By Jared Williams, NGCOA's Co-Director of Advocacy
In my new role as Co-Director of Advocacy, I am also taking the lead on a lot of the NGCOA’s diversity and inclusion tasks. With that comes a natural obligation to try to find ways to improve the diversity within the game of golf. Specifically, how can golf course owners and operators make golf an enjoyable experience for those outside of our industry? This has been a tough question to answer.
Currently, there are less than 10 golf courses (private or public) that are owned by African-Americans. One of the most difficult things as an advocate for golf course operators is identifying how we can expand the number of golf courses owned by minorities. Right now, black golf course owners either bought or inherited their property very early (Clearview Golf Club), purchased a golf course as a group (Marlton Golf Club), or are extremely wealthy (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Shelia Johnson).
Right now, we understand that the path to becoming a golf course owner or operator is extremely difficult for a minority. Golf courses have closed at increasingly high rates since the 2008 recession; it is possible, but not likely unless a group of potential businessmen or course operators come together to purchase a golf course.
What golf courses can do, however, to directly influence some change and growth within the industry is to start offering caddies when available and if it makes sense for your club. I recently came across a photo on instagram that showcased some college golfers that attended Southern University located in Baton Rouge, La. This photo had to have been taken in the 60s or 70s, but one of the golfers looked very familiar. A gentleman standing on the far left of the photo appeared to be a younger version of my good friend, Norman Chapper.
Mr. Chapper is in his 70s and grew up caddying in Baton Rouge. I sent the photo to Mr. Chapper and he was not only surprised, but he confirmed that he had not seen this photo in at least 40 years. As a child I listened to Mr. Chapper’s stories of learning to caddy at golf courses in Baton Rouge before segregation. He explained to me that this was the way that many African-Americans became familiar with the game and that he would sometimes sneak onto the course in the early or late hours to practice.
I could not believe that I found a photo of my close friend by simply scrolling the internet. We live in a time now where one of the best ways to stay involved and become more familiar with the game is through caddying. The caddie is in charge of carrying the player’s bag, keeping the clubs clean, locating the golf balls and calculating the yardages to the pins and hazards. Back in 2012, Mr. Chapper made a hole-in-one from 200 yards out on the 8th hole at Contraband Bayou. He claimed he would make the shot before he hit it after one of his teammates joked that he couldn’t make the shot. This is just how he is.
When I got the opportunity in the spring of 2019 to play BlueJack National, the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course in the U.S., I invited Mr. Chapper and I also brought along a friend from high school. We played this course a month before Tiger went on to win his 15th major at Augusta National. I honestly don’t know if that golf course has ever had 3 African-Amercians playing together in the same group, but I wanted to make sure that we were all able to experience it. And we also had a caddy with us from the club. As I listened to the caddy explain all that he has learned as a caddy and the numerous people he has met (including Clyde Drexler), I realized that there are a number of ways for us to make golf more accessible to those who might not be aware of the opportunities therein.
If your golf course can do things from a hiring standpoint to make golf more diverse and inclusive, it should consider doing that. I might not be here if it were not for Mr. Chapper.
Jared Williams is NGCOA's Co-Director of Advocacy, focusing on legal matters and diversity and inclusivity efforts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.