People of Color and Golf

IMG_480229 July 2016 (Pasadena, CA) For many people who do not play the game their primary misunderstanding about golf is that it is a game dominated by both affluent and non-minority folk. To put it bluntly, it is a rich (old) white-man’s game. In some respects I “get” this misunderstanding because I am an avid watcher of golf and most PGA players are non-minorities who were bred in sequestered country clubs where minorities composed the working staff rather than the membership. Thus, we conclude the game is exclusionary. Let me correct this perception with my own experience as a golfer of proud Mexican heritage who is solidly middle-class. As a young boy growing up I had no idea non-minorities played the game. I inherited golf from my father who inherited the game from two of my uncles. We played golf courses on the Eastside of Los Angeles County that predominantly catered to Latino golfers (Not so much Latina , but that is a blog for another day). I played for years with my dad’s hand me down clubs and he played with my uncles’ hand me downs. Spanish was heard often on these courses and many of the course grounds crews (predominantly Latino) were the best golfers at their respective courses. Hell Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino (Trevino winning majors) were famously competing on the tour at that time which gave this young golfer the impression that we had always been in the professional mix. My father and I would always go to the LA Glen Campbell Open and the perennial highlight was watching Trevino and Chi Chi banter with the gallery on the practice range. The only other players I saw at the aforementioned Eastside courses were Asian (the San Gabriel Valley boasts one of the largest Asian communities outside of Asia proper). So for this young lad of yesteryear, golf was a Latino and Asian thing. That was my reality. Occasionally my dad and I would venture to South LA or the Long Beach area and those courses were dominated by African Americans. I grew up with golf being first and foremost a POC game. We play. We are out there in tremendous numbers. We have a history on the tour and peripheral tours (see especially the fine television documentary Uneven Fairways which recounts the African American tour of the early to mid-twentieth century). Nevertheless, the outsider’s perspective that golf is a game for the privileged persists for good reason. Minorities and women have been excluded from many country clubs based on solely on their race and/or gender. The history of Jewish golfers in Los Angeles is particularly fascinating on this point. Trevino loathed the Masters (couldn’t Augusta pick a better name for their major?) for their troubled exclusive practices. There is a history to validate the perception that golf is exclusionary. But that is only part of the history. The fact of the matter is, all “peoples” play golf and have access to some of the finest venues in the world. I am a POC and have played St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Aberdeen, Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines and plan to play Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits and Pinehurst (just to name a few tracks on the bucket list). I don’t necessarily have to penetrate the hallowed walls of country clubs with membership to play some damn good courses (I have had my share of invitations which I am always thankful for). The fact of the matter is, I don’t see myself as a country club guy. I love playing multiple courses so club membership makes very little sense for me. So I end this diatribe on people of color and golf with a saying I have learned in Scotland: “Golf is a right, not a privilege.” This is the spirit of the game. Arguably, the most prestigious course in the world, the Old Course at St. Andrews is a public links. Anyone from anywhere can play it. It is our right. I especially enjoy that the course closes on Sundays and encourages everyone to stroll its hallowed grounds at their leisure. You can and should even bring your dog(s). The game has been good to me, a person of color. I am thankful for that. Before you judge the game I love, look deeper, otherwise negative opinions could be based on incomplete data…just ask a golfer who is a person of color.

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