The PGA of America has a program in place that it hopes will leave a lasting impact in terms of diversifying the PGA Professional population and the golf industry. The PGA Post Graduate Diversity program is an accelerated route to PGA membership offered to qualified minority college graduates.
Participants are given a six-week crash course on Level 1 of PGA Education, giving them a jump-start toward PGA membership. Applicants must have competed in the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, hold a four-year degree from an accredited university and pass the PGA Playing Ability Test (PAT).
This past summer, five young African-American men came to PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Fla., from various parts of the country; each with the common goal of completing Level 1 of PGA Education in just six weeks.
"The only way to describe it is fast," says Aaron Oliver of Monroeville, Pa., a graduate of St. Augustine College and three-year participant in the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship. "The six weeks flew by, and it's a lot of book work in a short amount of time. But it was fun with the other four guys."
The common thread among these five is that they all competed in the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship.
"It was my favorite tournament. I've played in NCAA Regionals, and I've played in tournaments with some of the best college players in the nation," says Reginald Newton, a graduate of Jackson (Miss.) State University. "But playing in a tournament with people of my color, in a tournament that was designed specifically for me to have a chance, that meant more to me than any other golf tournament."
While these five may have been competitors in years past, they built an amazing bond over the six weeks they spent working, studying and playing golf at PGA Village, side by side.
Oliver and Newton were joined by Jerell Fields, who is a Philadelphia native and a graduate of Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University; Justin Martin, a product of The First Tee of Atlanta and a graduate of Hampton (Va.) University; and Michael Chappell, a Columbia, S.C., native who also attended Jackson State.
Martin has a close friend named Chris Hawkins who previously went through the program. "Now he's a Class A PGA member, and he's 25," says Martin. "What an opportunity." Hawkins is currently a PGA assistant professional at John A. White Golf Course in Atlanta, the same course he grew up playing.
The time the "Fab Five" spent at PGA Village not only included hours upon hours of meticulous studies, but also firsthand experience as they worked in the golf shop at PGA Golf Club, monitored the golf car fleet and assisted in various other segments of the operation. The staff wanted to provide them with the "PGA Experience" so they'd have a better understanding of what it meant to be a PGA Professional and the various employment opportunities offered.
The orchestrator of the program is PGA Master Professional Bill Cioffoletti, The PGA of America's PGM recruiting and internships specialist.
"Bill Cioffoletti has been very inspirational. Any time we needed to talk to him, he's been by our side the whole way," says Fields. "We got to meet (PGA CEO) Joe Steranka, which was a great experience and really shows that The PGA is supporting us in this program."
Martin adds: "Being a PGA Professional would mean a lot. It's the ultimate. You are the gold standard in the game. People recognize the PGA logo, the PGA brand and what The PGA stands for."
Through the PGA Post Graduate Diversity Program, it's evident that The PGA is looking to leave its mark on black history.
"Golf is everything I know, my love, my passion. It's what I've wanted to do all my life," says Chappell. "You don't really see a lot of black professionals, and I feel like we're pioneers of a movement The PGA is trying to bring forth. I feel really fortunate to be a part of that."