Sport Golf

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Would you ever see this at an Irish club?

Notah Begah III, the only Native American winner on the PGA Tour, embraces Tiger Woods whose explosive arrival was expected to herald a surge in golf participation from ethnic minorities.
Notah Begah III, the only Native American winner on the PGA Tour, embraces Tiger Woods whose explosive arrival was expected to herald a surge in golf participation from ethnic minorities.
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

STEPPING very quickly across the hot coals that this issue represents, let me ask you: how many non-white members or immigrants are playing in YOUR golf club? And for those clubs in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast and other large urban centres: how many inner-city kids from marginalised areas or Travellers are active in your junior coaching programmes?

I know there are non-Irish men and women in some clubs, but with all due respect to them, their numbers have to be very, very few.

The issue came to mind when I caught a snatch of an interview with Notah Begay III on Newstalk's 'Off The Ball' show last week.

Begay is the only Native American on the PGA Tour. In the part of the interview that I heard, he was speaking about his friendship with Tiger Woods. Begay said that he and Tiger were easy to spot at the Junior tournaments they played because they were the only two non-Caucasian players playing in these events.

Earl Woods, Tiger's late father, took Begay under his wing in those Junior years. Tiger and Begay went on to play for Stanford University together and represented the USA on the 1995 Walker Cup team.

This was a story in itself, but once Tiger won the 1997 Masters, becoming the first African-American to win a Major, a huge barrier was broken. The expectation was that Tiger's explosive impact, and later Begay's Tour performances, would lead to a flood of African-Americans and Native Americans following in their footsteps. It didn't happen. Joe Bramlett, co-incidentally also a Stanford graduate, is the first African-American to make it through PGA Tour School in 25 years, a feat he achieved last November.

Woods, Begay and Bramlett had the basic talent, the inner motivation and the family support to make it all the way, but not much else has changed in the ethnic make-up of the Tour. Overall, I reckon that what Tiger mainly did for the PGA Tour was to make a lot of rich white golfers fabulously wealthy as opposed to 'comfortably' wealthy.

In Ireland, I wonder how long it will be before we see the Irish Amateur Close title won by a golfer of African or Asian or any other non-native parentage. What about someone coming from these ethnic minorities in this country going all the way and becoming a Tour professional?

It's not going to be easy. Golf is still a relatively costly game, even though the recession is making it cheaper to play and cheaper to join clubs. The equipment, the golf balls, the clothing, the paraphernalia that goes with golf all cost money.

Golf club membership for people struggling on low wages to support a family is a non-starter.

Potential

Even people in jobs are looking twice at the membership fees, so what chance has an inner-city parent of equipping a potential Tiger Woods and getting them out to play golf? It's a pity. The game, properly taught to juniors under proper supervision, and with the traditions honoured, offers hours of fun in the open air for child and adult alike. Golf has inherent qualities in terms of challenge to the character and potential for improvement.

It's a game for a lifetime and a healthy outlet, no matter what level you attain.

Is there an element of discrimination in golf against minorities in this country? Hard to tell. How many clubs are getting applications from non-Irish people?

The big test would be if golf became a passion among a large section of the non-Irish, particularly non-white, population.

If they came in numbers seeking membership and were turned down, then we'd know we have a problem. In the meantime, soccer and Gaelic games remain a cheaper option for young kids whose families came to this country during the boom years.

There are schemes such as 'Junior Golf Ireland' and 'The First Tee' which are designed to spread the gospel of golf among children who might not otherwise get a chance to sample the game, but it's a slow process.

In the US a host of junior coaching programmes are going on, but even Tiger Woods has spoken of the need to get a much bigger junior base before a significant number of African and Asian-Americans will come through to the top levels. Interesting to note that caddying, a traditional route for kids to make some money and become acquainted with the game, seems to have become something of a lost art, not only in Ireland but in the US. Why caddy when you can afford to play?

Just to finish, and before I get swamped with phone calls and emails, let's remember that the biggest grouping that was discriminated against in Irish golf for decades was ... women.

Eventually, after a long battle, equality of membership and voting rights was obtained.

The difference was that thousands of women had played golf in clubs virtually since the game began in this country. We don't know how many non-Irish and non-white budding golfers are out there, because they aren't even on the first step towards playing the game yet.

Irish Independent

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