Event stresses opportunities off the course
SHOAL CREEK – A week ago, the NCAA was conducting its women’s golf regional tournament across the country.
A few miles up the road from the Shoal Creek Club, the PGA Tour Champions were playing the Regions Tradition at Greystone Country Club
At Shoal Creek, the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship was under way. Of all the golf tournaments being played, the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship was by far the most important – at least in terms of potentially growing the game and opening the door to a career in the golf industry to its competitors.
The PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship isn’t a new event – it has been around for 36 years. But only recently has it earned a national reputation as a showcase for minority golf teams and individuals.
The tournament field consisted of five divisions – Division I men, Division II men, individual men, individual women and all-division women.
“This really serves as our platform to create impact within our diverse populations within golf,” said PGA WORKS Director Scooter Clark “It’s more than just a championship as evidenced by our ancillary events.”
Those ancillary events included a job fair in which participants met and socialized with golf industry representatives, tournament sponsors and assorted business leaders.
“It allows us to expose our kids to opportunities they might otherwise not have,” Clark said. “We’ve taken it on the road the last three years to different markets to increase that experience for our student athletes and also to increase our fundraising opportunities to help sustain these programs.”
Clark said without the minority-serving institutions offering golf programs, many of the participants would not be able to attend college.
PGA WORKS: A commitment to HBCUs
“Our association recognizes the importance of this championship and sustaining those programs,” Clark said. “It is a platform for us to be able to diversify our workforce. What we have each year is a talent pool of 200 student athletes that are playing the sport at a high level and have been exposed to the sport for 12 or 14 years. I tell them that is 14 years of on-the-job training. The entire week is an opportunity for us to provide them with such a special experience, and also to create impact and have these kids experience this as part of their journey in golf.”
Clark has been involved in the championship for 36 years and seen it evolve. He said even if he didn’t have his current role with the tournament, he would have found a way to be involved with it. He expects many of the competitors from last week’s event will do the same.
“That’s a common thread to this event – once you are a part of it, you are a part of it,” he said.
Louisville senior C.M. Mixon, who won the men’s individual division, said there is more than just golf involved with the event.
“The camaraderie of this event, the people of this event and the way they put it on, they make us feel like all-stars, really,” he said. “Some of these guys, and even myself, don’t get to play venues like this. So, the fact that we can all come together and compete and play at a high level, it’s a blessing that we all deserve, I think, but haven’t always gotten in the past.”
Before the tournament began, competitors enjoyed a kickoff event at TopGolf Birmingham and later toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of a 1963 bombing that killed four African-American girls and injured 20.
For Mixon, who said he has always been interested in history and culture, said those types of events away from golf is a reminder that golf “is just a vessel.”
Visits to Birmingham’s civil rights sites
“I’m a huge competitor and I hate to lose,” he said. “But through my time here I have learned that golf is just gonna put me somewhere where I can do something for others. Ultimately, that should be the goal.”
PGA WORKS Leader Cameron Dinkins said it was important participants had the opportunity to visit the museum and the church given Birmingham’s prominence in civil rights history.
“It’s so beneficial to the core of what this championship is all about for the students to get to see the true history of Birmingham through those events,” she said.
Dinkins organized the “Beyond the Green” event, which exposes both high school and college students to careers in the golf industry and beyond.
“I don’t think a lot of them understand a lot of the time the opportunities they have outside of playing,” she said. “Depending what their majors are in college, they get the opportunity to not only walk around a career fair, but also listen to people who were once in their spots. A lot of those people on the stage played in this tournament and they heard how those people used their playing experience as golfers to have a career in the industry.”
The event was hosted by the exclusive Shoal Creek Club and Bent Brook, a public facility. Golfers raved about getting the opportunity to play at Shoal Creek, site of two PGA Championships and also a U.S. Women’s Open. The club also was the center of controversy leading up to the 1990 PGA Championship when it was revealed that it had no African-American members and club founder Hall Thompson said it would not be pressured into accepting an African-American member.
The club ultimately admitted local businessman Louis J. Willie. Wayne Grady went on to win the PGA Championship.
Clark said those issues are well in the past.
“The membership here and the leadership here is not what it was 30 years ago,” he said. “The environment here is not what it was and they have a very inclusive and welcoming membership.”
Clark said that as he has visited over the past year, he has developed relationships that will “last a long time.”
“Beyond that, the membership here has been from day one fully committed to this vision and this championship,” he said. “They have committed to a very aggressive fundraising effort – and half of those dollars will go to Alabama state universities with golf programs and the other half will go to endow and help sustain HBCU golf programs across the country. We don’t ignore it because it is part of the past and it has actually helped to shape where we are today. Just know, this is a great year for this championship and Shoal Creek has been an outstanding partner. We’re happy to be here.”
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Featured image courtesy of the PGA of America