50 MKE Fellows Go ‘Beyond the Green’ at the Ryder Cup for the First Time
By Michael Abramowitz
Opening doors. Building bridges. Extending invitations to a new and underrepresented community to discover the golf industry. Then, making the ask and getting to the all-important answer -- “Yes!”
Those were the key takeaways from opening day of Ryder Cup Week at the first PGA WORKS Beyond the Green event to be connected with one of the preeminent events in sports.
A group of approximately 50 MKE Fellows attended the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Monday with a special invitation to take part in Beyond the Green. They had the opportunity to see firsthand what a career in golf and an affinity to the game can truly mean.
The MKE Fellows initiative was created in 2012 to encourage talented students from Milwaukee to pursue and complete their college education. The organization’s primary goal is to create a strong pipeline of young African American college graduates who will excel in their careers and become engaged leaders in the greater Milwaukee area.
The opportunity presented is real and attainable for people from all backgrounds.
“We want to introduce you to an industry and vocation that is wrapped around the game of golf,” said PGA President Jim Richerson, who is also General Manager of The Riviera Country Club and The Riviera Tennis Club. “Golf is a very large industry in a very small world. Right now, golf is an $84 billion industry employing 2 million individuals in the workforce. You may be thinking, ‘I am not really sure if golf is my thing.’ But it can be, because there are so many opportunities.”
Presented by PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America, PGA WORKS Beyond the Green is designed to provide high school and college students an insider’s view of the golf industry. Students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in careers in the golf industry connected directly with industry professionals and also received a behind-the-scenes look at the Ryder Cup’s massive operations. While Beyond the Green has been a staple of the PGA Championship since 2017 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, this is the first time it has been held in conjunction with the Ryder Cup.
“This game is transformative,” said co-host Doug Smith. “This day, we will be connecting you with all corners of the golf industry. … Golf is making a concerted effort to reach out to people of color.”
“We have a generational opportunity to make the game better,” explained PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh. “This is the beginning of the journey and not the end. What we’re doing is to try and create opportunities for you to work in it and play in it. We have a saying at the PGA of America: ‘If we can make the game look like the rest of the world, then maybe we can make the rest of the world behave a little more like the game.’ We have an $84 billion dollar industry, and we are not going to stop until it looks more like this room.”
Monday’s Beyond the Green event was hosted by NBC’s Will Lowery and Smith, who jointly host a podcast similarly named “Beyond the Fairway.”
Meanwhile, “Beyond the Green” was sponsored by Comcast, the NBA World Champion Milwaukee Bucks, Kohler and Bank of America. Among the many other prominent featured speakers and panelists were:
- NBC Sports Anchor Mike Tirico
- NBCUniversal Media V.P. of TV & Streaming, Strategy and Business Development Crystal Fisher
- Golf Channel Analyst Paige Mackenzie
- Comedian Chris Tucker
- Professional Golfer Willie Mack III
- Former NFL Player and Olympian Willie Gault
- Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin
- Milwaukee Bucks Reporter and Director of Storytelling Zora Stephenson
- Bank of America Chief Administrative Officer Andrea Smith
- PGA REACH National Trustee Nina Kohler
- PGA WORKS Program Lead Rachel Melendez-Mabee
- PGA Career Consultant Kendall Murphy
- Several other sports and business experts
The MKE Fellows and attendees were first introduced to avenues to the game and industry through the media.
“There are so many opportunities in golf,” stated Tirico as he delivered a message to the Fellows virtually. “I have been.fortunate to build a career in sports media, and golf is a big part of it. Covering golf has taken me to over 30 states and five different continents. … We always talk about the golf ball being round and the world being round. That is why golf is a global game, and we have been able to live that over the years. I hope today inspires you to pursue one of the many opportunities in golf.”
The Amazing Power of “Yes”
The Fellows were encouraged to take the initiative to shape their future.
“If you are in a groundbreaking situation, whether you are female or a person of color, it is challenging,” said Golf Channel’s Mackenzie. “You can get around that by simply making the ask. Just ask, and see what they have to say.”
“It takes one ‘Yes,’ to change your life,” added Stephenson of the Bucks. “One person. One organization to believe in you, and they will.”
PGA REACH announced last week that it had aligned with MKE Fellows, which enabled this unique access to the Ryder Cup, as well as potential employment through the PGA WORKS Fellowship in Wisconsin.
“Today is all about access to career opportunities, and the biggest access we can give you is to the PGA of America,” explained PGA WORKS Program Lead Melendez-Mabee. ”We are here to help you thrive, not just survive.”
As part of the partnership, a series of activations were scheduled leading up to the Ryder Cup. This included a virtual lunch and learn that took place in July, which allowed MKE Fellows to learn about career opportunities in the golf industry from PGA of America leadership, as well as a special behind-the-scenes onsite tour of the Ryder Cup’s vast operations at Whistling Straits.
“We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to help our young people in this area,” explained MKE Fellows Executive Director John W. Daniels III. “This wonderful opportunity with PGA REACH and PGA WORKS can certainly open new doors for our Fellows who might not have ever considered a career in golf. This relationship is already delivering tangible results and positively benefitting young African American men in the Milwaukee area.”
“I am not a great player but I fell in love with the game,” Tucker said in a virtual message. “It’s a great game. You can play it until you’re 100 years old. ... And you can use it for both business and pleasure.”
The students engaged in Q&A sessions with the panelists, team building exercises, interactive bonding and fun contests for autographed Milwaukee Bucks jerseys, Jordan brand golf shoes, tickets and more. Meanwhile, the panelists and speakers spoke to the importance of expanding the game’s reach.
“We are looking to get the game to look more like the room today -- have more black and brown people be a part of the game,” said PGA Career Consultant and PGA Member Murphy.
Richerson summed up the opportunity that the Fellows experienced during the biggest week for the PGA of America.
“To have this kind of event to kick off the week is truly special. Our Association is made of 28,000 men and women that are involved in growing the game. That’s why we are here partnering today. We want to introduce you to the game and business of golf. We want to redefine what the game looks like, what the industry looks like, and we need your help. We’re getting behind all kinds of initiatives to get you into the game.”
The Fellows came away impressed.
“It kind of really just opened my mind up to different opportunities that I have,” Marquette University Senior and MKE Fellow Kaleb Tatum told Milwaukee TV affiliate CBS 58.
“It’s just crazy to have this big of an event be here and just be so prominent - it’s such a beautiful thing,” MKE Fellow Zion Bullock added in an interview with FOX 6 Milwaukee.