How a club pro came out to the golf world and helped start an event for LGBT pride
Fear is an enemy of every golfer. For years, it shadowed Greg Fitzgerald off the course.
As a gay man employed in the golf industry, Fitzgerald went about his work on a kind of wary guard, secreting a fundamental truth about himself from all but a small circle of his closest colleagues.
“It was a good career — I can’t complain about it,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week. “But I also kept myself from forming close relationships in the industry. There was a sense of intimidation, and worry about what might happen if I let everyone know.”
Raised in Pennsylvania, Fitzgerald had moved to California after college at Villanova, and landed his first golf job in 1997 as a pro shop assistant at a public course in San Clemente. Four years later, he became a certified PGA of America professional. But even as his career progressed — assistant pro jobs at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club and Los Altos Hill Country Club, just south of San Francisco, gave way to a head pro position at the Institute, the private club in Morgan Hill, Calif., where he still works today — Fitzgerald remained in a kind of personal holding pattern.
Though he’d long before come out to family and friends, the workplace was another matter.
“Like any gay person pursuing a life in sports, I knew that there were going to be challenges,” he says.
But the challenges of golf proved particularly stubborn. Even in recent years, as other major sports adopted increasingly progressive stances, golf, Fitzgerald says, remained one of the last to “take up the inclusivity conversation.”
It came time for Fitzgerald, who is now 44, to help further that conversation himself. Nearly two years ago, Fitzgerald became chair of the Northern California PGA Diversity and Inclusion program. At his first meeting with the group, he spoke openly about himself. The welcoming response from a turnout of roughly 50 peers and colleagues, only added to his gathering sense that openness in golf could come with unconditional acceptance.
“There has been nothing but warmth and support,” Fitzgerald says. “I basically thought to myself, ‘Why did I wait so long?’”
Soon there came a chance to help make up for lost time. At a diversity meeting this past spring, Fitzgerald got to talking with Tom Smith, general manager of TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. With others in support, they dreamed up the idea for a golf tournament, pegged to coincide with San Francisco Pride, a month of city-wide Pride-themed events, and aimed at celebrating golf as a game for everyone.
“The more we talked about it, the more perfect it all seemed,” Smith says. “You’re pairing Harding Park, the gem of our public golf system, a course that’s getting ready to host the PGA Championship next year — you’re pairing that with support for the equal rights we should all be working for. This was a tournament that had long needed to happen.”
This past week, it did. On Wednesday afternoon, 120 participants — 96 amateurs and 24 pros — teed off in the inaugural San Francisco Pride Pro-Am Golf Tournament. The entry fee of $250 per amateur went toward raising a total of more than $10,000 for the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to education, and to the celebration of LGBT heritage and culture.
Far from a one-off novelty, the tournament had full-fledged industry support and is slated to be an annual event. It was held in partnership with the Northern California Professional Golfers Association and The First Tee of San Francisco, and supported by a host of corporate sponsors, including Topgolf, BMW and TaylorMade. The format was a scramble, and prizes were awarded. But the competition was near-irrelevant.
“The entire point is inclusivity,” Fitzgerald says. “It doesn’t matter what your background is, your race or creed or sexual orientation — we’re all golfers and we’re all welcome. So just the fact that this tournament exists is a win for everyone.”
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