Tony Martinez wants to see a movement to increase the number of minority pros. The 42-year old Mexican-American head pro at the public Keeton Park Golf Course in Dallas, Martinez, an Arizona native, was inspired to get into golf by four-time Tour winner Homero Blancas, who was the head pro at Randolph Park Golf Course in Tucson. “Not only was Homero Mexican and a rock star in Tucson,” says Martinez, “he was dark, like me. At 12 or 13, I was getting immersed in a white sport, and seeing him helped me figure out that I wanted to be a head pro at a municipal course. I know that when Hispanic parents bring their child into the golf shop and they see a Tony Martinez, they feel welcome. PGA pros are the human connection to golf. But it’s hard for minorities to gain traction.” Though Martinez is a rising star in the North Texas section of the PGA, he’s leery about his chances of working at a private club. “At certain clubs in the Dallas area, I would not be hired because of the color of my skin.”
The PGA of America is waging a campaign to increase its minority membership. It holds a Business of Golf Career Expo at its annual PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, where aspiring club pros may use their scores from the event to meet their Playing Ability Test. At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a historically black college, a PGA-credited golf management program trains students to become Class-A pros. In its third year, results are mixed. Only 11 of the program’s 42 students are black. It’s been hard finding African-American students who have the 12-handicap minimum required to sign up, says Billy Dillon, the director of the university’s program. “We’re not going to admit a student who has no chance of graduating,” Dillon says. “We want our graduates to work at the nicest facilities possible.”
The PGA is “committed to providing opportunities for minorities to become PGA members,” says Earnie Ellison, PGA director of business and community relations, and himself an African-American. That includes diversity and inclusion initiatives such as the Golf Industry Diverse Supplier Program, Major Championship Community Relations, recruiting, youth development grants, player development, and scholarships specifically for minorities. “All of these help us align the business of golf with the changing faces of our society,” he says. “Can we do more? Absolutely.”
Jeff Dunovant, director of instruction for the First Tee of East Lake in Atlanta, has unique insight into the struggles of black club professionals. It took his late father, Harold, 14 years to get his Class-A card. Dunovant, 44, has worked as a tournament official for the PGA Tour and has run several courses in Arizona. “I have the experience to be a general manager or head pro at a private club, but I don’t see the opportunity,” says Dunovant.
He says that the PGA should follow the lead of the NFLwhich requires teams to interview minorities for coaching and front-office jobsand ask member clubs to identify minority applicants and make prospective pros more aware of job opportunities.
Dunovant feels that lingering racism still contributes to an anti-minority atmosphere in the game. He tells of an older white woman who called the pro shop at Atlanta’s Charlie Yates Golf Course, where he works, and requested a lesson with a white instructor. When Dunovant told her that his teachers were black, she said, “They’re all colored?” He wonders how many white owners or general managers are deterred from hiring qualified black candidates for fear of alienating their Caucasian clientele.
On the subject of diversity strategies, critics say the PGA should twist more arms and encourage member clubs to hire qualified minority applicants. One critic is Howie Pruitt, an African-American PGA member in Portland, Ore., who used to head up a diversity initiative in his local section. Pruitt calls for an industry-wide affirmative action program. “The PGA has to take a more aggressive stand than just saying that it cares about the issue,” says Pruitt, 62. “It needs to force its PGA member courses to have a certain amount of African-Americans. We need to look at some of the large management companies to see what their hiring practices are for minorities at the management and club pro level. The whole golf industry has to be made accountable.”
Both Pruitt and Martinez hope that once more minorities get into managerial roles, there will be an increased awareness that golf is a viable career optionand not just for the next Tiger Woods. Says Martinez, “We have to show minority kids that there is a layer of golf business that is greater than kissing the U.S. Open trophy.”
At Tampa’s Innisbrook Resort, Rodney Green was hired by Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of the Black Entertainment Network, who bought the resort in 2007 for $35 million. In his two years at the facility, Green has hired several minority interns and one black apprentice. He said he learned a valuable lesson in his 13 years working for Walt Disney Golf Courses in Orlandoa lesson that could benefit golf, which has lost four million avid players in the last decade. “Disney wanted everybody to come to the parks,” Green says. “So it had gay people, blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics working at the park. I just want qualified minorities to get a shot at some of the better jobs so the industry can see that we can do as good a job as anybody in the business.”