GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — There is a white persons’ get-together in a beautiful valley in Scotland this week, also known as the Ryder Cup.
Between them, the United States and Europe are home to tens of millions of blacks and people of African descent. Yet their lineups for golf’s premier team event don’t even hint at that. Uniformly white — including not just the 24 players, but all 10 of the captains and vice-captains, too.
The lack of diversity in golf, its failure to accurately reflect the societies in which it is played, isn’t new. Nor is that all golf’s fault or unique among sports. Still, that doesn’t make the monochromatic nature of elite golf any less dismaying or less newsworthy.
The Ryder Cup, because of its titanic dramas, the contest of two great continents and the team camaraderie in what otherwise is an individual sport, showcases golf at its most attractive. But how many black kids, if any, will watch the matches from Friday to Sunday and think this is a sport they could get into?
The problem goes deeper than Tiger Woods not playing this time. It is that golf has no one, either now or in the immediately visible pipeline, to fill in for its black star when he is injured, as now, or as advancing years — he is 38 — continue to chip away at his chances of adding to his 14 majors.
For years, people have trotted out the tale of how the “Woods effect,” having him as a role model, would lure black and minority ethnic kids to golf. They’re still saying that now, even here at the all-white Ryder Cup. This, remember, being 17 years since Woods blew golf’s mind by winning the 1997 Masters, his first major, by a record 12 strokes as a 21-year-old.
“There’s going to be a bit of a lag effect, obviously, with the Tiger effect,” the European team’s Justin Rose said before practice Thursday. “There could be a 15-, 20-year cycle before we see the real impact, certainly of what Tiger has been able to do to the game and some of the changes he’s been able to make.”
Calvin Peete says he’s disappointed at the pace of progress since he, at the 1983 and 1985 Ryder Cups, became the second black golfer after Lee Elder to make the U.S. team. Barriers to black kids, he argues, are the same now as when he was breaking into golf in the 1970s: lack of finance and lack of exposure to the sport.
“I just don’t feel that the parents are really introducing their kids to the game of golf. They’re too busy on Saturday and Sunday having fun with their friends. And their kids are out in the park, you know, doing whatever,” Peete said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“It’s mostly lack of interest,” he said. “They just don’t feel like the kids are going to be interested in golf, and they haven’t even tried.”
Which isn’t to say that golf likes or accepts this. Plenty is being done to try to make golf more accessible. There is awareness in executive ranks that golf needs a wider, more representative audience, not least to reverse declines in golf club memberships.
France, the next European Ryder Cup venue after Gleneagles this time, is building small courses close to towns and cities that could draw more diverse golfers. As host this time, Scotland committed to give all of its nine-year olds a chance to try golf. In England, a new StreetGolf project aims to put putters and drivers in the hands of thousands of kids, including hundreds from black or minority ethnic families.
Claire Wheeler, who helps oversee that initiative, notes that in the disadvantaged communities they target, “the average family probably only spends about two pounds (three U.S. dollars) a week on leisure activities, and actually that probably isn’t enough to go and play golf.”
“Golf courses are almost inaccessible to almost every young person living in a disadvantaged community and the type of young people that we work with,” she said.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Peete echoed that.
“Golf is such an expensive game in certain areas,” he said, “and most black kids cannot afford it.”
This isn’t, of course, the fault of the Ryder Cup or those playing in it this week. But the all-white teams and nearly all-white crowds make this superb tournament less of the shining advert for golf that it could be.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
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