Celebrating three prominent African-American mentors in golf
By Charles Dillahunt, PGA of America
Jeff Dunovant, PGA with his daughter, Kendall.
To celebrate Black History Month, the PGA of America is highlighting influential African-American PGA Professionals. Each is making an impact on the golf industry by helping ensure that the future makeup of the game mirrors America.
It’s great to play golf or work in the industry, but without an experienced mentor to help answer questions and clear a path to success, it could be easy to fall short of your dreams.
Many PGA Professionals are paving new paths, including African-American PGA Professionals Jeff Dunovant, PGA; Mackenzie Mack, PGA, LPGA, MBA; and Howie Pruitt, PGA. Each is making an impact on the next generation of the golf industry as mentors.
The son of renowned PGA Member Harold Dunovant, Jeff and his dad are the first African-American father-son duo to become PGA Quarter Century Members (at least 25 years of PGA Membership). Jeff was mentored by his father and some of his dad’s closest friends in the industry, including African-American golf legends Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Charlie Sifford.
“I love this game, and I'm willing to do anything to see it grow,” said Jeff Dunovant. “My love of the game came from hanging around my dad at the courses where he was a head professional, and being in the golf atmosphere around great black golfers. I would hit balls daily, take lessons, and before I knew it, I was obsessed with it.”
Now the PGA Director of Golf Operations and Head Professional for The First Tee of Metro Atlanta and Jon A. White Park Golf Course, Dunovant is a mentor for the next generation of golf employees. He is also a varsity golf coach at Drew Charter School, which in 2019 became the first all-African American high school golf team to win a Georgia state championship.
“For me, it was always important to make sure younger kids had someone who looked like me in this role,” Dunovant explained. “It serves as real motivation when you see someone who looks like you in where you want to be. I always make it a point to go out of my way to help younger, diverse individuals, because I know it means the future of this industry will become just that.”
One person to benefit from Dunovant’s mentorship is his daughter, Kendall.
“Kendall now works for the USGA as a Rules Coordinator, and she decided to take that job because she saw that her father and grandfather both loved working in the industry,” said Dunovant. “She wasn’t always sure she wanted to work in golf, but because she had two golf mentors right in front of her, it became an easier and more attractive decision.”
Dunovant played for Fayetteville State University in the most culturally significant championship in collegiate golf, the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship. Dunovant returns to the event each year at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, to mentor current student-athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other minority-serving educational institutions.
Mackenzie Mack, PGA, LPGA, MBA, also played in the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship, for Indiana State University. A role model for black women, Mack grew up the daughter of a school principal and was surrounded by mentors throughout her life. Giving back to others aspiring to a career in the game is a huge part of her mission, as well.
“I saw my mother’s passion for mentoring and helping youth along their life journey from a young age, and it naturally rubbed off on me, as well,” said Mack. “To be able to combine my passion for leading youth with my passion for the golf industry, it’s honestly been a dream come true.”
Currently serving as the Associate Executive Director for The First Tee of Tennessee in Memphis and West Tennessee Regional Director for The Tennessee Golf Foundation, Mack is in charge of managing and growing junior golf in western Tennessee.
“My job is to make sure that kids from all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to enjoy this sport,” said Mack. “Our goal is to go wherever the kids and their parents are, because if we only wait for them to come to us, we won’t grow.”
Mack also hopes to pursue a leadership position within the PGA of America, so she entered the PGA LEAD emerging leaders program. PGA LEAD is designed to identify, mentor and progress PGA Professionals from diverse backgrounds into volunteer leadership roles at the Chapter, Section and National levels of the Association.
“Seeing is believing, and to me, I know that to increase African-American women’s presence in golf I need to serve as a leader,” said Mack. “Not only to share diverse perspectives on how the future of golf should look, but to also serve as an example or a mentor for young girls who look like me, but may not see someone like us in positions of influence. It’s crucial for development and diversity in the game of golf.”
These sentiments are shared by Aspen Lakes Golf Course PGA Head Professional and Director of Player Development Howie Pruitt, of Bend, Oregon, who also joined PGA LEAD. He now holds a governing position in the Pacific Northwest PGA Section. A U.S. Army Veteran who taught himself how to play golf by reading Ben Hogan’s instructional book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Pruitt is as an example of black leadership in golf.
“It was important for me to run for Section Office positions, because I noticed trends that I thought needed to improve in the industry, such as a lack of diversity,” said Pruitt. “But with no mentor to rely on, I was ill-prepared to run and ended up losing on my first attempt. No one reached out then and told me to not give up, so I made it a point from that day on to ensure others behind me had an example of someone who never gave up and chased a leadership position in the industry.”
With tremendous persistence, Pruitt was elected as Secretary of the Pacific Northwest PGA Section in 2018. He is now the Vice President of the Section and is positioned to become Section President in 2022.
“For years, the PGA of America did not represent the diverse face of golf, but I knew in order to change that I wasn’t able to just sit back and complain,” said Pruitt. “I had to take initiative, help start initiatives and get out of my comfort zone to keep running for office, so that my voice and concerns of those who look like me would be heard.”
As a leader, Pruitt wants to make sure that the next generation of golf employees are well prepared to lead and continue to diversify the industry.
“My philosophy is no secrets allowed,” said Pruitt. “I want my staff to be well-prepared and have all the information possible so that we can all improve the golf experience for the next generation of employees and players. It’s important to be ready to welcome all people from all backgrounds, so that our game can continue to thrive and grow.”
With leaders like Dunovant, Mack, Pruitt and many others working to make sure golf looks more like them, the industry is positioning itself to truly reflect the face of America.
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