She turned to golf, but was immediately struck by the lack of diversity. So since Perry picked her first set of clubs in 2013, she’s made it her mission to bridge the access gap in the sport.
It took a little over a decade for the first black player, Althea Gibson, to join the tour. Fourteen years later, Nancy Lopez followed suit, becoming the first Hispanic player to participate in the LPGA Tour.
Since 1950, only eight black players have been full-time members in LPGA Tour history, according to the organization.
The LPGA says most of its tournaments have around 100 to 120 players and the fields are based on a “priority list”.
Of the more than 530 members of the LPGA Tour, of which around 220 are active competitors, there is only one black player with a full-time membership – Mariah Stackhouse – the LPGA has confirmed to CNN. Stackhouse is no. 127 in the LPGA’s priority list for 2021.
“There are a number of ways to earn an LPGA Tour membership including winning an event, progressing through our qualifying series, moving on from our development tour, or earning a certain amount of money in any given year. Added the LPGA.
Meanwhile, on the LPGA and Symetra Tours combined, only 2% of players are black compared to 55% of white competitors, according to statistics provided by the LPGA.
The organization told CNN, “We are long-term committed to changing the face of golf, making the sport we love more diverse, accessible and inclusive.”
A basic game
“I realized I had to make a change for the women and girls behind me,” said Perry, who comes from a legacy of change makers.
In 1992, her mother became the first black woman elected to the Hillsborough County School Board, before being elected president three years later. Prior to that, her grandmother was an educator and civil rights leader in Tampa, Florida.
“I never had to learn black history from a book. They were sitting at my table telling me the stories, ”Perry says.
It is her family’s commitment to fighting for equity that inspired her dedication to community service.
“I saw what the fight looks like. We have always been champions of social justice, ”she says.
Perry says one of the biggest hurdles in golf is the cost. Training, coaching, travel and green fees don’t come cheap.
“If the average income of an African American is around $ 45,000, golf won’t be on the radar. But you can buy a basketball, you can buy a soccer ball, it only costs you. ‘a pair of tennis shoes for running the track,’ she said.
The burden of representation
Shasta Averyhardt is a 35-year-old black pro golfer based in Sarasota, Fla. Who says she wouldn’t have made the LPGA or the Symetra Tour without her parents’ financial support.
Like Perry, she points out that the economic obligations of sport can be onerous. “You need someone with you who is fully invested and who is going to push you because you can’t do it on your own,” she tells CNN.
As a junior level golfer, she was brought up in programs that gave her access to exclusive country clubs.
At the time, the pressure of waiting was overwhelming, but the burden of performance was even heavier. “I had a hard time being able to cut off all the chatter,” she says.
She was aware of the history she was making by following in the footsteps of greats like Althea Gibson and Renee Powell, the second black woman to star on the tour, even though her top priority was getting good results so she can continue to finance his trip. .
“At first I thought it was really unfair to have this burden and not be supported by the money to be successful,” she says.
She was staying in Florida at the time and stumbled upon Perry’s organization, finding that the mission statement immediately resonated with her.
Averyhardt signed up as an Ambassador for a year and was paid to speak at scheduled classes for women and girls, in the hope that her visibility would help develop the group’s mission.
Stackhouse is a 27 year old professional golfer based in Atlanta, Georgia. She counts Averyhardt as one of her closest friends and an inspiration on and off the course.
She credits her then junior, Abimbola “Bebe” Olakanye, with the support she needed to get through the season. Olakanye was born in Nigeria and moved to Florida as a teenager.
“Just as I felt lonely, he definitely had those experiences as a black cadet. The guy was next to me the whole time, he helped make this transition a lot smoother, ”she says.
As a junior, Stackhouse’s dad made sure she was surrounded by fellow black golfers, inducting her into local summer programs on the South Side of Atlanta.
“They structured my growth in a way that I could never feel ‘impaired’, because I had always seen a lot of other black kids playing through these programs,” she says.
“I think it is extremely important that all spaces represent the world we live in. If you are in a space like golf, it means wealth and wealth, and you only see people who look like you, something is wrong, ”Stackhouse adds.
Along with equal access programs, Averyhardt believes young girls will be more likely to take up golf if they see players who look like them, which she hopes to defend with her own visibility.
“I want them to feel empowered and inspired when they see me playing on the course, to feel exactly the same as I do when I watch Tiger Woods play,” says Averyhardt.
“ When we win, we all win ”
“If there’s one thing that came out of the movement last summer regarding the space I’m in as a professional golfer, it’s that closeness that he brought out of us. were able to specifically understand each other in a way that no one else could, ”Stackhouse says.
Averyhardt agrees. “After everything that happened last year, we got together. There is an unspoken connection that we know it is a safe space. I haven’t had this in years, ”she says.
“We all want to thrive and be successful, so we’re going to do whatever we can to help each other. When we win, we all win,” she adds.
Drawing strength from the community
Sandra Braham has been a member of the WOCG community for almost three years and says being part of the collective has been key to her enjoyment of golf.
“Golf has changed my life. People are starting to see us and want us there because it helps women of color take over and that’s important,” Braham said.
Having nurtured a community of women and girls who have relied on each other for support on and off the course, Perry now wants to expand his reach.
The initiative introduces the game to girls aged 10 to 17 through mentoring, classes and networking events.
So far, the program has worked at the 4 Girls Center in Tampa. In March, it will come into effect at both Clemmie Ross James Elementary and Doris Ross Reddick Elementary Schools, schools named after Perry’s grandmother and mother respectively to honor their work as educators and activists. pioneers.
Whether it’s listening to his family’s stories at his dining room table or honoring his social justice work through WOCG, Perry says the circle has come full circle.
“This legacy is carried by us by serving as an example, by truly giving back to our community. Every time I see a young girl swinging a club, I know her whole world has opened.”
* This story has been updated to make it clear that the grant was awarded by the PGA Tour.