‘Anything is possible’What has been done and what’s still to come one year after TOUR’s $100 million pledge to support racial equity and inclusion efforts in golf
August 31, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR’s commitment to racial equity and inclusion
Friends and family in Willie Mack III T-shirts cheered and high-fived. Wayne Birch, Troy Merritt’s caddie, recorded the moment on his phone. Mack himself exhaled, having holed a knee-knocker on 18 to save par and take a vital next step in his journey.
The occasion was the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, and Mack, a Flint native who had played Detroit Golf Club hundreds of times, had made his first PGA TOUR cut.
Anyone paying attention knew it was big.
“It’s so inspiring,” said Birch, who played for Southern University before embarking on his career as a caddie. “My dream was to play on the PGA TOUR, but that’s over with. With Willie – it’s almost like I’m living through him. It just goes to show that if you keep grinding, stay the course, and believe in yourself, anything can happen.”
It’s been one year since PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan announced the TOUR’s $100 million pledge to support racial equity and inclusion efforts in golf. Although it’s still early days and the TOUR continues to do more listening than talking, the past 12 months have brought a slew of positive developments, with more coming.
Enhancing its relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the TOUR in conjunction with United Airlines announced Tuesday a $10,000 grant to each of the 51 current men’s and women’s HBCU golf programs in the country, helping to cover travel costs. The money will allow programs to compete in some events for the first time.
“Our HBCU task force surveyed these programs at length and, repeatedly, we heard that engaging the TOUR’s vast and diverse partner network to offset the financial burdens many HBCU golf programs face was the priority,” Monahan said. “We’re thankful to United Airlines for taking initiative and supporting the HBCU grant program.”
As with Mack, HBCU golfers could eventually become a beacon of hope.
“There’s not many people coming from HBCUs on the TOUR,” said North Carolina A&T golfer A.J. Ford, who led the all-Black Drew Charter squad to its historic 2019 Georgia state high school title. “So if I do make it to the TOUR, it would be a good inspiration for the young people that it doesn’t matter where you go to college – as long as you put the work in and believe that you can make it, anything is possible.”
In addition to its commitment to HBCUs, the TOUR has strengthened its commitment to the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, which was founded in 2010 to increase opportunities for Black players and other minorities who aspire to make a career in golf.
The APGA just completed a landmark season with a record $350,000 in prizemoney and 13 events. TPC properties hosted six of them, including the inaugural Billy Horschel APGA Tour Invitational at TPC Sawgrass. Mack, who also made the cut at the TOUR’s John Deere Classic, won that event, plus the Mastercard APGA Tour Championship.Willie Mack is flanked by APGA Tour Executive Director Cole Smith (left) and CEO/Co-Founder Ken Bentley with the Mastercard APGA Tour Championship Trophy. (APGA Tour photo)
Not surprisingly, he earned Player of the Year honors for the third time. He will have his entry fee covered for the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament in September.
Others, too, have benefited from the enhanced APGA Tour/PGA TOUR alliance. Former Alabama A&M MVP Rovonta Young got his first professional victory at the APGA Tour event at the King & Bear course at North Florida’s World Golf Village, after which he cited the circuit’s “greatly improved” caliber of players and courses since 2018.
The inaugural APGA Collegiate Ranking, a joint initiative from the PGA TOUR and APGA Tour, helped Black golfers go from college to the pro ranks. The top five African Americans from Div. I, II and III programs, including HBCUs, earned APGA Tour invites, plus scholarships and entry into KFT Q school pre-qualifying.
Meanwhile, Farmers Insurance and the APGA recently announced the APGA Tour Farmers Insurance Fall Series, a three-event series that will exempt the top three players into the 2022 APGA Tour Farmers Insurance Invitational at Torrey Pines, which is played on the North Course opposite the PGA TOUR’s Farmers Insurance Open.
And the new title sponsor of the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba will also become the new title sponsor of the APGA Player Development Program, which will provide vital new resources to the APGA Tour and its players.
The TOUR also launched its Office of Social Responsibility and Inclusion under Executive Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Neera Shetty. Marsha Oliver, Vice President of Community and Inclusion, called it, “the next step on our diversity, equity and inclusion journey.” Meanwhile, Kenyatta Ramsey takes on the new role of Senior Director of Player Development, focusing on advancing Black golfers up the ladder.
Mack and a few others are already eying the top.
“This would be one of the top stretches of my career, for sure,” he said recently.
It’s been a good stretch in other respects, as well, but it’s only beginning. For Mack, the APGA Tour, the PGA TOUR and others, the challenge now is to keep pushing.