Diversity remains golf's biggest challenge, says PGA of America CEO

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - A quick glance at the entry sheet for this week’s PGA Championship underscores the work that still needs to be done to make golf a more diverse sport as Tiger Woods is once again the sole African American in the 156-man field.

August 8, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; PGA of America chief executive officer Pete Bevacqua addresses the media in a press conference during the Wednesday practice round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With Woods joined by fewer than 20 Asians in this week’s field, Pete Bevacqua, the outgoing CEO of the PGA of America, said on Wednesday that diversity is the number one issue confronting the sport and there are no quick fixes.

“The biggest challenge is, I think, the challenge that everyone in golf shares, which is how do you grow this game?” said Bevacqua. “How do you make this game more accessible and more diverse?

“How do you bring more women into the game?

“How do you bring more minorities into the game?

“I think we would all agree, or most of us would agree, that the face of this game has to change if it’s going to grow.

“It needs to look more like the face of America.”

When Woods exploded onto the scene he was expected to be the catalyst for that change introducing a new demographic to the game. However, more than two decades later, its top level looks very much the same as it did when Woods won the first of his 14 majors in 1997.

At the grassroots level there are some promising trends taking hold but what fruit they will ultimately bear is uncertain.

According to statistics provided by the PGA of America, among those who played on a golf course for the first time in 2017 roughly one-quarter were non-Caucasian while the minority makeup of golfers overall is 18 percent.

At the junior level there were about 2.7 million in the 6-to-17 age range who played golf on a course in 2017.

Among juniors, approximately 33 percent are girls compared to 17 percent two decades ago, while 25 percent of junior golfers are now non-Caucasian compared 20 years ago when just six percent were minority participants.

The PGA of America has identified many barriers including the high cost of playing the sport which remains one of biggest hurdles.

Opening doors for minorities and exposing them to all different aspects of the sport is the focus of diversity efforts at the PGA of America. It has developed programs designed to open doors in the golf industry, and not just the golf course.

The PGA of America has also introduced measures designed to ensure qualified minority candidates make the cut for final round interviews for PGA of America jobs.

“That’s not something you can do in a year, six years, or more,” added Bevacqua, who next month will step into his new job as president of NBC Sports Group. “That has to be a constant pursuit, a generational pursuit.

“Whether it’s the PGA of America, the PGA Tour, the USGA, the LPGA, I think all the key entities in this game understands that we need to make this game more diverse.”

Editing by Pritha Sarkar