A Plug in the Pipeline: Young Minority Golfers Often Can't Afford to Enter the Big-Name Tournaments, but Efforts Are Underway to Produce the Sport's Next Superstar

By Matthews, Frank J. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Plug in the Pipeline: Young Minority Golfers Often Can't Afford to Enter the Big-Name Tournaments, but Efforts Are Underway to Produce the Sport's Next Superstar


Matthews, Frank J., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Going from a golf fan to a serious player to a professional is no simple feat. Those who have made the journey recognize how slim the odds truly are. And although most PGA and LPGA golfers can't agree on how best to swing a club or which grip is the most reliable, it's almost universally accepted that college experience is critical to professional golf success.

For thousands of junior golfers in the United States, the professional dream meets with harsh reality when they realize that there are only 800 to 900 combined scholarships available for men's and women's Division I golf. For most, continuing their golf dreams means accepting offers from Division II- and III-level schools.

"Ninety percent of freshmen who go to college think that one day they will be good enough to play on TV," says Eddie Payton, head coach of men's and women's golf at Jackson State University in Mississippi. "After about two years, reality sets in and ... [many] realize that their best hope is to become real good college players, get a marketable degree and get a job within the golf industry so they can stay close to the game that they love."

The golf bug is biting players at a younger age, and is becoming more popular as golfers like Tiger Woods become mainstream sports superstars, says Dean Frischknecht, a former collegiate player at Oregon State University and current publisher of the PING American College Golf Guide.

"Kids are playing earlier and they are playing more these days," he says. "If you have athletic ability, you can learn golf as a teenager and be a very good player. But most kids are being exposed to golf at a younger age. There are more opportunities. Junior golf is more visible, and it's attracting good athletes."

THE PATH TO THE PROS

It is an adage that holds tree in almost any context--practice makes perfect. In golf, like in many other sports, experience is a central factor in success as well. Children who take up golf early have a distinct advantage when they hit high school and begin competing for the attention of college coaches.

"The ones that get recruited are the ones that post some good numbers at big tournaments. If you post good numbers in national tournaments, you are going to get recruited by more coaches. You are going to be recruited by the coaches at the big-time schools," Frischknecht says.

The national junior tournaments are a vital crucible for young golfers. Those tournaments are critical markers on their paths from high school to Division I universities, and from there to the professional ranks. But most experts agree that finding the means to participate in highly prestigious tournaments like American Junior Golf Association-sponsored events is more difficult for minorities. Unable to access the tournaments, many young minority golfers find the pipeline to the pros blocked off at its source.

One program designed to help with this problem is the First Tee Program. Founded by the World Golf Foundation in 1997, the program was designed specifically to bring golf to economically disadvantaged youth. The WGF worked to identify courses that the children could physically get to and afford, and places that would be welcoming environments for the young players. Within three years, it had developed more than 100 golf learning facilities across America.

"If you want to shoot basketballs, all you need are a hoop and a ball. But with golf, you have to have not only the room, but you have to have the time," Frischknecht says. "I think that's what the First Tee Program does, it makes those facilities available."

Payton, who has led Jackson State to 18 consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference men's golf championships and eight consecutive women's championships, says the effectiveness of the First Tee Program is yet to be determined.

"We haven't had a chance to see kids that are six or seven years old go through the program and integrate into colleges to see if it was successful or not. …

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