mixed race golfers? If you dig into the history of golf, it's not a surprise to understand why golf has been such a traditionally white, male sport. There are still many country clubs that admit men only -- and their membership of non-white members is pretty scant.

But we CAN do something about it. Or we should try. And by we, I mean all who love golf--all who play--all who watch and, especially, all who are involved in positions of power and decision making and who have access to MONEY and INFLUENCE to change, literally CHANGE the face of golf.

And to close, let me leave you with this latest ad from NIKE that shows the impact of Tiger's absence from the world of golf last season and the impact of his return on his fellow golfers:


uglyblackjohn said...

MLB has the same "problem" of not enough Blacks (but for different reasons).
Golf takes a while to master. Those who are influenced by Tiger are probably still in middle school.
Give it a couple years and then check the academies.

Jennifer said...

Hi uglyblackjohn,

I was actually think that the NHL had a similar problem--but I think the issue with both the MLB & NHL is a bit different than the PGA. Class/access has one thing to do with it. Well, maybe golf and hockey have that in common--but, in theory, if you have frozen water/ice, and can set up two nets and get some skates and sticks, you got yourself the makings of a hockey match. With golf? I suppose you can work on your short game and chipping at a local park, but there's no way, other than going to a golf course to learn/master golf--and that requires greens fees and a pretty hefty investment on a bag of sticks, balls, and I guess a glove or two.

Then there is the culture of all these sports, which I think tends to trend "white," to be simplistic. But there's something a bit more egalitarian or maybe just working class about baseball and hockey that may make it more difficult, in some ways, to be a professional black player in the sport--but I think these issues are exacerbated in golf, where the combination of money, race, and expertise (because golf is also an individual sport and a sport that is so much a mental game) that also makes it difficult for non-white players--esp. black players given the particular rascist history of the sport.

In other words, I think people mistakenly believed that once they lifted those codes in the 1960s barring black golfers from the PGA that all of a sudden there would be an equal playing field. And we all know how that has worked out in the real world (sigh).

OK, enough of the lecturing--what I really want to say is thanks for leaving a comment!

Genepool said...

Most of the black guys I work with just aren't interested in golf. We have had a couple of outings co-worker related and none of our compatriots of color care to go. I have been invited to several outings that I have similarly declined due to lack of interest. Fishing is just boring to me, quad rides up and down dirt hills has been the leading cause of serious injuries for many of my co-workers (and my wife has more or less drawn the line on anything that could likely break my stupid neck).

I was raised in a family where some of the men played golf. So I suspect that while prohibition of the sport for blacks in the early days kept many of those men and women out initially, its seems logical that they turned their focus on games they COULD play without harassment and golf just sorta fell off their radar. That's a generalization of course, but professional sports of any kind was never of interest to my father and so I never acquired any interest. My brother loves it, but I never the point.

I don't see a lack of black golfers as a problem really. I think they would certainly receive more scrutiny in that sport for a time, but in the end I expect no one will bat an eye any more than they would at a professional football, basketball player or boxer. I think once the stigma golf has wears off it be as integrated as any other sport.

The Constructivist said...

Dave Seanor at Golf Examiner followed some African American golfers trying to make it in Asia. It's really hard to get into the PGA. I'd look to see how many Thai golfers he inspires.

People should give Tiger credit for inspiring a lot of women golfers, too, and not just who share any of his ancestries. Se Ri Pak should get all the credit in the world for inspiring the 60+ world-class Korean women golfers, but I can't help but feel that Tiger's example is also inspiring. Many name him as their favorite golfer....

Jennifer said...

I think you make a good point about the culture of our families influencing the sports that we play (and watch). I'm more likely to watch a tennis match because my Dad is a huge tennis fan/weekend player than I am to watch a football or basketball game (much to the dismay of my Southern U. students who don't understand why I don't have more school spirit).

However, where I think race and maybe more specifically a history of racism comes into play are the ways in which people feel comfortable/welcome/accepted into certain sports arenas. Golf is a game of etiquette and rules with a very high learning curve (ie: very few people just naturally pick up a club and know how to hit well consistently their first time or first week/month/year). So coupled with going to a club where most everyone is white and male and middle to upper-middle class, it's just intimidating. I know that's how I intially felt every time I walked on a golf course. And to this day, even though I feel pretty confident that I can get a ball up and down on almost any course, I still tense up when faced with a wealthier club and fancier course, esp. when I look around and see maybe less than a handful of non-white golfers and barely any women golfers.

I guess what I'm saying is that there is a whole atmosphere that occurs around golf, on and off the course, that needs to be combatted.

At my favorite course, there's a fairly mixed crew--visible black golfers, a few Asian golfers (both male and female) and a handful of white female golfers. There are also a range of ages--young to old--and because it's a pretty inexpensive course ($15 unlimited play after 3pm) there's more of an "egalitarian" feel to the place--you may say it's the "people's course" even though it's a semi-private club.

Anyway, I'm rambling now.

Onto the Constructivist,
I do think that Tiger is an inspirational golfer, for the average duffer as well as the person who wants to make it on the PGA. And I agree that the PGA is a tough place to break into.

But I also think about Claude Steele's study at Stanford about stereotype threat and wonder how that could be applicable to the golf course. That Tiger may inspire female golfers and Thai golfers is great. But for a Thai golfer in Thailand, there's not really a sense of "not belonging." Even for a female golfer, there's a way that golf clubs have female leagues and of course there's the whole LPGA.

But where and how are black golfers supposed to fit into a culture that has deliberately excluded them FOR YEARS, who only wanted them to caddy, and who were only able to play because of their initial caddying. And the added comparison to Tiger Woods could be, intitially, helpful, but it could also be frustrating when you are NOT the next Tiger Woods and you are black. Anyway, I think this is all very complicated, which is to be expected anytime we're talking about the dynamics of race in America.

uglyblackjohn said...

@ The Constructivist - Si Ri Pak?
Oh man... THAT"S my golf crush!
Her quads were just incredible, beautiful tan and she was so cute when she won the Open.

But back to the OP -
Steve Jones, James Stewart or Cullen (the Black swimmer) don't seem to be inspiring many other blacks to be skateboarders, moto-cross racers or swimmers.

I grew up in a really integrated area with enough money provided by my parents to play water polo, swin on a swim team, golf, tennis, snow board and water ski (in addition to the usual soccer, track, football, baseball and basketball).

When more POC are seen doing these things - more people will be seen doing these things.

Jewell A. Fox said...

Well, I don't think Tiger is to blame for more black, white, or asian golfers. Do I think he can do more? Absolutely! But it is still up to the parents and to the community to get involved and nuture their children. Tiger can help them financially and by mentioning them at press conferences and by mentoring them if he can, but it still boils down to parents and society. As part of society I am willing to help create the next group of young female golf stars and I have created If anyone knows of any up and coming young black female golfers please write and let me know about them at And, Tiger yes, we will accept a donation to help these youngsters.

Jewell A. Fox said...

Hi, I run a website and I am always looking to highlight black women in their sport. We are currently in the process of partnering with one of the major black sports site on the internet and would love to showcase more young female golfers on the rise. If you could give us any names or info of young black female golfers destin for the professional level, we would be very appreciative. This is one way Tiger can help promote, mentor and assist others to follow in his footsteps. Please email us at with any info you may have. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

Jewell A Fox,

Thanks for finding your way to this blog. I wish I DID known of any rising African American female golfers--and if I come across any of my students (or younger--since I teach college aged students and really you probably need to catch folks at a younger age).

At any rate, thanks for doing your part in encouraging more young female African Americans in sports, esp. golf! Maybe Tiger's niece will tear up the course and follow in the footsteps of her uncle one day.

Unknown said...

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redhen said...

Jennifer says,
"Golf is a game of etiquette and rules with a very high learning curve (ie: very few people just naturally pick up a club and know how to hit well consistently their first time or first week/month/year). So coupled with going to a club where most everyone is white and male and middle to upper-middle class, it's just intimidating."

I'm betting that you believe the statement you made is not racist.
The fact is when someone is denied access they go somewhere else to play. You don't see black players because they were banned from playing at the major golf courses. Augusta National Golf Club denied access to Blacks until 1990.

Blacks were allowed to be caddies, but were not allowed to play. Caddies provide important information to their players and they have to know how to play the game.

Blacks play golf and are just as capable of learning the "etiquette of golf" as whites. Whites do not intimidate us, but whites have the power to ban us from their presence and they do it all the time.

Jennifer said...


I really don't see the racism inherent in the quote that you picked out from my post, so if you could please elaborate further, I'd appreciate it. I also believe, in the context of this post, what I was trying to estabilsh is that golf is a game if privilege on many levels (class, sex, race) and that it's not just the responsibility of black golfers or mixed race black golfers, like Tiger Woods, to integrate the game--it's the responsiblity of the entire PGA to make the game more inclusive precisely BECAUSE of the institiutional racism that has plagued the sport.

I'm sorry you interpreted the ettiquette comment as somehow targeting black golfers. The etiquette comment is a statement of fact. Of course anyone can learn the rules of golf--and lots of people have: women, African Americans, white Americans, Asian Americans, disabled people, etc...

I think if you look at my previous posts on golf you will understand that I DO know the history of black golfers in America and that my statements are more nuanced than you seem to think they are.

4usall said...

I don't think Tiger owes anybody anything, anymore than Arthur Ashe owed blacks anything. They are not products of the real black experience so you cannot expect them to act any differently. Its like asking prez Obama why didn't he choose a black VP. Hold your breathe and wait. It will take a Mohammed Ali type golfer to shatter the golfing world, Tiger is not the one. He is a great golfer but poor role model. I don't think golfers need to start at the age of 5 to become champions either. Many Asian (Y E Yang) and other golfers start in their late teens, become pros and win tournaments. There are a lot of great junior and college golfers who won many tournaments, but failed to become pros and those who do, never win on tour. Golf requires a lot of time, skill, comittment, desire, sacrifice, talent, practice and money. I believe if black athletes who are guards in basketball, pitchers and hitters in baseball and quaterbacks in football dedicated themselves to golf and got proper instruction, they would make a hugh impact on golf. An untapped source pool, however I don't think it will ever happen because they don't view golf in that same regard. My son started playing in high school, earned a golf scholarship to a div 1 black college but lost interest after having to play on what he called inferior practice facilities and tournaments on public golf courses in terrible condition. He transfered to another college without a golf team, shoots par or below consistently on some of the most difficult courses and has a new found desire to become a pro. His mom and I can afford to pay for his private lessons, green fees, memberships, fittings, best equipment and trainers. He has been rejuvinated and inspired by Joseph Brammlett, now on the PGA tour, more than Tiger. With young black golfers, if they don't make some kind of impact by the time they are 25, they have to look for employment because no one is willing to support them financially. After college who is going to support them? The Asian, European, South African and Austrailian golfers have put forth more of an effort to produce champion golfers as evidenced by their numbers of top golfers and tournament wins. A lone Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson is not going to carry American golf after Tiger, Phil and Stricker. Look at the LPGA. Asians are taking over everthing else so why not golf. Its what the PGA will become if more is not done. I think the more should include ways of developing black golfers.