Howard University announced the first Division I golf program in its 152-year history on Monday, the first day of the fall semester, with the financial backing of Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry.
Curry pledged a seven-figure total donation to be given throughout the next six years, according to the Washington Post. Howard, which offered a Division II program until the 1970s, will become one of approximately 30 percent of historically black colleges and universities to have a golf program.
We’re ready to golf this morning as we kick off an exciting partnership with @StephenCurry30, who has pledged to support the establishment of an NCAA Division 1 golf program at Howard. Curry shared that he will remain committed for at least the first 6 years. #HowarduGolf pic.twitter.com/HR3sQXpdYS
— Howard University (@HowardU) August 19, 2019
How did Curry get involved with Howard?
Otis Ferguson is a former competitive golfer from Michigan who turned down collegiate offers to attend Howard. As a sophomore, per the Post, he formed a campus golf group.
When Curry visited the campus in January for a screening of his documentary, “Emanuel,” Ferguson took his shot and mentioned the golf club. Curry offered his support and email address and they touched base.
As Curry continued to build another Western Conference championship campaign with the Warriors, Ferguson continued to email the three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP despite the lack of response. He wrote of finding sponsors to cover tee times, competing in tournaments and how the university president was receptive to expanding the club, per the Post.
Curry reached out to Howard officials after the season to figure out logistics for a men’s and women’s team. Jeron Smith, a former Howard basketball player who runs Curry’s media business, told Ferguson the news.
“I don’t know what you said,” Smith wrote to Ferguson, via the Post, “but you inspired Stephen.”
Howard won’t have golf team until at least 2020
It will take about a year to hire a coach, recruit the first class and figure out where to play, according to the Post. The Bisons are hoping to play at D.C.’s historic black golf course, Langston Golf Course. It’s named after the university’s first law school dean, John Mercer Langston.
Curry is an avid golfer who has hit the links with former President Barack Obama and premiered a minigolf show on ABC this summer. As with Ferguson, he learned from his father, Dell.
“I was blessed at a young age that we could afford to play,” Curry said. “I just think about how many kids, especially from underserved communities, have the talent to play but just don’t have the funds or the resources.”
The golfers on the team will volunteer through the “Eat. Learn. Play.” foundation run by Curry and his wife, Ayesha.
Lack of African American participation in golf
American golfers are approximately 80 percent white, according to a 2015 Diversity and Inclusion report by Golf 20/20. That numbers continues to increase up the ranks, with 86 percent of professional golfers white.
The Wall Street Journal wrote about it in 2009, noting that only 145 members and apprentices out of about 28,000 in the PGA of America were black. That’s not even 1 percent.
Even golf rosters at HBCUs are predominantly white, a glaring reminder of how few African American youths are playing the sport. It’s also an issue of HBCUs going after the best talent they can just to keep their program from being cut, as The Undefeated wrote last year.
The low numbers are a result of lack of access and lack of funds. Golf is an expensive sport between the clubs, restocking equipment such as tees, and paying for a golf membership. The cost of entry can be in the $1,000-$2,000 range. And it isn’t as “popular” of a sport to play or gain attention as football, basketball or baseball.
All of those sports can be played, to an extent, in the backyard. It’s not so easy to hit golf balls in a rural lot, let alone a city one.
Golf as a business tool
The golf course is historically where business deals are done and that’s mostly meant white men making decisions or getting the promotions. Many organizations hold golf tournament fundraisers, another way to network. Even a basic knowledge of the sport and ability to swing a club well is an asset to anyone.
Craig Kirby started “Golf. My Future. My Game,” in Washington, D.C., five years ago to expose black youth to the sport. In an interview with NBC News last year, he described running into former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith on the course.
“I asked [Smith] if he would stop a minute to talk with the kids and take a photo — he obliged. My lesson to the kids is this: You never know who you may run into on the golf course.”
That’s why an HBCU establishing a golf program is so important. Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick told the Post it is a “big opportunity” to expose students to it for that reason and athletic director Kery Davis said an association with golf can “break down barriers” of privilege.
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