Houston entrepreneur and former pro football player Earl Thomas has fond memories of the days when he worked as a caddy at the Greenville Country Club in Greenville, Texas. Back then, caddying meant a little spending money for young Thomas, but he never dreamed that as a businessman, golfing would earn money for him. Today, Thomas, founder and president of Gold Line Refining Ltd., a Houston-based BE 100s petroleum products company, swears by the golf course as a way of doing business.
"You get a chance to spend three to four hours with a guy on the golf course and you really get to know him. a major share of my business came from my golf buddies, guys I've met and built a relationship with on the greens," explains the 43-year-old Thomas, a member of the Quail Valley Country Club outside Houston.
Thomas is not alone in using the golf course to drum up business. African-Americans from all walks of life - entrepreneurs, vice presidents and salespeople - are picking up the sport as a way of making, building and maintaining business relationships, while relaxing in the company of others.
The Dealmaker's Sport
According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), there were 649,000 African-Americans actively playing golf in 1990 (or 2.3% of the total 27.7 million U.S. players), up from 360,000 in 1986.
"Golf is not just a game. It's a business strategy," says Peter Braun, president of Chicago-based Powergolf Services Inc., of the $27 billion-a-year industry. "The golf course has become the place to meet the powerful executive, corporate manager, entrepreneur and up-and-coming sales executives," says Braun, whose firm teaches corporate executives and salespeople how to use the course effectively for business.
Golf can be a powerful network builder. Thomas met another former pro football player, Butch Woolfolk - co-owner and executive vice president of Coordinated Benefits Services - on the golf course and now Woolfolk handles the health coverage and life insurance of Thomas' employees.
"We developed a relationship strictly from golf," says Thomas, who played with Woolfolk for a year before they began to work together. "Butch now does a big, big portion of my business. Had it not been for golf, we might not have met."
"I never play golf with the express purpose of doing business," says Woolfolk, 32. "But, I never leave home to play golf without my business cards either." Adds Woolfolk: "I'm on the golf course about twice a week and about 25 percent of the time I make a contact on the course that will eventually mean business for my company."
Golf's Black History
For decades golf was off-limits to most African-Americans. Golf originated in Scotland and was introduced in this country in the 1880s. At that time, blacks were able to play the game competitively with whites. One of the earliest professionals was black golfer John Shippen, who tied for fifth place in the 1896 U.S. Open Golf Tournament now known as one of four major annual tournaments called the "Big 4." When the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) adopted a "whites only" clause in 1916, blacks were denied an opportunity to play professional golf. That exclusion prompted another black golfer, Robert H. Hawkins, to establish the United Golf Association (UGA) in 1926 for black golfers as an alternative to the Professional Golf Association (PGA). Within a few years the UGA established a series of tournaments for amateur and professional golfers. It gave rise to such champions as Howard Wheeler and Eural Clark and women pioneers such as Ethel Funches, Anne Gregory and Thelma Cowan. Other early black golf stars included Calvin Searles, Ted Rhodes, William Spiller and Althea Gibson, the first black woman to break the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) color line in 1963.
As the racial barriers began to fall, more black golfers came into prominence, including Calvin Peete, Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford. Today. 16-year-old Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, a sophomore at Western High School in Anaheim, Calif., is the most celebrated young golfer in the United States. In 1991, he became the first African-American and the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Golfing Championship. Recently "Tiger" became the second-youngest person to ever play in a PGA Tour event. "I want to be the Michael Jordan of golf," says Woods who maintains a 3.5 grade-point average in school.
Gaining Access to
While African-American players like Woods continue to fight to be included in the game via merit, golf is still considered a "white man's sport." The biggest bomb to hit the golf world came in June 1990 when Hall Thompson, founder of Shoal Creek, a private golf club in Birmingham, Ala., told a newspaper reporter when questioned about the club's "all white" roster: "We have the right to associate or not associate with whomever we choose. The country club is our home, and we pick and choose who we want....I think we've said that we don't discriminate in every other area [religion and gender] except the blacks." The Shoal Creek club was to be the tournament site of that year's PGA of American championship.
The story brought national attention to a segregationist policy that had been fought by several individuals. Civil rights organizations, which had not complained about Shoal Creek's policy or Birmingham's exclusionary clubs in the past, demanded that the PGA dump the club as a tournament site. Controversy swept the country and many "all white" golf courses began feeling the pressure to integrate their facilities. With the pressure from corporate sponsors and television networks, many did just that. Even Shoal Creek brought in its first black, though honorary, member - Louis J. Willie, president of the Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. The club's $35,000 initiation fee was waived because his membership status was honorary.
Shortly afterward, the PGA Tour (the organization), which co-sponsors the PGA Tour (the event), the Senior PGA Tour and the Ben Hogan Tour, announced it would not hold tournaments at clubs that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin. "We implemented the policy immediately that none of our 118 tournaments would be played at a club facility that exhibited exclusionary membership practices," explains Ruffin Beckwith, vice president of corporate affairs for the PGA Tour. "We demanded that all the clubs demonstrate that they don't (discriminate), that they have minority members and that the club has a wide open membership. We lost a few clubs and a few courses that had been with us for quite a while," says Beckwith.
But many clubs fell into line and opened up their once "whites only" membership rolls to blacks. One such organization was the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The country club's board of directors set up a meeting with the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce (FWMBCC) to ask for the names of prospective African-Americans who would be interested in joining the exclusive club.
"The officials from Colonial and the chamber decided to do three things to change the situation," says Norma Roby, president of the FWMBCC. "Five African-Americans were invited to join the club and they did. We decided to sponsor a joint golf tournament and business opportunities would be offered to black vendors and suppliers," says Roby. In November 1991, the chamber and Colonial sponsored the first annual Celebrity Charity Golf Classic. The tournament, which had more than 170 golfers participate, was a major success, raising more than $40,000 for charities including the United Negro College Fund, the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and the NAACP.
The PGA Tour has also initiated several programs to bring African-Americans into the mainstream of the sport. "We want to make the minority community aware of the business opportunities in our industry," explains Beckwith. "People don't realize golf is a multibillion-dollar industry with many components and facets. Not only are there opportunities for great players, but if you have an interest in real estate, public relations or television production, the golf industry has those opportunities," he adds. To expose more minorities to the multifarious golf industry, the PGA Tour implemented an internship program this summer for 15 minorities, including Asian, Hispanic and African-American youth. The internships are in a variety of areas within the PGA Tour and with some of the tour's business partners, including Merrill Lynch and Golf Digest and Gold World magazines.
Others, like professional golfers Lee Elder and Calvin Peete, are reaching out directly to African-American youth. Through the Calvin Peete National Minority Golf Foundation, started in 1989, Peete hopes to "expose disadvantaged youth to the game of golf, which is a lifetime sport that teachers values and discipline, and provides educational and business opportunities that these youth would not otherwise be exposed to." The Elder Sports Management Instructional Institute also encourages minority youth to enter sports marketing and management careers.
It's Not Just Business
The golf course is not only a good place to make business contact, it's also a place where you can learn a great deal about the personalities of prospective clients, employees and executives. "The game tells you how to handle stress, risk and whether you're a leader or a follower," explains Braun of Powergolf Services Inc. "It's not your score that counts in the game of golf, it's your conduct. You have to play the game with integrity."
Braun warns golfers not to force a business relationship while on the course. "We break down the golf course into what we call power zones. We view an 18-hole round of golf as a four-hour sales call. The first holes are foundation-building. The second six holes are relationship-building and the last six holes are alliance formation. Structure the day so you're not pushing products and services the whole time. Learn about your client first. Find out a little more about their business. Toward the end of the round you want to find out how you might be able to help them in the future," explains Braun.
Braun and other golfers say while the golf course provides an excellent opportunity to discuss business deals, few deals are actually finalized there. But they admit the greens can play a big part in the success of your career. "You have to sell your integrity, honesty, leadership skills, humility and your ethical and moral codes of conduct." says Braun. "It's not the hard sell. It's very much a soft sell - capitalizing on an informal selling situation that will pay off in a big way down the road."
AROUND THE COUNTRY
There are at least 167 African-American golf tournaments held around the country annually. Many, if not most, raise money for charities including student scholarships and inner-city youth programs. For a complete listing of black golf tournaments and information on the 343 African-American golf clubs around the country, contact: Charles Dorton, Black Golf Information Center, 3090 Birmingham Drive, Richmond, CA 94806, 510-223-7414. Here is a partial listing of events being held this year: * The East-West Golf Classic is held annually in January in Phoenix and raises scholarship funds for African-American students primarily attending historically black colleges and universities. For more information, contact: Bill Dickey, president, National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association, 1140 E. Washington St., Suite 102, Phoenix, AZ 85034, 602-258-7851. * The Warren Moon Celebrity Golf Tournament is held every April at the Pine Forest Country Club in Houston. Proceeds provide scholarships for minority students and gives funds to other local charities. For more information, contact: Judy Riley, executive director, Cresent Moon Foundation, 1077 Westheimer St., Fifth Floor., Houston, TX 77042, 713-956-7100. * Lee Elder Invitational Golf Tournament will be held Aug. 21-23 at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va. The proceeds go toward student scholarships and college internships in sports management. For more information, contact: Rose Elder, The Lee Elder Invitational, 1725 K St., NW, Suite 1110, Washington, DC 20006, 202-857-0745. * Annual FCAA Charity Golf Tournament is held every April at the Doral Resort and Country Club in Miami. Proceeds benefit the Family Christian Association of America, an agency that works with inner-city youth in the area. For more information, contact: Nat Moore and Associates, 16911 NE Sixth Ave., North Miami Beach, FL 33162, 305-770-0995. * A Drum Major For Justice Celebrity Golf Classic, sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/Women, is held every June in Atlanta. The benefit provides scholarship funds to graduating high school seniors accepted in college. For more information, contact: SCLC/Women, P.O. Box 42257, Atlanta, GA 30311, 404-522-1420.
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|Title Annotation:||golfing for African Americans|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1992|
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