Golf History - The Double-Edged Sword of a Bittersweet Past

"Golf must change now"

The PGA of America's recently unveiled grow-the-game initiative, Golf 2.0, is based on that belief, and efforts to make the game more friendly, accessible and fun are already underway at courses and clubs across America.

The goals are lofty;  Golf 2.0 is aiming for a 50 percent increase in the U.S. golfer population by 2020, to upwards of 40 million.  Some say such goals are unrealistic, and that may be true, but they are the stated goals, and one thing that is clear is that a substantial part any increase be attracting, welcoming and retaining non-traditional golf consumers: minorities, women, families.  Hence the "Drive for Diversity" element.

As it did for many who love golf, the motivation behind Golf 2.0 resonated with me. It made me think about the things I love about the game, and how I might be able to communicate these elements  to new players... or perspective players.  That's where I came up against the double-edged sword.

There are the obvious attributes of golf... the camaraderie and the competition, the park-like settings... the things almost everyone can relate to,  but beyond those basics, there's a wide variety of places where golf lovers find the game's wonderment. However those places don't necessarily represent the most inclusive aspects of the game.  Take for example, golf history.

One of the things I really love l about the game is its unique history.  I savor stories of golf's golden age; stories about the creation of iconic courses, and the unlikely outcomes of early tournaments.  I also delight in photographs and illustrations that bring this early epoch to life.  However I realize that in sharing golf's proud, picturesque history one must also deal with its history of exclusion; The PGA’s “Caucasian Only” rule was on the books until 1961, and Augusta National didn't admit its first Black member until 1991.  Jews and Catholics have also faced discrimination, and women still can't become members of the cloistered club.  Ironically,  the very populations golf 2.0 is attempting to woo are likely to be "turned off" rather than inspired by the game's history.

In the recent wake Golf 2.0's launch, I came upon a series of articles written by corporate diversity expert, Andrés Tapia. In addition to his work with top corporations on diversity programs Tapia is a prominent speaker and author of, The Inclusion Paradox, a book about diversity and its relevance to business and organizational success.  The three part series, "Golf Mythology: What the “Gentlemen’s Game tells us about European American Culture”  is Tapia's exploration of the history of golf in America, and the game's strong bond with European-American corporate culture.  His overview allows one to imagine how certain exclusionary behaviors may have emerged to distort golf's aspirational ideals.

"...inclusion requires not only that we learn and know more about others, but also that we actually start by trying to learn more about ourselves."

To my mind that's most applicable and important takeaway for the advancement of Golf 2.0, and particularly its Drive for Diversity component, and when it comes to golf history, the past offers no shortage of inspiration for new golfers.  However they should probably be advised to avoid some of the fashion foibles that marked the game's early years.