"I just want to see the qualified minorities get a shot at some of the better jobs so that the industry can see that we can do as good a job as anybody in the business." - Rodney Green, Director of Golf, Innisbrook Resort, Tampa, Fla.
Ben Van Hook
By Farrell Evans
Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One of the most enduring images from Tiger Woods's historic 1997 Masters win doesn't involve golf shots or the green jacket. Before the traditional winner's dinner that Sunday night, as Woods walked into the clubhouse, the all-black waitstaff set down their dishes and napkins and applauded the first black major winner. Because at Augusta National, as with most private clubs, African-Americans have typically been consigned to jobs as caddies, cooks, busboys and waiters.

\nWatching that year was Rodney Green, who had recently begun his career as a head golf professional. Green had always wanted an "out front" golf job, with the ability to hire, fire and represent the club. Today, 50 years after the end of the PGA's Caucasians-only clause allowed black men to play the Tour, Green, the director of golf at Innisbrook Resort in Tampa, is one of only 85 African-American PGA club professionals—a group that makes up less than one-half of 1 percent of the nation's 28,000 pros. (There have been just two black women to earn membership—Renee Powell and Maulana Dotch.) Add Hispanics and Asians (263 and 196 PGA members, respectively), and minorities make up less than 2 percent of all PGA pros. This despite the fact that blacks, Asians and Hispanics comprise 21 percent of golfers in America, according to the National Golf Foundation. As a point of comparison, about 24 percent of members of the United States Professional Tennis Association—the oldest teaching organization in the tennis industry, dating to 1927—are minorities.

\nPGA professionals are the game's most visible ambassadors. They give the lessons and run the pro shops. Yet among their ranks, minorities are virtually invisible.

\nThrough the years, efforts to diversify golf have centered either on getting more blacks on Tour or into private clubs as members. The lack of diversity in America's pro shops has been left largely unchecked. "The number of minority club pros is pathetic," says Al Green, 71, Rodney's uncle and himself a former PGA member. "The sad thing is that people look at golf and see Tiger Woods and assume that golf is OK. But running a golf shop is the business of golf. That's what it's all about."

\nWhile Hispanic workers represent some 60 percent of full-time laborers at U.S. courses, few minorities have out-front clubhouse positions outside of big-city muni courses, where more than 50 percent of all minority pros hold jobs. "If it wasn't for public golf courses," Al Green says, "black PGA members wouldn't have an opportunity to work in the industry, because the private clubs simply aren't going to hire them."

\nAs a boy growing up in Annapolis, Md., during the early 1970s, Rodney Green, now 48, picked the range with his older brother at Eisenhower Golf Course, where his uncle Al was head pro and his dad the first assistant. For years the club hosted the Capital City Open, which attracted the top black Tour pros, including Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe. Although the course was open to all, it was a black-run operation with a mostly African-American clientele. "I've always known I was going to work in the golf business and that blacks could run the front and back parts of the house," says Rodney Green, who earned his PGA of America membership in 1992. In 2008, after 13 years as a head pro with Walt Disney Golf Courses in Orlando, he became director of golf at Innisbrook, where he runs four 18-hole championship courses, including the Copperhead, which hosts the PGA Tour's Transitions Championship. There has never been an African-American club professional in a more high-profile job.

\nWhen Rodney's uncle Al became the Mid-Atlantic area's first black Class-A pro in 1971, there were only a handful of black PGA members. Formed in New York in 1916 to organize club pros, the PGA of America's founding members were all white. In 1928, Dewey Brown, a club pro from New Jersey, became the first African-American member of the PGA, unbeknownst to his peers; his membership was later revoked when the organization discovered the very light-skinned Brown was black.

\nAl Green was part of the first generation of black pros to join the club-pro wing of the organization after the PGA dropped its Caucasians-only policy in 1961. But most of the media attention focused on players such as Charlie Sifford and Ted Rhodes, who fought to enter the PGA's Tournament Players Division. "For a long time I was the only black in my PGA section," says Al Green, who played in three U.S. Opens and was the first African-American to play in the PGA Club Championship. "A lot of the clubs tried to keep me out of tournaments, but I was a PGA member. If I couldn't play, nobody could play."

\nTony Martinez wants to see a movement to increase the number of minority pros. The 42-year old Mexican-American head pro at the public Keeton Park Golf Course in Dallas, Martinez, an Arizona native, was inspired to get into golf by four-time Tour winner Homero Blancas, who was the head pro at Randolph Park Golf Course in Tucson. "Not only was Homero Mexican and a rock star in Tucson," says Martinez, "he was dark, like me. At 12 or 13, I was getting immersed in a white sport, and seeing him helped me figure out that I wanted to be a head pro at a municipal course. I know that when Hispanic parents bring their child into the golf shop and they see a Tony Martinez, they feel welcome. PGA pros are the human connection to golf. But it's hard for minorities to gain traction." Though Martinez is a rising star in the North Texas section of the PGA, he's leery about his chances of working at a private club. "At certain clubs in the Dallas area, I would not be hired because of the color of my skin."

\nThe PGA of America is waging a campaign to increase its minority membership. It holds a Business of Golf Career Expo at its annual PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, where aspiring club pros may use their scores from the event to meet their Playing Ability Test. At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a historically black college, a PGA-credited golf management program trains students to become Class-A pros. In its third year, results are mixed. Only 11 of the program's 42 students are black. It's been hard finding African-American students who have the 12-handicap minimum required to sign up, says Billy Dillon, the director of the university's program. "We're not going to admit a student who has no chance of graduating," Dillon says. "We want our graduates to work at the nicest facilities possible."

\nThe PGA is "committed to providing opportunities for minorities to become PGA members," says Earnie Ellison, PGA director of business and community relations, and himself an African-American. That includes diversity and inclusion initiatives such as the Golf Industry Diverse Supplier Program, Major Championship Community Relations, recruiting, youth development grants, player development, and scholarships specifically for minorities. "All of these help us align the business of golf with the changing faces of our society," he says. "Can we do more? Absolutely."

\nJeff Dunovant, director of instruction for the First Tee of East Lake in Atlanta, has unique insight into the struggles of black club professionals. It took his late father, Harold, 14 years to get his Class-A card. Dunovant, 44, has worked as a tournament official for the PGA Tour and has run several courses in Arizona. "I have the experience to be a general manager or head pro at a private club, but I don't see the opportunity," says Dunovant.

\nHe says that the PGA should follow the lead of the NFL—which requires teams to interview minorities for coaching and front-office jobs—and ask member clubs to identify minority applicants and make prospective pros more aware of job opportunities.

\nDunovant feels that lingering racism still contributes to an anti-minority atmosphere in the game. He tells of an older white woman who called the pro shop at Atlanta's Charlie Yates Golf Course, where he works, and requested a lesson with a white instructor. When Dunovant told her that his teachers were black, she said, "They're all colored?" He wonders how many white owners or general managers are deterred from hiring qualified black candidates for fear of alienating their Caucasian clientele.

\nOn the subject of diversity strategies, critics say the PGA should twist more arms and encourage member clubs to hire qualified minority applicants. One critic is Howie Pruitt, an African-American PGA member in Portland, Ore., who used to head up a diversity initiative in his local section. Pruitt calls for an industry-wide affirmative action program. "The PGA has to take a more aggressive stand than just saying that it cares about the issue," says Pruitt, 62. "It needs to force its PGA member courses to have a certain amount of African-Americans. We need to look at some of the large management companies to see what their hiring practices are for minorities at the management and club pro level. The whole golf industry has to be made accountable."

\nBoth Pruitt and Martinez hope that once more minorities get into managerial roles, there will be an increased awareness that golf is a viable career option—and not just for the next Tiger Woods. Says Martinez, "We have to show minority kids that there is a layer of golf business that is greater than kissing the U.S. Open trophy."

\nAt Tampa's Innisbrook Resort, Rodney Green was hired by Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of the Black Entertainment Network, who bought the resort in 2007 for $35 million. In his two years at the facility, Green has hired several minority interns and one black apprentice. He said he learned a valuable lesson in his 13 years working for Walt Disney Golf Courses in Orlando—a lesson that could benefit golf, which has lost four million avid players in the last decade. "Disney wanted everybody to come to the parks," Green says. "So it had gay people, blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics working at the park. I just want qualified minorities to get a shot at some of the better jobs so the industry can see that we can do as good a job as anybody in the business."

You May Like