The National Basketball Association star’s endowment to reestablish the golf programs at historically black Howard University has brought new attention to the state of golf at black colleges and universities, which are seen as critical to increasing diversity in the game, by putting a spotlight on the budget constraints and other obstacles those institutions have faced in trying to establish and grow their programs.
The recent announcement of National Basketball Star Stephen Curry’s endowment to reestablish golf programs at historically black Howard University (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/steph-curry-revives-golf-program-at-howard-university/) has brought new attention to the state of golf at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and put a spotlight on the harsh budget constraints that those institutions have faced in trying to establish and maintain their programs, the Associated Press reported.
Black colleges and universities are seen as a crucial pipeline to increasing diversity in golf at a time when few African Americans are playing the sport at the college and professional levels, the AP reported.
Only about 300 of the more than 10,000 college golfers at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) schools are black, according to association data, the AP reported. And just three African-American golfers are on the PGA Tour: Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III and Cameron Champ.
More than half of the collegiate black golfers compete at HBCUs, but those programs are constantly struggling for survival, the AP reported. Only about a quarter of the more than 100 HBCUs have golf teams, said Craig Bowen, President and founder of the Black College Golf Coaches’ Association.
Howard University abandoned its golf program in the 1970s before Curry, a two-time NBA MVP who has won three championships with the Golden State Warriors, intervened. His pledge funded a six-year deal to help the school relaunch its men’s and women’s teams for the 2020-21 academic year.
Jackson State University in Mississippi made history in 2007 by becoming the first HBCU to compete in the NCAA Division I golf tournament, the AP reported. But the university suspended its men and women’s golf teams a decade later when it faced a budget crisis.
Some HBCUs struggle to find black golfers and end up fielding teams with white players, and the programs are among the first to get targeted during budget crunches, the AP reported.
“It’s not football or basketball generating dollars, and they don’t want to go out and spend money and actually have to go out and raise money for golf,” said Bowen, who used to coach golf at Chicago State and Benedict College in South Carolina, which are both HBCUs.
Many believed that Woods’ barrier-shattering ascent that started with his historic 1997 win at the Masters—at a club, Augusta National, that once banned black golfers—would usher in a new generation of African-American players on the PGA Tour, the AP reported.
But those projections didn’t materialize, in part because of the deep challenges that young African Americans still face when it comes to taking up a sport that requires considerable expense and travel to play at a high level.
“A lot of my golf organizations and clubs are really being challenged in attracting young people,” said Debert Cook, publisher of the African-American Golfer’s Digest.
Curry, who has long been known as a passionate golfer, made the announcement about his Howard donation at Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C., one of the few U.S. golf courses to allow African Americans when it opened in 1939. The course was home to the Royal Golf Club and the Wake Robin Golf Club, the nation’s first for African-American men and women.
African Americans made steady progress in golf after Langston Golf Course was built, culminating with Woods’ domination of the sport in the early 2000s, the AP reported.
In 1964, Althea Gibson, a tennis pioneer who also played golf professionally, became the first black woman to play in the LPGA Tour. And Charlie Sifford joined the PGA Tour in 1961 after years of the organization’s whites-only clause that kept out golfers of color.
While looking out at the grounds of the historic Langston course, Ernie Andrews, a black man and longtime pro at Langston, shrugged at the fact that fewer young black golfers are coming out to play these days, the AP reported. But he expressed hope that Curry’s gift would mark the start of an upward trend.
“This is a great sport, and we have too much tradition as a people trying to get into the sport to lose it now,” Andrews said.
Young golfers still have to fight the perception that golf is “a white man’s” sport, Andrews said, and he hopes that a resurgence of HBCU golf could help to bring more African-American youth into the sport.
Golf is a great way to teach discipline and perseverance, Andrews said, as well as an avenue into the corporate world for students who may not otherwise have a way in. “We use golf, but the real teaching is about life,” he said.