Craig Kirby is changing the faces of golf one swing at a time. Kirby, founder of “Golf. My Future. My Game,” is on a mission to introduce more Black teens to the game of golf.
Kirby started the nonprofit golf foundation in Washington, D.C., in 2014 to expose the predominantly white sport to Black kids for fun and career opportunities.
“We teach them the game of golf, the business of golf — from soup to nuts,” Kirby said. “They learn everything — from the pro shop to the cart shop to the back office. It’s a complete golf experience. If kids don’t want to play golf professionally, there are plenty of great jobs within the industry.”
Roughly 80 percent of recreational American golfers are white, according to the 2015 Golf Diversity & Inclusion Report. Within golf industry workers, that percentage jumps to nearly 90 percent.
Kirby, a former Democratic political strategist, helps Black kids make connections with golf club owners, caddies and even golf wear designers. He also talks to kids about college golf scholarships.
Since the foundation’s inception, Kirby says about 300 kids from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds have participated in the various programs, clinics and internships.
He also teaches kids about the importance of networking.
Last month, Kirby ran into Emmitt Smith, the former Dallas Cowboys running back, while golfing at the Marlton Golf Club. Of the 15,000 private golf clubs in the nation, Marlton is only one of four Black-owned golf courses in America, Kirby said
“I had a chance to say hello [to Smith] and share the work of our foundation and our work with kids,” Kirby said. “I asked [Smith] if he would stop a minute to talk with the kids and take a photo — he obliged. My lesson to the kids is this: You never know who you may run into on the golf course.”
Kirby’s crusade comes as several prominent golf industry leaders acknowledge racism as a persistent problem in the sport.
“There are real diversity issues in golf and there is a real history of exclusion and racism,” said Jay Karen, CEO of The National Golf Course Owners Association, which represents more than 3,400 courses. “We need to reconcile this history, but we also need to do better. We need to welcome and invite people who have not traditionally been part of the golf industry.”
In April, a Pennsylvania golf club owner called the police on five Black female golfers, claiming they were playing too slowly. The women filed formal complaints against the club alleging they were discriminated against because of their race and gender.
“It’s not a golf issue, it’s a human issue,” Karen said. “It’s a shame the police were called to resolve a conflict that could have been handled through a conversation, talking to each other as human beings. These kinds of conflicts should not happen on golf courses and they shouldn’t happen at Starbucks.”
Meanwhile, Kirby is hoping to attract more corporate sponsors and said he is committed to introducing the game of golf to as many black kids as possible.
“We take our kids to golf courses and give them a whole new experience,” Kirby said. “They get lessons, guidance and advice from experts in the golf industry who look like them. I don’t want Black kids to say they can’t play when get they get invited to play.”
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