This will come as a surprise to no one. Diversity remains golf's biggest challenge. This message however is not one I share without hope. In the five years, I have coached high school golf, friends have referred to my team as "United Nations." Last week, I learned that the number of female golfers is on the rise, especially among new golfers. Yay! Furthermore, diversity manifests itself in many ways e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, belief, gender, orientation, and age. Golf is truly a multi-general sport. That truth might be one of golf's primary virtues. There aren't many physical, outdoor activities that young, middle aged and elderly people can enjoy together. Golf is one of them. I defer to the governing bodies (USGA etc) on the why racial diversity among golfers is lacking. I will let you read more on systems and structures that are working to make golf more accessible and inclusive elsewhere. What I would like to offer are three attributes of this game that I believe carry over into the personal life and are necessary for rooting out the sin of racism.
1. Don't Assume Anything
One need not play golf to learn you should not assume anything about anyone. Life will teach you that principle. However, golf reveals this truth to me time and again. Furthermore, I think this is an important mindset to have about others and as we aim to root out racism.
The game will find ways to humble you (yet another attribute!). I have played against women 30 years my senior whose second shot doesn't land as far as my drive. One might assume it is going to be a long round, but as with most things in life—slow, steady, consistent and remaining on line—yields good results.
If you had to guess the nationality of Tiger Woods, could you do it? He self-identifies as `Cablinasian.″ a word he feels best describes his background: a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. And what about Jhonattan Vegas?
One of my friends said that he loves when his competition watches him warm up on the range. "Out there my index is a 40." Don't assume anything....once he's on the course, you can drop the zero off of forty.
The bottom line: let people share their own story. Abandon stereotypes, carry no prejudice. Easier said than done but totally necessary. And, in the words of Maya Angelou "When people show you who they are, believe them."
2. Awareness of Others
There is a huge "I" in describing golf as an individual sport. Yes, one can participate in match play or be a member of their school's team, but in golf the team is you. There are no assists in this game. You will never take a charge or box out for the good of another. Sounds pretty selfish, right? Yes and no.
On the course, a player must be aware of where another player lies at all times. One should not hit when they want to or when they feel like it. The rules of the game prescribe who, what, where, why and you determine how. During a round, I have to look at where my playing partners stand. Are they away? Am I? Is there a chance I could hit into the group in front of me? Should I wait?
It helps to have another set of eyes on the ball. After contact, should the ball go in the rough, or bounce off a sprinkler head, it's so helpful to have those you are playing with (and against) help you find the ball. Some have eagles eyes. Others have that sixth sense. Occasionally it really does take a village!
On the putting green, it is important to vocalize who ought to go next. This formality is a sign of good sportsmanship and helps all players.
When a player comes close to hitting another, they ought to apologize. Nine times out of ten they do. Usually, it's not a problem but when it is, tempers can rise. Some folks take things personally. Conflict management is part of life.
According to the ASCD (an organization that aims to empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged) the first of five actions for teaching for an antiracist future is to Engage in Vigilant Self-Awarenesss. Golf cultivates this practice!
3. Pay Attention/Notice the Details
The invitation/command to "pay attention" is fundamental if one is to develop a spiritual life. The same is true in the game of golf.
Adjusting my swing one-eighth of an inch makes a significant difference as does how fast or slow I swing the club. Where I aim, from which direction the wind is blowing, and what is the right line upon which to putt (uphill or down?) require a lot of focus and attention. I believe that rooting out racism does too.
Racism is often insidious. It hides in jokes or subtle comments. People want to believe "Americans in that state" or "that region" have the problem. Such is dangerous thinking.
Pay attention to what people say and how they say it. If a comment is offensive or inappropriate, talk it out.
Last week, a friend told a joke to the other golfers in my foursome and it didn't sit well with me. He knew he shouldn't have said it because he prefaced his remarks with "if Anne wasn't here, I would say..." and then the joke was shared. It was a sexist remark and it wasn't that funny. Though I should have recognized this earlier, it wasn't until I paid attention to my feelings and my body language that I realized it wasn't ok. My friend does a lot to support girls golf. He also invited me to play and we will again. When we do, if such jokes continue, I will talk it out and I hope that when/if I make comments to my team, they will have the courage and respect to do the same with me.
I would like to add that what we need to pay attention to and notice is not all bad. Did you catch any of the Charles Schwab Challenge June 11-14, 2020? This was the first PGA tourney that returned to action since March. If you did, perhaps you noticed the caddies wore two names on their bibs: one for the player whose bag they carried and the other for a first responder—a man or woman in the Dallas/Fort Worth area serving on the front lines. The tee time at 8:46 a.m. was left empty. The PGA Tour issued this statement, “As the PGA Tour commits to amplifying the voices and efforts underway to end systemic issues of racial and social injustices impacting our country, we have reserved the 8:46 a.m. tee time to pay our respects to the memory of George Floyd. We will pause at 8:46 a.m. during each round for a moment of silence, prayer and reflection.” What an important moment to pay attention to!
In the wake of George Floyd's murder, many people have learned and grow familiar with terms and concepts that will behoove us in building a better America. Anti-racism, systemic racism, bias, equity and inclusion are but a few. All are important. As I read and have more discussions with other educators, I hope to offer some insight into the paradigm with which I most familiar: Sports and Spirituality for adding to this noble quest. Golf has a rich and vibrant language and its lessons are many. As the it aims to become more inclusive, I hope that golfers everywhere will use some of the game's attributes OFF of the course as well.