From the Philippines to Northern California, Ken Yuson is Using Golf as the Ultimate Barrier Breaker
By Anthony Witrado
Ken Yuson (far right) shares his passion for the game with every new player he meets.
There wasn’t a golf course in sight.
And to Ken Yuson, golf clubs were foreign instruments to a sport he had no idea how to play, and no interest in learning.
As a kid growing up in Daly City, California – just south of San Francisco – Yuson played baseball, basketball and some junior tennis. For him and his family, golf wasn’t accessible.
At least not until Yuson joined the United States Air Force at age 18. Since then, he’s been immersed in a lifelong love affair with the game and introducing it to others. He is now the PGA General Manager at Cypress Lakes Golf Course on Travis Air Force Base in Vacaville, California, in the Northern California PGA Section.
“It’s come full circle for me,” Yuson says. “I didn’t grow up in golf, but I learned to play at Travis as an airman, and then left to run other golf facilities. And now I’m back at the original place I learned to play golf.”
Yuson, one of over 500 PGA Professionals with an Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, takes his Filipino and military background to heart. And since becoming a PGA Professional 25 years ago, the 57-year-old has dedicated himself to promoting and coaching the game to both groups. He also has a passion for teaching children, and was among First Tee’s initial 50 coaches nationally when the program started in 1997.
Working on an Air Force base brings Yuson into daily contact with military members and Veterans. It's why he is so passionate about running his course’s PGA HOPE program, which introduces golf to Veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
"It doesn’t really matter if someone is white, Black, Filipino, anything. Just giving people the opportunity to experience something that they might fall in love with."
Ken Yuson, PGA
Patriot Golf Days is the program’s annual fundraiser in partnership with Folds of Honor, and this year it takes place over the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend at golf courses across the country. Since 2007, the event has raised more than $60 million to help fund educational opportunities for Veterans, their spouses and children.
Yuson has run the program for the last six years, and it’s become a popular mode of therapy for the people it serves.
“We’re getting Veterans who’ve never touched a club, and who are just so excited about learning. Then, they continue playing it,” Yuson said. “Me being a Veteran, it’s such a great thing and it’s very special to me.”
What’s also meaningful for Yuson is encouraging Asian and Pacific Islander participation in the game, a focus that becomes a little more special during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May.
While there are now more than 500 PGA Professionals with Asian or Pacific Island backgrounds, Yuson vividly recalls the years he would attend national gatherings or meetings and be only one of a handful of minorities in attendance – and sometimes the lone Asian American or Pacific Islander.
“Back in the '90s, it wasn’t like it is now. Being a minority and being a Pacific Islander, you didn’t see us [being PGA Professionals] then,” Yuson remembers. “It was unique and different, but it was a great opportunity, and one of my goals was to bring golf back to the Philippines.”
While Yuson was an active Air Force member, he would travel back to the islands as an Airman and on his own time. While he was there, he’d do his best to introduce golf to the kids.
“I wanted to make that difference and introduce the game to my heritage,” Yuson says. “I wanted to bring something that could give people an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have. That was something that was important to me.”
Through nearly three decades of coaching, Yuson fully understands the impact the game can have on people, especially those who might not normally have access to it. That’s why he is still doing whatever he can to expose underrepresented communities to its benefits – whether it be fellow service people and Veterans, kids across the globe or people in the Northern California region.
“I never forgot where I came from, not being privileged to be around the game when I was young,” Yuson said. “It doesn’t really matter if someone is white, Black, Filipino, anything. Just giving people the opportunity to experience something that they might fall in love with.
“It’s great where golf has come. It took a while to evolve, but it’s in such a rewarding place now. Now, we have top Filipino players on the LPGA, and some that even play PGA events. And it’s only going to get better with the Veteran programs and the attention on minorities getting involved. I’m proud of those things.”