May 11, 2021

Sports Legend

LPGA: There is a shortage of black female players in American women’s golf. This woman wants that to change

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”.

Players in the top 150 or so are generally considered full-time as they participate in the majority of events, the LGPA confirmed to CNN Sport.

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.”

Efforts are being made to increase the diversity of the sport from a beginner level, but data from the National Golf Foundation shows that among juniors who first played on a golf course in 2019, around 36% were of the girls and just over a quarter were “non-Caucasian.”

A basic game

Perry created Women Of Color Golf (WOCG), a Florida-based, black-led nonprofit to “increase diversity and inclusion in the sport of golf for women and girls.” So far, she has trained 600 women and girls belonging to ethnic minorities

“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.

Clemmie Perry (right) and WOCG advisory board member Vasti Amaro (left).

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.

Shasta Averyhardt plays a shot on the Symetra Tour in Round 2 of the Volvik Championship on the Palmer Course at Reunion Resort in Florida in 2013.

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.

But, she says, from an early age she was often one of the few black players on the course, which extended into her professional career. In 2010, Averyhardt became the fourth black golfer to compete on the LPGA Tour, making her rookie debut in 2011.
Shasta Averyhardt waits on the fairway during the final round of the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2010.

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. .

Renee Powell was the second African American woman to compete on the LPGA Tour.  She is now a member of the WOCG Advisory Board and runs her family's Clearview Golf Club in Ohio.

“At first I thought it was really unfair to have this burden and not be supported by the money to be successful,” she says.

Visibility Champions

After a brief stint away from golf, Averyhardt entered the arena in 2017.

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.

Mariah Stackhouse on the 12th green in the first round of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club in 2017
Stackhouse is the only full-time black player in the LPGA, a feat she says was particularly difficult during her first year in 2017.

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.

Mariah Stackhouse with Bebe in her first year in the second round of the Natural Charity Classic on the Symetra Tour at the Country Club in Winter Haven, Florida.

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 ”

At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, both players were able to draw on their social circles for support, which reinforced their sense of community on and off the course.

“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.

Professional golfers Sierra Sims, Shasta Averyhardt, Mariah Stackhouse and Cheyenne Woods and Yankees center Aaron Hicks, on Shasta Averyhardt's Instagram.
This spring, she will use a $ 30,000 grant from the PGA Tour to bring her mentorship program, Girls On the Green Tee (GOTGT), to underserved schools in Florida.

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.