In these troubled times of protest against racism and injustice, too many golfers look the other way. That’s the illusion of golf at the top: Country clubs and pro tours create an artificial world where the grass is always green and the lunch buffet is free of charge. Even the highways that lead to these courses run out of sight from poverty. Golfers go from home to club with nothing in between. It’s hard to see the real world from the players-only dining room.
That’s why tragedies like these emerge from nowhere when we should have seen them coming. One golfing president’s brother, Bobby Kennedy, said it best on the night Martin Luther King Jr. was killed: “The vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together,” he said, “want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” Almost every major city in America rioted that night in 1968, but not Indianapolis—where Bobby Kennedy spoke.
Golf is still on this journey in 2020, from exclusion to inclusion. “The Greatest Game of All” has had a slow start, but it’s going in the right direction. There are more minority members accepted in clubs, more programs like The First Tee that benefit inner-city kids, more charitable support to combat poverty. But events of the last few months—the pain of a pandemic and the violence of injustice falling heavily on black and brown people—show decidedly that we need to accelerate golf’s journey of understanding.
There are no muny polo fields. Certain games are so rooted in the privileged class that they have a limited future. They’re hobbies of the rich. But we do have muny golf courses—ours is a game of the people. It began that way in Scotland with shepherds and greenkeepers. Even now, 79 percent of American golf is played at public-access courses, not elite clubs. There’s hope for golf’s future.
Like America, the sport has a painful past. It was just 60 years ago that the PGA of America restricted membership to “Caucasians only.” Thirty years ago, we endured another shame when an Alabama golf club hosting the PGA Championship admitted “we don’t discriminate in any other area except the blacks.” Pro tours and country clubs opened up after those scandals; progress proved more elusive. There are fewer black pros on the PGA Tour today than in the 1970s due to unintended consequences: the decline of caddies, which had been a feeder system, and the growth of other major sports that proved more attractive for minority athletes.
What’s being protested in the streets today is more serious than tee times, but golf is a part of the underlying economic inequality at issue. Here’s our pledge:
—We at Golf Digest will commit to making the images and subjects of our golf content as well as our staff better reflect the diversity of the world around us. Both the game’s population and our own record here have been inadequate.
—We will continue to advocate for more access and affordability.
—We will increase our coverage of municipal golf—the lifeblood for attracting minority participation.
—We will support the golf industry’s collective efforts through The First Tee, in which 48 percent of participants represent minorities.
—We will promote sustainability in all its forms, because we know the ravages of climate change hit the poor and minorities the hardest.
—And we golfers promise to use our voice and influence to make gentle the life of this world.