Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

The Face of the Game: African Americans' Spatial Accessibility to Golf

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

The Face of the Game: African Americans' Spatial Accessibility to Golf

Article excerpt

This paper investigates the spatial accessibility of African Americans to golf as an example of continued social injustice. Because of its developmental diversity, demographic diversity, and rich golf history, North Carolina is chosen to examine the relationship between the spatial distributions of golf courses and African Americans. Most previous analyses of golf and ethnicity have focused on other dimensions of inaccessibility and have ignored the spatial dimension. Despite the impression that is left by Tiger Woods' success and notoriety, African Americans remain disproportionately inaccessible to golf. An index of net accessibility, controlling for market size, indicates that census tracts with high percentages of African-American population also are unexpectedly underserved with golf. The correlation between net access and percent black is -.56. Inaccessibility is illustrated in rural, metropolitan, elite golf resort, and coastal geographic settings. This case study illustrates the outcomes of profound power relations and tensions that are played out on carefully crafted islands of privilege that signify humanity's power over nature and its willingness to exclude portions of itself from the fruits of that power.

KEY WORDS: accessibility, sports geography, golf, African American, North Carolina


This paper is not simply about a game. It is about something much larger. It is about a case of inequality that speaks in a revealing way about the larger issue of continued social injustice imbedded within America's landscapes of production and consumption. The African American's journey-to-golf has required the defeat of substantial social and geographic distance. Moreover, since much more has been written about the "social distance" involved in golf's inaccessibility to African Americans (e.g., McDaniel's [2000] Uneven Lies, Sinnette's [1998] Forbidden Fairways; and Kennedy's [2000] A Course of Their Own), it is instructive to consider the geographic dimension. Even with the possible relaxation of social and economic constraints, like discrimination and income inequities, the comparative spatial configuration of the landscapes of production and consumption could inhibit black participation in golf. Hence, the purpose of the research reported in this paper is to investigate the relative spatial accessibility of African Americans to golf. The case of golf is no less than a small scale and especially vivid metaphor for the larger imposition of power relations on space that results in islands of privilege.


Spatial accessibility has been one of the core concepts of spatial analysis in geographical modeling for several decades. Most simply put, spatial accessibility is the geographic definition of opportunity (Hanson 1995). Accessibility can be defined quantitatively in a variety of ways but intuitively is perhaps best understood as the number of activity sites within a certain distance or travel time. Any space-economy suffers from uneven development and inequalities. For instance, some residential areas are not very accessible to needed or desired activities like jobs or shopping. If American golf is located like most other opportunities, there is probably a spatial mismatch between the supply of golf and the distribution of African Americans. We certainly witness these types of spatial mismatches in supplying other aspects of life's opportunities, which have been documented elsewhere (Kain 1968; Wilson 1987; Kasarda 1989; Hodge 1996; Cooke 1996; Wyly 1996; McLafferty and Preston, 1996; Holloway 1996; Johnston-Anumonwo 1997; Gilbert 1998; Kwan 1999; Sultana 2000; Kaufmann 2002, etc.). This feature is probably true in golf, but it has remained unexamined.

Geographers like Bale (1982, 1988, 1994), Raitz (1995), Newsome and Comer (2000) and Alderman et al. (2003) have called for a more critical examination of the geography of sport. Sports geographers have largely ignored inequities in spatial access to American sport in general. …

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