With its modern origins in Scotland, golf has been a popular pastime in America and the English-speaking world for centuries. It also has long been a white man’s game. From barring women to only allowing blacks to be caddies, to golf’s current era of multiracial Tiger Woods and the August National Golf Club opening its doors to female members, progress has been slow yet steady in the sport.

The slow progression of diversity in golf is similar to another white male-dominated arena: corporate America. And as evident in the corporate world, diversity cannot be fully implemented without the passionate support of white males. One such leader improving diversity is Steve Mona, CEO of World Golf Foundation.

The World Golf Foundation was the brainchild of PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, who initially wanted to create a PGA Tour Hall of Fame near the Tour’s headquarters. After receiving support from the LPGA, the USGA, and the R&A, though, the World Golf Foundation was created in 1994, a larger body dedicated to promoting and venerating golf’s most noteworthy contributors.

Named to Golf Inc.’s “Most Powerful People in Golf” for the past twelve years, Mona became the World Golf Foundation’s first CEO in 2008. During his tenure Mona has taken a special interest in diversity.

“It didn’t take much to determine that the golf industry, if it’s going to achieve its ultimate goals in terms of participation and interest, needs to look like America looks. And our industry, on just about any dimension, does not look how America looks. So our view was to find out why that was so, and focus on areas where we could have impact on greater diversity in the game,” says Mona.

“At the World Golf Foundation, consistent with how we do our business generally, which is bringing the industry together to focus on the greatest issues in the game, that’s the approach we’re taking as well. By heightening awareness of it, focusing on where we are today and where we want to go in the future, and getting other interested groups involved, that’s the greatest contribution we can make.”

Discrimination in Golf

The PGA was founded in 1916 by thirty-five all-white members. A Caucasians-only rule kept minority golfers outside of the association for almost fifty years. African Americans found ways to organize though, through such entities as the all-black United Golfers Association, created in 1925. For decades, African Americans Bill Spiller, Madison Gunther, Pete Brown, and Ted Rhodes all challenged the PGA’s policies. Charlie Sifford finally broke through the color barrier in the PGA in the ’50s and ’60s, later winning the PGA Tour twice and the 1975 Senior PGA Championship. Gradually, more minority golfers began to compete with their white counterparts. In the ’90s Tiger Woods became one of the top golfers in the world—and one of the world’s most recognized and marketable athletes.

Today, The National Golf Foundation estimates blacks, Hispanics, and Asians comprise 21 percent of 27.1 million recreational golfers. Women represent 25 percent of that number. Many women and minorities have taken up the game recreationally, not only due to a broadened image of golf (mostly due to Woods), but to help climb the corporate ladder. Organizations like the Executive Women’s Golf Association, which involves 19,000 women in 124 total chapters, blend sport and social and networking opportunities.

Most golf courses throughout the country today welcome women and minorities (although there are still some strongholds, like the aforementioned home of the Master’s, Augusta National Golf Club, which only invited two women, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and CEO Darla Moore, to become members in 2012, and didn’t allow black members until 1990.)

Despite this progress, there are still areas of golf that lack diversity. On the business side, according to the World Golf Foundation, Caucasians hold 80 percent of industry jobs. Only one-third are held by females. Fewer than ninety PGA club professionals out of 28,000 are African American. Concurrently, there are only 263 Hispanic members and 196 Asian members. Most of these pros work in public golf courses, too, as opposed to private membership clubs which are more exclusive.

Currently there is one woman exec at the PGA of America, Christine Garrity, who serves as managing director and general counsel. The LPGA employs just one African American female, Zandria Conyers, who is the chief legal counsel and on the executive staff. The PGA Tour has one African American on the executive staff, Leonard D. Brown, Jr., who serves as chief legal counsel.

“We need to have more minority and women in leadership positions,” says Earnie Ellison, director of business and community relations for the PGA of America. “While I am the only African American [director] right now, I would venture to say that is not going to be the case for long. We have a new management team that is focused on how to become more diverse at our leadership levels. Our CEO [Peter Bevacqua] is focused on making us more relevant in terms of diversity and inclusion.”

From a player standpoint, Woods is the only African American on the Tour—other minority representation is limited as well. The same is true on the LPGA, with Asian and Asian Americans like Michelle Wie, Yani Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi being the most visible minority players.

Unfortunately, the outlook doesn’t look much better—there are still too few minorities in the pipeline to the pros.

The “pipeline” consists of elite institutions like the American Junior Golf Association and colleges’ and universities’ golf teams. Few minorities are found on most collegiate teams, although Asian players outnumber other minority golfers on men’s teams nationwide.

Much of the disparity in professional golf, too, comes from the absence of financial support minority players need to maintain a professional career. Golf can be an expensive sport, between the equipment needed to the course fees. The National Golf Foundation’s 2010 Minority Golf Participation in the U.S. study showed that golf is highly correlated with income, regardless of race or ethnicity.

“I would say that at certain levels [golf ] is out of the reach for the average American. But there are other ways to play. You can play golf at a local municipal course or privately owned, open-to-the-public course and play fairly inexpensively. If you compare eighteen holes of golf over the course of a few hours to other forms of recreation and entertainment, golf actually compares pretty favorably. With respect to attaining equipment, organizations such as Get Golf Ready will loan you equipment [when you play]. If you are interested outside of that, you can acquire new equipment reasonably at Play It Again Sports, eBay, and Craig’s List,” says Mona.

“I believe there’s a stereotype that golf is an expensive game, and it’s being perpetuated by golf on TV, and people think that’s what golf is. There’s plenty of ‘basic golf ’ out there that’s accessible.”

Changing The Face of Golf Inside and Out

Despite its history and relatively slow progress, the PGA and the World Golf Foundation, under Mona’s leadership, are taking proactive stances towards improving diversity.

“If you look at golf on TV on the weekends, the institutions of the game, and certainly look at the leadership, we definitely look very white and male. I believe the vast majority of people in golf leadership are very interested in seeing greater diversity in our game on all levels. I think when you address it, you begin to see results,” says Mona.

As Mona says, there are four areas the World Golf Foundation has pinpointed for potential improvement. These include recreational golf, or amateur golfers; competitive golf, or people that improve their game from the amateur to the professional level; careers in the golf industry; and supplier diversity.

For Mona, the latter two initiatives are where golf industry professionals like him can make the most difference.

“In my judgment, careers in the golf industry are an area where we have an ability to influence right away. There are almost two million people in the golf industry. [We are trying] to ensure that individuals from diverse backgrounds are aware that there are jobs in the golf industry. I think the fourth area is where we can influence the most, suppliers to the golf industry. The PGA of America has a supplier diversity program, and they’ve done quite well with that, particularly with the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, and the events they stage around the country,” says Mona.

The PGA’s Golf Industry Supplier Diversity Initiative has been at the forefront of giving opportunities to minority and women-owned businesses. The initiative was launched in 2008, with a goal of 25 percent spend with minority- and women-owned suppliers.

Ten to 20 percent of companies report actively seeking minority- and women-owned businesses, according to the World Golf Foundation.

“We wanted to vet minority- and women-owned businesses that have the capabilities of not only servicing the PGA of America and our events, but the golf industry as well. The thinking was, if we are able to drive minority- and women owned businesses to do business in golf, it’s also going to grow the game. As individuals see more minority- and women- owned businesses contributing to the game, because of a loyalty factor, they will also pick up the game,” relates Ellison.

“Bringing on some of the premier women- and minority owned businesses, too, many of them have strong board of directors. Because of their influence, it opened up doors for areas where we didn’t have presence.”

The PGA Post-Graduate Diversity Program, PGA Tour Diversity Internship, and Golf works, an MGA Golf sponsored paid internship for minority youth, have all worked towards providing and promoting career opportunities for female and minority candidates.

The PGA Post-Graduate Diversity Program, in particular, is working at developing more minority pros. While there are two other ways to become a pro, including the traditional apprenticeship program, which normally takes six years, or the 4.5 year-PGM program, available at only twenty universities nationwide, the PGA Post-Graduate Diversity Program is an accelerated program for the minority player trying to become a pro.

“We found in both of those [first two] processes, we were not getting the minority participation we needed in order to grow our membership, [so] we created this accelerated program,” says Ellison.

Students must have a bachelor’s degree and complete the Player Ability Test (PAT) to participate in the program. Initially they take concentrated classes over a period of six weeks to bridge the learning gap. From there students are connected with work experiences while completing their second and third PGA pro levels. Players can complete the program in three years, as opposed to the customary six-year apprenticeship program.

“Employers are saying these are great professionals who put a lot of effort in because they know what their career is to be. It has been so successful that several of our partners that have a need for professionals are assisting with [program] tuition and even hiring these pros,” says Ellison.

Recreationally, The World Golf Foundation’s The First Tee has been one of the most prominent initiatives in the game. The First Tee was established in 1997, just the time Woods’ career was taking off. The initiative, designed to introduce golf to those who wouldn’t normally be able to access the game, as well as promote good sportsmanship and education, now consists of 17 percent African American, 14 percent Hispanic, and 6 percent Asian American participants.

Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., son of boxing great and golfer Joe Louis and a former U.S. Department of Commerce aide, is CEO of The First Tee.

“While The First Tee programs are open to all, we continue to place an emphasis on reaching diverse young people so we can help open the door to the lifelong sport of golf and the important values and life skills that are developed through The First Tee programs. Research shows that African Americans and Hispanics are still dropping out of high school at higher rates than Caucasians, which is yet another reason to seek out and support the growing population of ethnic diverse young people,” says Barrow.

Countless other golf associations and clubs around the country bring together minority players, both youth and adult.

On the competitive stage, a number of invitational and scholarship associations help the best minority golfers reach the pros. The Bill Dickey Scholarship Association is one of the oldest and most respected. Dickey, a former golfer, was the founder of the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association, later renamed in his honor.

The Association has given $3.1 million in scholarships since its inception thirty-one years ago. The Bill Dickey Invitational Junior Golf Championship also showcases minority junior golfers from around the country each summer. Similarly, the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship,also founded by Dickey, gives minority golfers the chance to prove themselves on a national stage.

“I think we are going to start to see, because there is a conscious effort on growing members and players, the investments paying off. But I don’t think right there now we can say the investments we are making are giving us the yield we initially expected right away. I see things are changing there. With the interest of young people wanting to play the game and understanding there are careers in the game, it’s eventually going to change,” says Ellison. “It’s a journey and I feel like we’re on the right track to doing some great things.”

Golf continues to break new ground all over the world. The Asian market, in particular, is growing exponentially. In the U.S., though, there still remains a gap between white males and minorities and females. As the population changes, more and more within the golf industry are seeing the business imperative in diversifying golf. With the work of certain golf organizations, like the World Golf Foundation and the PGA of America, the game will continue to reach new audiences.