​U of M backs new generation of aspiring golfers  

(l-r) Elijah Owen Knox, Robin Engman-Phiri and Greg Jameel
Photos by Charles Hallman

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Solomon Hughes Sr. Golf Academy welcomes the partnership 

Golf to most Black people has an elitist image. Some at various times have tried to chip away at that image with varying degrees of success over the years. Some even overcame the sport’s discriminatory ways and succeeded nonetheless without being soured on the game.

Take for example the late Solomon Hughes, Sr. (1908-1987), who learned how to play golf as a youngster growing up in the South, then kept playing it when he moved himself and his family to Minneapolis in the 1930s. He played in segregated golf tournaments around the country, winning many of them for decades on his off time from his day job.

“He was a professional,” his son Solomon Hughes, Jr. proudly affirmed. We talked last week outside the Hiawatha Golf Course clubhouse—Hughes’ home course. The clubhouse was recently renamed in his father’s honor. 

“It’s a great honor because of what he stood for, how he carried himself, not just a Black golfer. It’s a very big honor not just because of his name, but what he stood for…and also to have young people of color come here to play.”

Hughes Sr. was dedicated to changing the game of golf, making it more accessible and inclusive. That dedication is behind the Solomon Hughes Sr. Golf Academy (SHSGA), which according to its website “encourages academics and athletic achievement through the game of golf.”

The SHSGA also partners with the University of Minnesota’s men’s and women’s golf teams. U of M players regularly work with SHSGAers both on campus at its indoor golf facility and at Hiawatha and other local courses.

“I really took a look at what is our connection to the community,” explained Justin Smith, the U’s men’s golf coach since 2019, “and what is our program doing to impact.”  

“It’s just a cool place,” declared 14-year-old Robin Engman-Phiri of St. Paul on being on the Gophers campus. She is in her first year at SHSGA. “I love golf, and I saw it as a way for me to get more into it. I saw that there were more things that come with it rather than just golf.”

Another first-year member, 17-year-old Elijah Owen Knox of Woodbury, said, “I love seeing people grow the game of golf, and not just the regular, rich, wealthy people.”

“We were definitely appreciative of their support,” noted SHSGA Program Director Greg Jameel of the U’s involvement. “It’s been a great partnership for us to be able to use their infrastructure, to get the kids on some really nice practice bases and give them some good instruction.”

“I’m thinking big,” stressed Smith. “I want to impact bigger.”

Boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18 are eligible to apply for SHSGA, which is free and also provides transportation for the participants to and from the sessions. It isn’t necessary that they know how to play golf, and no skill tests are given, but the program is limited to eight players.

“We get together three days a week,” said Jameel. “A big part of our program is off the golf course. We also focus on college planning and college prep, goal planning, stuff like that. It’s important for us to get these young people into those sacred ‘quote unquote’ spaces. It’s important for us to break down those barriers and show that we desire to be in those types of spaces just as much as anyone.”

Said Knox, who hopes to play college golf one day, “I learned a lot…and just dealing with adversity the right way.”

“We’re meeting with some people that I never thought I’d meet,” said Engman-Phiri. “We’re going to country clubs. That’s a place I never thought I’d see myself.”