Developing Youth and Golf

by Ed Oden

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I remember growing up as a child in Alliance, Ohio, during the mid 1950s. I was a mama’s boy– quiet, and I didn’t have many friends. However, my parents made my life meaningful and it was because of their love that I felt a need to share love and to give back by helping others. I wanted to promote a desire to help others to understand one of the primary truths in life, “Our children are the future, and we as a world should simply, wakeup!” By middle school I was having difficulties with homework, and reading in class – this was mainly due to the very uncomfortable struggle I had sounding out words. As classmates reacted with laughter, I found that this made it more difficult to build friendships. I didn’t know why I was having these difficulties, until receiving confirmation at the age of 25 that I was dyslexic.  pairment of the ability to read and interpret words and sentences that the average child would have no problem with.

Playing team sports was one of my biggest challenges because of the difficulty required in memorizing the multiple assignments that were necessary in order to participate in sports such as; baseball, football, and basketball. Therefore I preferred individual sports where I could learn at my own pace, sports such as bowling, tennis, and golf; sports that I excelled in. This helped me to begin to develop my self-confidence.

My uncle, Tommy A. Goosby, played professional football for the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins. After his career as a player, he worked as a talent scout for the Dallas Cowboys. During his early retirement stage, he became involved in golf and encouraged me to learn the game as well. I was fortunate because it allowed me the ability to spend more time with him, which made me feel like his favorite nephew. As a result of the time we would spend together, I developed a very close relationship with his three daughters. I always thought that he wished that he had a son, and as a result, he treated me like the son that he didn’t have.

I remember an occasion, which saddens me today, where one of my friends invited me to play golf at his father’s private club. Unfortunately, because I was black, it was a forbidden act. My friend found it difficult to explain to me that because of my race, I was not welcomed at the club, and could not play on the course. After this experience I wanted to change things, I didn’t want to be passive aggressive, I wanted to make a difference.

A PASSION FOR CHANGE

Golf has taught me so much about life and living with Dyslexia. It has improved my overall personal development and it has given me the means to introduce, and to acquaint young black children into this lifetime sport, one which has been denied them for far too long. By training them as young children, they will be able to close the gap by not having to wait until they reach adulthood to begin learning and playing this awesome game, a game which has so much to offer.

I have strived over the years to approach and invite affluent individuals, whom I know to have a passion for this game, as well as a desire to positively impact the lives of our children. I have considered individuals such as; Steve Harvey (TV & radio personality), Dr. Julius Erving (NBA), Andre 3000 (Outkast), Alonzo Mourning (NBA), Brad Daugherty (NBA), Dwayne Wade (NBA), Tim Hardaway (NBA), John Carter (entrepreneur), Jason Terry (NBA), Joseph Profit (NFL), and others. I have attempted to network and uncover the necessary funds that would allow The African American Golf Foundation (AAGF) the resources to provide these children with the rare occasion to participate in a sport in which they have very little knowledge.

The efforts of AAGF, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that I founded in 1987 – along with our, “On the Right Course,” after school and enrichment programs, introduces the game of golf to children who have been excluded due to race or economics. We combine golf with academics, leadership and character development activities to help youth succeed both on and off the course – at no cost! This affords AAGF the opportunity to promote “golf diversity,” by creating quality opportunities for minority and underprivileged children to learn to play and enjoy the game.

AAGF was a success from its inception by having some of its first student participants reach top state and national rankings. It has since been heralded as a model program. Now that many of the students have moved on in life and are now adults, they are reaping all of the benefits that they learned from the program. A few have even gone on to become professional golfers, while others enjoy it on a recreational level. I continue to look at the many opportunities that the underprivileged children are deprived of simply because of their economic standing. These opportunities may include, but are not limited to things such as developing new friendships, business networking, attending fundraisers, corporate outings, and so much more. Getting kids acclimated to this type of exposure starting when they are adolescents will help to alleviate intimidating elements, that being a part of playing and succeeding in sports will initiate and cultivate.

At AAGF, our goal has always been, first and foremost, to extend our program in order to help underprivileged youth adapt to mainstream junior activities. We have found that support from our own culture, families, and the golfing establishment has been misleading and has not been as forthcoming as it should be. We have enjoyed coverage by local, national, and international news sources; yet, nothing has taken place within the U.S. golf media. AAGF is one of a handful of independent organizations which seeks to accomplish its goals in a landscape that currently shows resistance to change, basically attributed to our own ignorance, and by allowing the same traditional bodies to continue its systematic control over who is allowed in.

AAGF provides its students five basic components in its full year of programming. Our activities are at no cost to participants. These components consist of (1) Golf w/character and player development, (2) mentoring, (3) entrepreneurial development, (4) physical fitness and nutrition, and (5) academics/tutoring with limited parental activities.

We are proud to mention that recently in our 23-year history AAGF was awarded its first funding by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). AAGF will receive $200,000 annually, for three years to conduct its golf/mentoring program. The faith in our program and its future success shown by the DOE is indicative of our commitment.

PHILOSOPHY

ed-odenAAGF’s philosophy is to address sensitive issues by providing structure and teaching life skills for students in grades 4 to 9. We are focusing on building a feeder program through Osborne High School in Marietta, GA. We will select 4 elementary schools, and 2 middle schools, all of which will feed into Osborne High School. We would like to develop a partnership with local schools, in order to make school visits that will create opportunities with colleges such as Chattahoochee Technical,
Kennesaw St. University, Life University, and Southern Polytechnic St. University.

AAGF is in its second year of constructing a junior golf development program in Marietta, GA where the school population is approximately 50% black and 30% Hispanic. Our twenty plus years of being in the trenches will help us with our success rate geared towards this program. We are currently seeking funds to assist our efforts, so as to continue to develop a program that is designed to impact the community, as well as the high schools.

For more than a decade we have witnessed an influx of African American spectators and participants in the game of golf, due to the exposure of Tiger Woods; yet there has continued to be some reluctance in providing data showing the membership of private clubs because of the lack of involvement from African Americans. Television has proven to be the biggest difference maker in promoting change as it relates to increasing the knowledge behind the scenes of golf. There are now programs such as the 24-hour golf channel, which provides ongoing coverage of golf, as well as other major networks adding coverage, which includes more black celebrities and executives being seen than ever before. As enlightening as this has been, these events can insinuate that diversity in the golfing industry is on the rise, when in actuality, these programs are motivated by money and ratings.

Blacks are the most recent underprivileged group that has been allowed into golf’s private gates. Legal actions, although forced, are slowly producing change in the golfing world. It is believed that the lack of any particular body, which governs the sport of golf, has attributed directly to its destabilizing growth. What efforts are being put forth in order to promote change? Do we have any way in knowing whether there is a 25% or 100% effort? Are we to believe since being a nascent group that all actions are being fully enacted upon in the most honest approach? By not having knowledgeable representation in place to interact with the governing bodies that appoint minorities to represent communities, we have no way of knowing how the 1995 antidiscrimination policy has been enforced, or if the individuals are truly qualified to serve.

Thanks to the Tiger Woods phenomenon, and because his dominance in golf as a black athlete outweighed what the major topic should have been, private clubs and the governing bodies of golf are now actively completing its reformed race relations efforts. During this period of time I have attended forums and symposiums, sponsored by golf’s governing bodies, in which I was disappointed because there was no representation of appointed blacks chosen by the governing bodies to direct youth development. I find that African Americans are as vulnerable today as we were 15 years ago. The change that we seek and expect is relied upon by those who carry out policies and look to reform situations in which they are not directly affected.

Being aware of the early studies that African Americans have faced in golf, when Tiger Woods made his debut in 1996, it was difficult for AAGF to fundraise as a non-profit organization. Without having any resources to perform this search, I have attempted to come up with my own theory, which is based on the experiences that I encountered in golf as a black man, in which race played a major role. Based on the marketing data that was collected, the average age for blacks to have first exposure
to golf is age 28. 882,000 Americans or 3.3% of the 26.2 million golfers in the US are black. Given these figures and understanding golf’s landscape, it makes it highly difficult for companies to attract black consumers who are being discriminated against. If the company relies only on selling golf products, then philanthropic giving could be impacted as well.

AAGF has written hundreds of proposals to private and public companies that seem to match up well in its philanthropic giving. However, we have not received any awards. With only a few nonprofits willing to identify itself by race, AAGF has opened another door that benefits those African Americans and other underrepresented groups that are interested in the golfing industry. AAGF serves all races with its emphasis focused on the underprivileged. Most people who frequent the office are
ones who are interested in the history of golf, and interested in my opinion on current issues relating to the way blacks accept the game of golf.

The time has come for us to join together and help our community and to encourage our children to become more productive young citizens. We must identify the people who are doing great work in our communities and support them.

It is unsettling that there still exist funding organizations that choose to ignore requests for assistance from black and other cultural diverse groups and they do so because there are no repercussions. Since we have been involved at the grassroot level, AAGF has been able to better understand golf’s landscape and the functions of the governing body, as it relates to supporting diversity in golf. We are looking at ways to assure that these bodies and collaborative efforts from outside sources such
as AAGF will be used to help minorities become more active. AAGF has been one of the rare African American golf organizations that continue to exist and has a proven track record.

Since our inception, AAGF has seen the 3 most systematic factors that have been influential in preventing minorities from associating with this game. They are (1) turf protection, controlled by the governing body and the foundations that collect corporate America’s donations to support diversity programming which primarily supports its own and have little to do with independent groups, (2) private club membership, having a stringent process initiating members, and (3) past discrimination,
which has a negative impact on blacks, by not seeing them reach the hierarchy roles to have more of a direct impact relating to the growth of the game for minorities. To date, the governing body has played a much too passive role and only does what is necessary. Without a watchdog group to monitor its work, it is permitted to continue.

The federal tax law provides tax exemptions for qualified social clubs, such as private golf clubs. The Internal Revenue Service established guidelines which allow private clubs to willingly discriminate as long as it is an unwritten rule. With only a few organizations willing to take a stand, such as AAGF, exposing the ills of these powerful monopolies, the unjust laws will favor the majority, and they will rarely face opposition and continue these practices. AAGF was founded to help bring
awareness to some of the more prevalent issues that deter certain groups from this game. We have in place one of the best fundamental approaches to expose and develop young entrepreneurs to learn early on about this multi-billion dollar industry, and to provide encouragement to venture into this market. We are continuing to tweak our programs to be more innovative and solution driven.

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To date, the AAGF program has been fully funded by the U.S. Department of Education with the placement of a three-year award, ending March 2011. AAGF is currently developing a strategic plan in its efforts to continue our 7-year goal to build a community feeder project which will be the first of its kind. This is a three-tier development project with phase 1 beginning at the elementary level, with students in the fourth and fifth grade in 2010. Phase 2 will begin in 2011, in which our phase 1 students will enter into their respected middle schools. Phase 3 will continue with all middle school students feeding into one high school in Cobb County, GA.

This has been a very successful and cost efficient (free) program, which is conducted year-round, including both after school and summer school programs. This is the most comprehensive program available for the underprivileged, and has shown its success by elevating its students to top state, regional, and national levels of competitions. AAGF had accomplished these goals before receiving any grants, and now with the assistance of the DOE, we hope to build a model program, prior to starting our regional and national efforts, which can only be successful if we can gain the support of the individuals in our community. If we are not a part of the solution, then we assist the problem. It’s time Black America to stand up and be counted, not only in the census, but in the better development of our children.

Editor’s Note: The story of the African American Golf Foundation will be continued in the next edition
of IBA Magazine.


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