This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
Golf is as White as the ball. That was clearly evident to the Only One as we walked around the grounds during the six-day historically prestigious Ryder Cup 2016 at Hazeltine in Chaska.
Yes, we saw many Blacks there — parking attendants, security workers, gate keepers, groundskeepers and food servers. This also included one young Black man who chose the final day, Sunday, to jump onto a table in the media meal tent, and for several minutes loudly questioned diners about whether or not they know where their souls will go when they die. His supervisor didn’t seem to like his Billy Graham act, as she promptly escorted him out the back door to get his pink slip.
When I first came to the fancy country club and asked for directions, a culturally conditioned White guard said,“The training center is over there.” This, despite me showing him a copy of the email sent to me for a media-invited-only event. I guess I didn’t fit his color scheme except as a temporary hired hand.
“I don’t think I’ve see more than 10 [Black) folk,” observed a Black New Yorker, who acted like we were long lost relatives upon seeing me as I left the ropes at the 18th hole. I was the only Black among the American and British spectators soon after Patrick Reed’s singles win clinched the Cup for the U.S.
The young man — we’ll call “Ted” since he and other Blacks I ran into didn’t want their real names identified — told us that his first Ryder Cup he attended was outside Boston in 1999. He says he likes golf and plays as much as he can.
A married Black couple we’ll call “John and Mary,” as they didn’t want their names used, duly noted that Black attendees would be virtually swallowed by the sheer numbers of non-Blacks at last week’s event.
“It’s a numbers game,” said John, a Philadelphia transplant to Minneapolis. “If you put a hundred of us here, it still would be a numbers game.”
“Not a lot of us,” reported “Joyce,” a local Black female volunteer at the event on seeing Black non-workers. “The Brits are really friendly,” she added.
Dawnet Beverley and Fabomi Ojuola, a Black couple from San Francisco however didn’t mind their names used. We ran into them at the Ryder Cup Shops at Hazeltine where you could buy all things related to the Ryder Cup.
“I’ve seen a few [Blacks],” noted Beverley as they entered the shop. “I have seen maybe four.” It was her first Ryder Cup. “It’s awesome. I’m a student of the game. I play it religiously, too,” she admitted.
Mike Quirk, PGA of America senior merchandising and licensing senior director, told me during a“sneak peek” before the shop opened to the public, that he expected at least 25 hats sold every minute at a minimum cost of $29. All other items started at $30 and up, and he didn’t expect a lot of merchandise left over after the Cup concluded Sunday.
When Tiger Woods emerged in the 1990’s, it was originally thought that he would be like Moses and part golf’s White sea and bring more Blacks to the game. Woods, a seven-time USA Ryder Cup team member, was there but only as a vice-captain and stayed pretty much out of the public’s eye. He is the third Black ever on the team after Lee Elder, who first broke the color barrier in 1979 followed by Calvin Peete, a two-time member (1983, 1985).
“I know I followed golf more closely when Tiger was at his peak,” said Ojuola.
“I know a lot more Black folk are playing golf,” added Wendell Haskins, the director of sports and entertainment relations for the PGA of America. He told the MSR, “People love to come out and watch Tiger, and he draws a lot of Black fans.”
Whether or not Woods’ absence from the USA team roster, or the expense to attend the Ryder Cup was a deciding factor, Black spectators definitely were indeed a rare sight.
When asked to estimate the final cost for them to attend, “Probably five-six grand,” surmised Ojuola, who added that he hoped to attend the 2018 Ryder Cup in Versailles, France. “I’m making plans for Europe already,” he pledged.
“We definitely would like to see more people of color as spectators at these events,” said Haskins, who told us that he didn’t grow up on golf but knows many Blacks who are into it “on a regular basis.”
“The next phase is to get people out,” he concluded. “The [Black] fans are out there and I think in the future we will see more as spectators. I definitely think it’s coming.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.