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Many traditions surrounding golf stand at the forefront as the defining aspect of the game. Behavior, rules, etiquette, clothing and respect for the game are some that come to mind. However, there are many stereotypes that go with these traditions. For many years, the sport was deliberately exclusive to wealthy, elite white males.
Today, that exclusivity is noticeably changing, in many cases by design. But at City of Wichita (Kansas) Park and Recreation, we realized it was not enough. At the local level, golf and park professionals need to be the spark that generates even more of a paradigm shift.
As our department reviewed our values and growth opportunities, one recurring conversation focused on the unfortunate and obvious lack of diversity on our golf courses. Everyone is welcome on our greens, but we knew that because of past golf participation stereotypes, we needed to work to ensure that all community members know they belong and are welcome at all golf courses.
We knew that this intentional work could not be done alone, and a community call to action was required. We began by recruiting 10 young women of color. Our goal was not just to introduce them to golf, but also to give them confidence and invest in their ability so they could excel at the game. We worked with coaches and physical education teachers from the local school district to identify students who would be interested in the program and had no prior experience with golf. We reached out to a regular Golf Wichita donor who helped us purchase 10 sets of women’s golf clubs that participants would keep.
Next, we needed golf instructors, so we turned to golf agency First Tee. The agency staff developed a curriculum, meeting twice a week during a 10-week period. We provided them with space on our practice greens and driving range, tee times and teaching space. First Tee recruited Black instructors to show that the game of golf is not just for wealthy white males.
We needed this program to be accessible beyond the first 10 weeks. Therefore, we decided to give these 10 young women free access to play the rest of the year, which expanded our partnership with First Tee.
This was a true effort by many partners and a grassroots movement with a clear goal, based on action and the desire to make a difference in our community. Next year, we are planning to expand our effort with more diverse representation.
It is difficult to measure the success of the program in just one summer, but these young women were excited and took advantage of the opportunity with enthusiasm and determination. From a long-term programming standpoint, true success can only be measured in the future by what they learned, if they continue to play golf and, perhaps, their future achievements on the golf course. But for the impact in the lives of these 10 students and community awareness, it was a hole-in-one.
Troy Houtman, CPRE, Director of Parks and Recreation, City of Wichita