The future of golf was on display at Sandhill Crane Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, over the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend.
While the components of the game looked the same, the participants represented a diverse group of nearly 60 boys and girls from Miami, Orlando and West Palm Beach, who took part in a groundbreaking PGA Junior League Golf pilot program in seven cities across Florida, Georgia and Texas—designed to bring more youth of color into the game.
Last year, the PGA of America partnered with national African-American Fraternity Sigma Pi Phi to identify kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds who could benefit from an introduction to the game through PGA Junior League Golf and PGA Professional instruction. Of the more than 200 participants in the pilot, 87 percent had never touched a golf club in their lives. The idea was to teach them the fundamentals and then offer an opportunity to play on PGA Junior League Golf teams this spring—an on-ramp to the game.
Sigma Pi Phi is especially focused on mentoring African-American youth to put kids on paths to become outstanding citizens. Often, this is through scholarships. However, the fraternity members see PGA Junior League Golf as an opportunity to teach kids good values and help them fall in love with the game at a young age.
“We’re changing the game,” said Sigma Pi Phi Archon (member) Darrell Searcy. “We’re changing the face of the game. We’re the future of the game.”
“We have a unique opportunity to change the game and business of golf,” added PGA Certified Professional Anthony Stepney, who led the Orlando team.
Funded by PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America, participants were provided with numbered jerseys and equipment. They utilized PGA Junior League Golf’s team format during the on-course portion of the program (with a skills competition added for Saturday’s event). PGA Junior League Golf provides a fun, social and inclusive opportunity for boys and girls of all skills levels, ages 13 and under, to learn and enjoy the game under the direction of PGA and LPGA Professionals.
“This is a powerful relationship that will bring more youth of color into golf in a meaningful way,” said Sandy Cross, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the PGA of America. “Together, we believe that golf will pay dividends for these children, personally and professionally, throughout their lives."
Sigma Pi Phi Boulés (chapters) in each market recruited local youth to participate in the program and volunteered their time during the instructional period. Participating facilities from Florida also included the Country Club of Miami and Quantum Performance Institute of Orlando. Facilities in Texas and Georgia that also took part in the pilot program were: Cedar Crest Golf Course in Dallas, The Clubs of Kingwood in Houston, Roy Kizer Golf Complex in Austin and Bull Creek Golf Course in Midland, Georgia.
PGA Member and Miami Team Captain Larry Levow believes the potential for growth through PGA Junior League Golf is unlimited, especially by appealing to diverse audiences.
“We couldn’t be doing anything more important than teaching these children and introducing them to the level of decorum, behaviors and values of the game of golf,” said Levow. “Through PGA Junior League Golf, the PGA of America has an opportunity to take the lead in an unprecedented way.”
Host PGA Professional Sherri Pla is sold on PGA Junior League Golf, so much so that she is pioneering a new league at her facility this spring.
“It’s very special to be part of something amazing—you’re not sure how many times you get to do that in your life,” said Pla. “To give kids their first experience and introduce them to golf is why I became a PGA Member, and to be a woman who is diverse myself makes it very special.”
Kelcie Jackson, 15, of Miami has advanced from taking lessons a few years ago to competing in the Regional Finals for Drive, Chip & Putt to volunteering to assist Levow in coaching the Miami Sigma Pi Phi PGA Junior League Golf Team. Last week, she told her basketball coach that she was “going to a seminar about my first love—golf.”
Meanwhile, sisters Kadia and Kalia Duncombe of Miramar, Florida, have bought into the program, thanks to Levow, with an assist from his protégé Jackson.
“It was really fun, I had an amazing time doing it,” said Kalia, 11. “I played soccer before but my coach wasn’t really teaching us. When I started playing golf, Coach Levow and everyone involved in the program were very helpful and patient.”
“I loved learning all the techniques,” added Kadia, 17. “They teach us patience and not to rush things. They say to have fun with it. They get it. They really get it.”
Parents also recognize the positive impact on their families. Katherine Chung-Bridges, a physician in Miami Shores, had a daughter and son participate. “This program is a vehicle to get the whole family involved in a great way. Their dad drove them to the golf course religiously every Saturday. PGA Junior League Golf became their time with dad and with golf.”
Several parents, as well as Palm Beach Gardens City Council members in attendance, noted that keeping kids occupied in a positive environment is a vitally important aspect of the program.
“It’s part of our social agenda to help black youth,” said Wes Coleman, Sigma Pi Phi Grand Sire Archon (National President) and a retired former Disney and Nike Executive. “To learn golf at an early age is something that will benefit these kids for the rest of their lives.”
The future of golf is coming. It’s just a matter of time.
PGA Junior League Golf registration begins February 1 for the 2017 season. Visit www.PGAJLG.com for more information.