Golf has long been difficult to access by communities of color. The barriers have ranged from hard line racist practices at member clubs to more systemic issues involving the locations of courses or even the cost of equipment.
Howard University, one of the most prestigious historically black colleges in the United States, is trying to grow opportunities for black players, announcing the school’s first Division I men’s and women’s golf program on Monday, as first reported by the Washington Post. The program is being sponsored by the N.B.A. star Stephen Curry, a golf aficionado who has committed to help fund the program for at least six years, starting with the 2020-21 season.
“Today is obviously a historic opportunity for not just Howard but I think all historically black colleges and universities,” said Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, the president of Howard University, at a news conference at the Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C. The course was named for John Mercer Langston, the first African-American elected to Congress in 1890, as well as the first dean of Howard University’s law school.
“This is an avenue for students who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to attend Howard University to use the game of golf to participate in that,” Frederick said.
The university did previously have a Division II team that dated back at least five decades, as well as intramural golf programs. The resurrection of the program at Howard resulted from a chance encounter Curry had with a student during an on-campus screening in January of the documentary “Emanuel,” on the 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Curry was the film’s executive producer.
Following the screening, the student Otis Ferguson approached Curry, known as an avid golfer, to discuss efforts to make the sport more mainstream on campus. Curry recounted that conversation at the news conference Monday and singled out Ferguson, an incoming senior who stood up accepted an ovation from the crowd.
“We connected on golf and in terms of our passion for the game,” Curry said. “I think I can speak for you,” referring to Ferguson, “about what the game has taught both of us in terms of who we are, things that Dr. Frederick said as well, around accountability, around competition, discipline. All those different ideas I’ve learned through the game of golf.”
Curry and Howard did not disclose how much money he will give to the program, but the Post reported that it would be in the seven figures. In thanking Curry, Frederick made an oblique reference to the state of the country’s many heated political debates dominating news headlines.
“We are at a very interesting time in our country and our nation’s history,” Frederick said. “There’s no doubt about that. There’s a lot for us to be cynical about. A lot for us to be disappointed by, especially in terms of the rhetoric. But one of the things that I think we all must make sure we all double down on is investing in the people that invest in us.”
“Mr. Curry represents what is great about America,” Frederick said.
According to the N.C.A.A., roughly 6 percent of collegiate golfers are black, Latino or Native American. Despite the influence of Tiger Woods and an overall increase in people taking up the game, neither has translated to a significant increase in the numbers of minorities who play. According to the National Golf Foundation, 2.6 million people played for the first time in 2018, the fourth straight yearly increase. Of the beginners, 26 percent identified as “non-caucasian,” which was partially attributed to growth among Asian participants. Between 2007 and 2018, the overall number of African-American players dropped from a high of 1.5 million to 800,000.
With Curry’s help, Howard hopes those numbers will change.
“Otis has talked about speaking things into existence, not knowing if it’s going to happen or not,” Curry said. “There’s a lesson in that, so thank you for doing that. This is going to go way beyond the game of golf.”