“Horribly racist comments”, “not being able to get into events”, “curtains twitching”.
More than 23 years after Tiger Woods became the first non-white player to win The Masters, racism is still a part of golf.
As part of a 5 live Sport special on golf and race, four BAME people involved in the game shared their experiences.
We hear from professional golfers Maurice Allen of the United States and England’s Zane Scotland, as well as organiser of the annual UK Asian Open Jas Athwal and Golf Channel presenter Damon Hack.
‘I’ve experienced racism first hand on the tour’
Until 1961, the PGA of America, which brings together golf professionals in the United States, had a caucasian-only membership clause. On the PGA Tour today, an overwhelming majority of players are white and golf has not left its racist past behind.
Allen: “It’s been everything from not being able to get into events, to not being paid for winning.
“You hit the ball, people say it’s not in, they’ve kicked it out of bounds. People changing the yardages that I’ve hit – I’ve seen it all.
“I’ve never been a person who says it’s just the way it is. I’ve always been one who’s going to fight and say that something’s not right. It may happen to me but I can assure you, I’ll file such a raucous that it will never happen to anyone else again.
“When I go to a lot of these golf courses, there may be five black people total.
“I’ve gone to a lot of elite golf courses and you do take notice that you’re the only person playing. Maybe the waiting staff or the cart guy, definitely in the kitchen. You do take notice of that.”
Scotland: “When I started playing golf, my dad was the one black guy at the club. I was probably a bit too young, 11 or 12, to notice the look that would happen when he walked into somewhere.
“I’ve been a professional golfer for about 16 years and in that time, from a tour perspective, I’ve experienced racism first hand seven times that I can remember.
“Because I am mixed race, a lot of my contemporaries wouldn’t necessarily know that I’m half black.
“So they would make comments when we go out for dinner or sitting around in the clubhouse. Sometimes horribly racist comments.
“My view has always been – I’m tournament focused. I view that as their issue, their world is much smaller.
“After I’ve left the table my pal Ben – he would always seem to be the person to tell that guy, ‘by the way do you know Zane’s dad’s black?’
“Of all the times one guy called my room that night to apologise profusely and I respected the fact that he recognised he did something wrong. Hopefully that changed him from forever, embarrassing himself like that.”
Athwal: “I still recall, it makes me laugh now, when I turned up at a car park and the professional came out to the car and knocked on my door.
“He said, ‘can I help you?’ and I said, ‘no, I get out of my car every day on my own’.
“He wouldn’t let me get out of my car. He said, ‘you’re not a member’. And I said someone had invited me who was a member.
“They had to go and find that person to validate the fact that I was there.
“Over the years, you turn up at golf clubs and you see people’s curtains twitching and looking out and thinking ‘nobody’s ordered a taxi or a takeaway here, what’s this guy turned up for?’
“Those are the barriers. It’s very hard to change that attitude. I don’t know what the fear is. All we want to do is go and play golf.”
‘Tiger is a gift and a curse’
Hack: “You can’t mention this conversation without Tiger Woods. Tiger in some ways has been a great gift and a great curse to the game because it’s made people comfortable.
“If the best player is of Asian and African-American descent, then we’re doing great. The game must be incredibly diverse and healthy.
“That’s not necessarily the case; it can make people get a bit lazy.
“Tiger has been up front about his racial neutrality. Part of that is because his mum is from Thailand and he didn’t want to deny that part of his background. Part of it is also his discomfort in poking his head into issues outside of birdies and bogeys.
“Tiger has been consistent in his unwillingness to ruffle feathers, cause controversy, take a side. That’s what this moment needs, not necessarily taking a side but at least taking a stand. At least recognising that there are some issues that need to be addressed.
“I won’t put it all on Tiger. He told us up front he wasn’t going to give us much but that doesn’t excuse the rest of the golf industry from being more proactive.”
Scotland: “It seemed that bang, in 1997 the whole of golf had changed because of this one guy who was exceptional.
“Twenty-three years on, it’s not as far along as we should have it. As always it’s improving but it’s got to be pushed along further.
“There was a big opportunity 23 years ago that’s not been capitalised on.”
Allen: “There needs to be some sense that Tiger didn’t do anything to help black golf.
“Tiger never set the tone when he broke on to the scene. He didn’t do anything to showcase black golf, help black golf or even acknowledge the blackness that was within him.
“If you look at the interview he did on Oprah when he first won, he said he was Cablinasian, which was an encompassment of everything and that’s true. We’re definitely not going to argue who’s black.
“To stand up and say, ‘I am a black male and I am proud to be a black male and these are the issues that we face as black people’ – I think that could have made a significant difference.
“People like Rory McIlroy, who is very in tune with the culture, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, all these guys stood up to say something when the incident with George Floyd happened.
“For Tiger, who is a black male, to be one of the last people to say something, it just didn’t make any sense to me.
“Unfortunately for him within this game of golf, by being one of the few, you carry this banner. You don’t have the ability of just being yourself.”
‘The Masters is played at an old plantation’
There have been calls for American major the Masters to change its name because of the connotations of slavery. Several names have been changed in American sport in recent months, with NFL’s Washington dropping the term ‘Redskins’, denounced as an ethnic slur towards Native Americans.
Allen: “The problem is this: you can argue what the name means because [tournament co-founder] Bobby Jones isn’t alive to tell you what it meant.
“I know the history of the United States. I know the history of Augusta, Georgia. People argue, you master the game.
“But the course conditions at the US Open and at The Open are much harder than Augusta National.
“Things can evolve and change. There’s a lot of power in names. It’s more about action. I’m looking more long-term rather than just knee-jerk reactions. Are people actually changing their lives?”
Hack: “The Masters is played at an old plantation basically. The cottages there look like the old South. We do have images and names in the game that connote a different time of life that it seems in some ways many want to extend.
“I was always told it was supposed to be about mastering the game, even knowing the history of that part of the American South and what happened there.
“For a time, all the caddies were black and all the players were white.”
Scotland: “What would be much more exciting would be to see 20-30 black and Asian golfers playing the Masters. That would mean much more than a name change and a speculative name change at that because no one really knows the reason.”
‘Get us at the top table, listen to us’
In the United States, the LPGA recently launched a grant, named after African-American golfer Renee Powell, to get more black girls into golf. In Britain the R&A is looking to set up a working group on racial diversity, which they say will get significant focus and investment.
Scotland: “We’re having the energy to beat this drum but it’s actually everybody’s drum. It would be wrong of us to think we’ve got to do everything. It’s for everyone to understand and get on board.
“Golf has moved on. The looks my dad would get when he first started. He used to be the only black guy at the golf club.
“Now he goes to his golf club, he’s known for his loud trousers and garish shoes – he’s not known as the black guy. It’s much more diverse. It’s got to go quicker.
“In 20 years, we want to be nowhere near the situation we’re in now. We want to be proud of what we’ve done over the next 10-20 years. It’s everybody’s issue.
“Why is participation low for young black men and women? We all know now that there’s ways of getting equipment and accessibility to golf but who is pushing the button?
“The dress code thing is a big thing. Let kids wear whatever they want. If they get into golf and they like it at some point they will dress like Woods, McIlroy and Fowler.
“We can all do our bit to help it along. There’s second-hand clothes everywhere. There’s golf balls everywhere. We need to make these things accessible, let people into this game.
“There have been five kids from my school year that have died from knife crime and drugs. I was lucky that I found golf and it was never an issue. I was taken away from that. It’s so much more powerful.”
Athwal: “At the end of the day who decides it? It’s a room full of white people. Why aren’t the R&A and the PGA reaching out to people?
“Ask us what we need. What are the barriers? Get us at the top table, listen to us.
“All the things the governing bodies are trying to do, they’re doing it but they’re doing it within a room that’s full of male, pale and stale people.
“They have to embrace the people they’re talking about. They have to have a room full of people of all colours and creeds and do it from within. Doing it from your heart, not as a token gesture.”
Allen: “There are only four [African-American players] on the PGA Tour. Joseph Bramlett, Cameron Champ, Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III.
“I think that comes from there being a lack or respect and acknowledgement within the world of golf.
“Nobody in 2020 acknowledged Black History Month but they acknowledged Pride Month, Women’s Sport month and all these other different things.
“None of the golf companies have black influencers, they don’t exist. Younger kids in the 6-13-year-old range don’t see anyone who looks like them. It’s very hard for them to say that’s what they aspire to be.
“There are so many black people that play the game of golf. Will Smith just did a video on the golf course that went viral. It’s amazing how all of these people embrace this game but this game doesn’t embrace them.”
Hack: “I do want to see more people of colour on the PGA Tour, but I also want to see more in the hallways of the R&A and in the hallways of the PGA of America.
“The accessibility is not there, the investment in the community is not there.
“It’s one thing for us to be kept up at night thinking about these things. The people who have the power have to be passionate about this as much as we are.
“This has to be as important to them as picking out Open venues for the next five years. These issues have to be important to people other than the folks that look like us.
“Why do Zane, Jas and I have to have all the answers? Clearly we don’t and it can be exhausting. I think it’s a global multi-cultural, multi-layered attack that’s needed.
“My default is to be optimistic. My hope is that this is a movement and not a moment. I believe that there are a lot more allies than we have ever had in this type of complex issue.”
The golf and race special will be on BBC Radio 5 Live at 13:00 BST on Sunday, 23 August or you can listen here.