With its modern origins in Scotland, golf has been a popular pastime in America and the English-speaking world for centuries. It also has long been a white man’s game. From barring women to only allowing blacks to be caddies, to golf’s current era of multiracial Tiger Woods and the August National Golf Club opening its doors to female members, progress has been slow yet steady in the sport.
The slow progression of diversity in golf is similar to another white male-dominated arena: corporate America. And as evident in the corporate world, diversity cannot be fully implemented without the passionate support of white males. One such leader improving diversity is Steve Mona, CEO of World Golf Foundation.
The World Golf Foundation was the brainchild of PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, who initially wanted to create a PGA Tour Hall of Fame near the Tour’s headquarters. After receiving support from the LPGA, the USGA, and the R&A, though, the World Golf Foundation was created in 1994, a larger body dedicated to promoting and venerating golf’s most noteworthy contributors.
Named to Golf Inc.’s “Most Powerful People in Golf” for the past twelve years, Mona became the World Golf Foundation’s first CEO in 2008. During his tenure Mona has taken a special interest in diversity.
“It didn’t take much to determine that the golf industry, if it’s going to achieve its ultimate goals in terms of participation and interest, needs to look like America looks. And our industry, on just about any dimension, does not look how America looks. So our view was to find out why that was so, and focus on areas where we could have impact on greater diversity in the game,” says Mona.
“At the World Golf Foundation, consistent with how we do our business generally, which is bringing the industry together to focus on the greatest issues in the game, that’s the approach we’re taking as well. By heightening awareness of it, focusing on where we are today and where we want to go in the future, and getting other interested groups involved, that’s the greatest contribution we can make.”
Discrimination in Golf
The PGA was founded in 1916 by thirty-five all-white members. A Caucasians-only rule kept minority golfers outside of the association for almost fifty years. African Americans found ways to organize though, through such entities as the all-black United Golfers Association, created in 1925. For decades, African Americans Bill Spiller, Madison Gunther, Pete Brown, and Ted Rhodes all challenged the PGA’s policies. Charlie Sifford finally broke through the color barrier in the PGA in the ’50s and ’60s, later winning the PGA Tour twice and the 1975 Senior PGA Championship. Gradually, more minority golfers began to compete with their white counterparts. In the ’90s Tiger Woods became one of the top golfers in the world—and one of the world’s most recognized and marketable athletes.