With National Black Golf Hall of Fame, Dunovant keeps father's legacy alive

PGA Magazine
Jeff Dunovant works with the East Lake First Tee Program as part of his duties at Charlie Yates Golf Course.
By Mark Aumann
PGA.com

Series: PGA

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2016 | 4:14 p.m.

PGA Professional Jeff Dunovant has a full-time job as Head Golf Professional at Charlie Yates Golf Course in Atlanta. He's also the assistant director of The First Tee program.

But he has another passion. His labor of love is serving as the caretaker of his father's legacy.

Harold Dunovant, the first black to graduate from the PGA's Business School in 1960, founded the National Black Golf Hall of Fame -- which will induct its 30th class on Saturday in Peachtree City, Ga.

The elder Dunovant not only worked for many years in the industry as a course operator and teacher, but he played in the United Golf Association, back when there were segregated professional tours. And he felt there were a number of talented black players worthy of special recognition.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: PGA of America honors African-American pioneers

"He had always been an advocate for minorites, and particularly blacks, in golf," Jeff Dunovant said. "He helped many black players, either through instruction or taking them to golf tournaments -- Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Pete Brown, James Black, Jim Thorpe -- all of the African-American players who came up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

"He came across many people who had done a lot over the years without getting any recognition for the work they had done bringing golf to the black community. So he really felt there was a need to honor and recognize others for that."

Dunovant eventually began an annual golf tournament in Greensboro, N.C., and in 1986, the National Black Golf Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class. The newest class will join over 100 individuals and organizations who have contributed to golf's black history.

PGA MINORITY COLLEGIATE: Bethune-Cookman sweeps both titles

This year's inductees include Tom and Ann Cousins of the East Lake Foundation; Jeremiah Bruner, who has won over $2 million on the European Senior tour; the Chicago Women's Golf Club, the second-oldest black women's golf organization and a member of the United Golf Association; and Larry Powell, son of 2009 PGA Distinguished Service Award winner Bill Powell and longtime Clearview Golf Course superintendent.

Dunovant has fond memories of the past 30 years of tournaments and inductions. It was one of the reasons why he chose to follow his father and become a PGA Professional.

"For us as a family, it was like a family reunion," Dunovant said. "My mom and my young brother and I did the scoring, or he'd make sure all the coolers were on the course. I learned so much about tournament operations from running that, helping my dad with the scoring and back then, we were up writing on the scoreboard and then getting the tee times out on the sheets to the players."

While everyone else was enjoying the festivities and induction ceremonies, Jeff Dunovant and his family were preparing for a long night. 

"Saturday night was a fun night, but it was an interesting night," Dunovant said. "The first round of the tournament was done, and then we'd have the Hall of Fame induction dinner as soon as we finished. So we didn't have time to do the scoring until after the dinner.

"So we'd be up at 10:30, 11 o'clock up getting the scores in, and writing them on the scoresheets until 2 in the morning. And we'd tell the players, 'Hey, just be at the course by 8 and we'll have your tee times ready.' That's how we did it for a long time."

EAST LAKE: Continuing golf's "youth movement"

Growing up in New York, Dunovant was exposed to the game by his father, but didn't really fall in love with it at the time.
 
"He ran a golf course for many years in New York City, so I spent most of my childhood there," Dunovant said. "I didn't go to the course much as a kid, because we lived in the Bronx and the course was in Queens. I either had to get up with him before sunrise or ride a couple of long train routes. I didn't want to do that and carry my clubs, because it wasn't cool to be a golfer then."
 
It wasn't until the elder Dunovant took a job in New Orleans in 1978, and the family followed soon after, that Jeff found himself with an affinity for the game.

"I was upset that I had left my buddies back in New York," Dunovant said. "I didn't want to meet new people, so I'd go to the golf course every day. The next thing I knew, I was hitting balls every day, practicing and watching him run the shop. Then I started working behind the counter from that point on."

Eventually, the Dunovants moved to Dayton, Ohio, where Jeff played football and golf in high school, earning a golf scholarship to Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. His father would also find his way back to the Tar Heel State, moving to Winston-Salem in 1990 as head professional at Minorcas Creek Golf Course and later Heather Hill Golf Club.

Jeff Dunovant's now been in Atlanta for the past 12 years, and not only teaches anyone with a passion to learn golf, but runs the Charlie Yates operation as well.

"We have a couple of schools in our area that have golf as a part of their P.E. program," Dunovant said."That starts at kindergarten all the way through 11th grade. Then I roll over to operating the Yates course, instruction, day-to-day operations, budgeting."

Dunovant is trying to make a difference by giving youngsters exposure to golf, but it's an uphill battle. 

"I have kids who are really excited about the game but they can't continue on because once the program ends, their parents can't afford the lessons or don't have the ability to get to the course," Dunovant said. "From time to time, I'll see a kid with talent and I'll tell the parents that I can really help them by giving them a discounted rate on lessons or provide them clubs. But again, it's up to the parents to get them here. That's always the challenge."

But being able to give the next generation an appreciation of the history of the game is helping Dunovant make inroads. That's never more evident than the permanent exhibit of the history of African-Americans in golf that's located in the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. 

"To have something sitting in the World Golf Hall of Fame about black golf history is amazing," Dunovant said. "And to have it come from the National Black Golf Hall of Fame is more than a dream come true. And I wish my father was alive to see it."

And how would his father feel, knowing his vision has now reached 30 years and counting?

"He would be so proud, so happy, of his vision coming to fruition," Dunovant said. "My younger brother is always thanking me for keeping Dad's legacy alive. Yeah, he'd be very proud." 

Learn more about the National Black Golf Hall of Fame here.