Editor's note: This story was originally published on June 30, 2019
Greg Fitzgerald is a PGA Member in the Northern California Section of the PGA of America who has a passion for making sure the LGBTQ+ community is welcomed into the golf community with open arms. His passion stems from overcoming the fear of being gay in the golf industry. This has led to a multitude of new career opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. Fitzgerald is the PGA Head Professional at The Institute in San Jose, California, and also the Director of Inclusion initiatives for his PGA Section. He details below why he and the Northern California PGA decided to host a PRIDE Pro-Am, and why exposure matters in the golf industry.
Why does LGBTQ representation matter in the golf industry?
It matters because to be able to perform at your highest capability, you have to be able to be yourself first. Everyone is unique in what they bring to the table, but at the same time, the LGBTQ+ community is even more unique because it’s the only minority where you have to tell people about your sexual orientation for them to truly know who you are. For me to feel as though everyone knows me for who I am, they have to know that I’m gay, because it’s a huge part of my life. I’m not trying to throw my sexuality out to people just to do it, I just want to be seen as my true self like all other people are. It’s a very unique dimension of diversity. You have to say something and tell people in order to be seen. That’s the reason representation truly matters in this space.
You recently held the first-ever Pride Pro-Am golf outing in San Francisco at TPC Harding Park, site of the 2020 PGA Championship. Can you describe what that event meant to you and for the industry as a whole?
In Northern California, I’ve had one hundred percent support from the golf courses, the PGA Section office, and my coworkers. Most facilities here in our section have someone that other people know is from the LGBTQ+ community and it is totally accepted. This event is the culmination of years of hard work by individuals from all over the Northern California Section. The recent changes in inclusion initiatives I’ve seen in the industry provide hope for the future as a PGA Teaching Professional. In the past I never would’ve thought I’d see a Pride logo and a PGA of America logo side by side, but now that I have, I think it means that the future of the industry from an inclusion standpoint is bright.
When you became a PGA Member, did you have to overcome any stigmas or judgement by your peers prior to the industry becoming more inclusive?
I think most of the issues I had resulted from restricting myself from being totally open with people out of fear of being seen as less than. I had a lot of my own personal self-doubt holding me back. Going back to the beginning of my career in 1999, I came out to staff only, not members or guests at my club. They were all totally supportive, and even when I switched clubs, I was always lucky enough to receive equal treatment from co-workers. I never had a negative experience in Northern California. I know California can be very lenient, and that plays a factor, but I believe it’s changing in the golf industry all over the country.
Why were you so hesitant to come out to members at your clubs?
It’s challenging enough growing up and being yourself in general, that I didn’t want that added pressure to worry about as well. Everyone goes through a period of growing up and becoming themselves where they don’t have everything figured out. Through my twenty’s, I really started realizing who I was and becoming okay with it. Most kids who aren’t gay and lesbian go through it in their teens. I think that kept me from being myself.
Looking back on it, I wish I became open earlier. So many more relationships and career opportunities like the Pride Pro-Am are opening up for me because I am now able to be my true self.
Aside from being able to be comfortable in your own skin, what’s the most enjoyable part of being a PGA Member?
The relationships. Having comradery with people and building relationships while having fun playing golf. People want those kinds of connections. That’s what is so cool about golf, it has the ability to bring so many people together who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily meet.
The challenge of the game itself is also very rewarding. It really parallels the ups and downs of life. Sticking with your routines and practice while trying to get better all the time, and the positives that come from that. The rewards of executing something so properly are very enjoyable. It parallels life perfectly. Golf is a game of life.
In your opinion, how can other PGA Professionals make the LGBTQ+ community feel welcomed in their facilities?
The LGBTQ+ community needs to be invited to feel welcomed. There will be an effort required to make this happen, and to find gay people who want to learn how to golf or work in the industry. There are plenty of LGBTQ+ community members out there wanting to play sports and golf in particular, and they have the money too. If the LGBTQ+ community was an economy, it would be the fourth largest in the world, so it is important that they are engaged.
If PGA Professionals could put a Pride sticker on their door, or put an ad in the paper, it would only serve to help them become more inclusive while also helping their bottom line. Whatever can be done to send an invite is worth it. Everyone wants to be invited, belong, and be seen. That’s the most challenging for the LGBTQ+ community and that’s why they group up, so it’s important to engage them with invitations because when you gain one, it normally creates a ripple effect and you gain their whole inner circle.