Lee Elder's Masters moment will remind us how far golf still has to go on race

Lee Elder’s appearance next Thursday morning as an honorary starter for the 85th edition of the Masters will – metaphorically of course – see rose petals thrown at the feet of those in high office at Augusta National. Perhaps it is churlish not to commend organisations for doing the right thing but the extent to which Augusta endorsed discrimination for so long means modern-day praise is always over the top. Augusta sat in a time warp for a significant enough period for it not to be forgotten.

に 1975, Elder became the first African American to compete in the Masters. It took until 1990 for Augusta to admit a member from the same ethnic group. When the world’s leading players line up behind Elder to joust for a Green Jacket, white faces will again dominate.

Thirteen years ago, Ken Bentley had an ambition to solve professional golf’s colour problem. Bentley formed the Advocates Professional ゴルフ Association, with the simple goal of increasing diversity towards the upper level of the sport. Bentley set about achieving this by staging tournaments; but found the world wasn’t overly keen to listen.

“In the beginning people didn’t see the need for it,” he recalls. “We had trouble raising money, we had trouble getting people to play. People didn’t take us seriously. It was hard to get support; we basically had that from two companies I was already involved in.”

に 2010, the APGA staged three tournaments on inner-city municipal courses with a total prize fund of $40,000. Bentley drew inspiration from watching “his” players on the driving range, where commitment to the sport and dreams of reaching the PGA Tour were abundantly clear. That the PGA Tour stepped forward to assist the APGA in 2012 reaffirmed Bentley’s confidence. This year Bentley and his non-profit organisation’s board will oversee 13 tournaments with a prize fund of $350,000 staged at venues such as Valhalla and Torrey Pines, which have held major championships. “It has grown dramatically,” Bentley says. “We have to turn people away and limit our membership. We have people wanting to join from all over the world.

“Golf realised that if it was going to survive, it had to expand and be more accessible. Golf had to look like America. Before, golf was dominated by older white men. Participation was going down. They took a look at what was going on and realised it had to expand. Everybody is talking about diversity in golf whereas when we started in 2010 nobody was. We were just in a position to take advantage of that.” Or as Bentley bluntly puts it: “People return our calls now.”

Something else happened. The social awakening triggered by the death of George Floyd last summer fed into what the APGA was trying to achieve. Peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters walked along Washington Road, just yards from Augusta’s sacred turf. The PGA Tour’s earlier commitment was admirable but Jay Monahan, the current commissioner, did seem genuinely impacted by events in Minneapolis. It seems no coincidence the Tour duly increased involvement with the APGA; exemptions have been issued for tournaments, financial assistance has been offered and facilities have been provided free of charge.

“Everything last summer increased the level of conversation,” Bentley says. “I think people opened their eyes and became more receptive to a tour like ours. Our profile has been raised and the tour has been given added credibility.” But isn’t it sad that such a horrific situation was “necessary” to change perspectives in the first place?

“That’s kind of the way of the world,” says Bentley. “Look back to the civil rights movement. It takes an incident to really change hearts and minds. I remember George Floyd’s daughter saying ‘My daddy is going to change the world’ and that incident has.

“The big barriers now are financial. Golf is still such an expensive sport. Clubs, top-level coaching, travel, access to top courses; it all adds up. Tennis has taken cost out of the equation if you show great promise. At some point golf has to do the same.”

In just a few weeks, the hugely promising Mulbe Dillard, from inner city Chicago, will graduate from Florida A&M University and continue what he hopes is a path towards the PGA Tour. The APGA has prepared him. “I started playing on there in the summer of my freshman year and being exposed to that competition has been invaluable,」と彼は言います. “There are a lot of people in my position and a lot of others who can offer tips after maybe missing their opportunity to make it to the big time.”

で 48, Tim O’Neal has encountered professional golf pre and post APGA. A journeyman tour player from Savannah, just 130 miles from the gates of Augusta National, he has never played at the Masters venue. He readily admits its dubious relationship with race makes him uneasy. そう, あまりにも, the situation at clubs across the United States. “Not one time have I ever seen a black director of golf or head pro at a really nice golf course. Never,” says O’Neal. “So there have been a lot of improvements but there is a long way to go. I don’t think I could be in the golf business when I stop playing because of what I have seen. All the black head professionals I have seen are at public golf courses.”

O’Neal credits the APGA with “opening doors” for fellow black players. 長年, he was the only player of colour competing at levels underneath the PGA Tour. “You get looks,” he adds. “It was never in my face as in blatant racism. Little things happen throughout a tournament year; people trying to kick you out of the locker room or player dining because they assume I’m not supposed to be there. People would assume because I’m black that I was a caddie. I would go up to get my credentials and be asked if I was a caddie. People don’t know any better, it’s just how they think.”

As Dillard points out: “Your skin colour isn’t on your scorecard.” This is true; but the upcoming swing of Elder will conjure memories of a troubled past and leave us to ponder what further progress is required. The APGA’s excellent work can only do so much.




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