The PGA has long been considered one of the last bastions of white privilege and elitism, continuing a culture of keeping Black golfers, entrepreneurs and employees on the outside looking in.
With the recent events in this country, corporations and organizations known for their mistreatment of African-Americans have emerged to profess their disgust with George Floyd’s brutal killing at the hands of Minneapolis police and promising change within their own cultural structures that will embrace diversity.
Many organizations, such as the PGA of America, made statements that appeared to be an awakening of sorts, as leaders of these institutions finally confronted white privilege by condemning the murder and promising to continue to fight bigotry, practice honorable race relations and inclusiveness. In essence, many of these corporations were denying that racism is a part of their own culture, yet continue to practice the very sins and oppressive tactics towards Black people that they denounce publicly.
Wendell Haskins’ PGA of America Experience
Wendell Haskins, Chief Marketing Officer at The Professional Collegiate League (Basketball), worked for PGA of America’s executive team from 2014-17. He’s the founder and president of the Original Tee, a company that includes the Original Tee Clothing Brand and the Original Tee Golf Classic.
Haskins seeks to combine the worlds of golf, entertainment, fashion, and business, and as a result, his golf tournaments often feature golf-addicted celebrities and athletes. Prior to the Original Tee, he was an executive with Island Records’ Def Jam Recordings label.
Haskins says that statements made in the PGA of America’s open letter (https://lnkd.in/dXQqbNE) on racial protests prompted him to write an open letter sharing his personal experiences concerning race and the PGA during his tenure. Things that have festered inside of him, but he didn’t speak about until now.
In her statement, Suzy Whaley—the first female president of the PGA of America —mentions the fight against racism is one that cannot be ignored any longer.
It is my belief that humanity stems from kindness, faith and hope. But as I watch the continued injustice against African-Americans in our communities, the mass destruction and hopelessness, the frustration and the call for action in cities nationwide to stand for what is just and humane, I understand the power we have as a game and as a group of individuals that will no longer tolerate the racism and bigotry that lives today and has lived in our past,” Whaley said. “Our spaces can be used for good, to invite and welcome people from all walks of life and to rise up and say no more. Enough is enough.
CEO Seth Waugh confronted his own privilege as a white male in the letter, and further remarked that staying silent in this moment “on this existential question at this important moment is simply unacceptable.”
The outrage and disgust feel so universal this time, but we still need to take real action to make sure this makes us better, not worse,” Waugh said. “I do believe that we will get through this, that people are inherently good, that police kneeling with protesters and a surviving brother calling for peaceful demonstrations as what his late brother would want will ultimately carry the day.
Marginalizing Black Minds
Haskins shares a chronology of events in an open letter to the PGA of America, that paints a picture of the culture of the PGA that led to his departure, just three years after joining the organization.
When Pete Bevacqua first approached me with an opportunity to work for the PGA of America to join his executive team because of what I was doing with my own Original Tee Golf Classic, it was a rare opportunity and I couldn’t have been more excited for a chance to contribute to the game at the highest level.
Two things that Pete emphasized when he approached me were:
• that he was impressed with my network and wanted me to bring those relationships to the PGA of America, and;
• to produce and grow my Original Tee Golf Classic under the PGA umbrella.
In the wake of this current consciousness concerning the undeserved experiences of Black people, I just want to share with you what the experience was like for me as one of the very few Black executives to ever walk through the doors of the PGA of America to work there. As the son of a lifetime Urban League executive who has the purpose of equality and civil rights baked in my DNA, I find it necessary to share this with you in hope that it will help you in understanding the culture of your company and taking the courageous and necessary actions to make the PGA of America a truly diverse and inclusive organization.
When I saw the photo used in Golf World accompanying the article about the PGA making a statement on racial protests it only conjured up thoughts of my own experience while working for the PGA of America.
The relationship with Steph Curry was one that I relentlessly cultivated and initiated at the PGA of America, only to be denied the opportunity to do my job and close the deal myself.
There were myriad microaggressions, unscrupulous practices and instances where the PGA could have stepped up, stepped in or merely showed up to improve race relations and did not.
A bulleted chronology of what I experienced from January 2014 – September 2017:
- When I started at the PGA of America in 2014 as Sr. Director of Diversity I proposed that I pursue the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Charlie Sifford (golf’s Jackie Robinson and PGA member) as well as petition the board to induct him into the PGA of America Hall of Fame. This was to give Sifford the deserved recognition while he was alive and to create an opportunity for atonement and better relations between the PGA of America and the Black community.
- In November of 2014 no PGA of America leadership came to Washington D.C. to congratulate Charlie Sifford for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- Charlie Sifford was denied being expedited into the PGA of America Hall of Fame at 92 years old. My petition was denied by the board and Sifford ended up being inducted posthumously.
- My peer-supervisor directed one of my co-workers to blind copy her on all of her emails with me regarding the Sifford initiative. (Yes, my white coworker was kind enough to inform me)
- My peer-supervisor instructed me to return 12 complimentary Delta Travel certificates that I arranged through my relationship with a Delta Airlines Employee (who happened to be African American and my college alumni) to fly certain dignitaries that had written letters to the President, to attend my PGA private dinner congratulating Sifford. The people included Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Alonzo Mourning, Renee Powell, Pete McDaniel, Jesse Jackson, Ken Chenault and others. Subsequently, I was not approved to invite these guests and the dinner for Sifford was diminished to a humble gathering. My supervisor at the time emailed me saying, “if people weren’t going to the actual White House ceremony she didn’t see why anyone would be interested in attending a dinner for Sifford.”
- I was told that “this wasn’t a time to be trying to plan a party for my friends.”
- I was also told that I could not invite Dr. Calvin Sinnette to the dinner. Dr. Sinnette is the most formidable historian of African American golf, one of my inspirations and he lived in Washington D.C. My supervisor told me that Dr. Sinnette need not be there because PGA Historian, Bob Denney would be at the dinner. Sadly, Dr. Sinnette was not invited.
- PGA Professional Anthony G. Stepney who is African American wanted to collaborate with me to host a reception for Sifford at the Capitol Building hosted by Elijah Cummings and Jim Clyburn. Mr. Stepney had a budget of $50K towards the effort. I was forbidden to collaborate with Mr. Stepney on the occasion. He held the reception and I attended. As well did Bob Denny (PGA Historian) who said the entire experience was one the most rewarding of his career. My peer-supervisor was in DC that day but declined the invitation.
- My peer-supervisor also called my Delta contact to ask if I had returned the airline tickets. She never said a word to me about calling him, but of course he called me immediately and was flabbergasted. For the record, we used those tickets to fly in a few black golf students to attend the Capitol ceremony and meet Charlie Sifford. One of those students was Harold Varner who is now one of the few African Americans on the PGA Tour.
Varner is one of three African-Americans ranked in the Top 200 on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods and Cameron Champ are the others. Varner’s been somewhat thrust into the role of PGA spokesman on race in light of the George Floyd killing and massive protests that have ensued.
- In 2014 Ted Bishop was permanently ousted as PGA President for his Facebook comments stating that Ian Poulter “sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess”, meanwhile Donald Trump said he can “grab women by the pu@#y” and is awarded the organization’s major championship. This is dreadfully inconsistent with the organization’s stated values.
- Every black employee that I’m aware of that left the PGA around the time I was there did so with Non-Disclosure agreements and legal representation. There were three in total, from managerial to support roles.
- In 2014 the PGA Chief Legal Officer advised me to cancel my own Original Tee Golf Classic Tournament in New York and allowed no support. The tournament was in its 14th year and honoring Renee Powell (first Black female PGA member, former LPGA player and current PGA board member) that year. My sponsors were already The National Basketball Association, Pepsi, Delta Airlines, DICK’s and Mercedes-Benz to name a few. The OTGC celebrates the history of African Americans in golf. I did not follow that advice to cancel. That would have been the end of a great tradition in golf by the hands of the PGA of America.
*In the following year, in order to show support of my colleagues and hoping to gain the company’s involvement in my Original Tee Golf Classic, I contributed $10,000 dollars to PGA REACH under the condition that they would designate that money to The Bridge golf program in Harlem, NY to fund a Jr. League Golf Team. I was told they would be given $2,000 a year for five years. That expectation was not upheld by REACH.
- My former peer-supervisor went to my personal Twitter feed and told the PGA leadership that they needed to be cautious of me because I used offensive language in a tweet. I’d merely tweeted that a golfer went “ham” in a golf tournament. This was also divulged to me by my new supervisor in confidence.
- In September of 2015 the PGA pulled the PGA Grand Slam from Donald Trump and his course in California because of his controversial, racist remarks about Mexicans, yet still kept the company’s more highly regarded and valued PGA Championship at a Trump venue for an event that was 7 years away at the time. The PGA Championship is at Trump National Bedminster in 2022.
- In late 2015 I asked my friend Lamell McMorris to join the board of trustees for PGA REACH Foundation which he kindly did, only I was excluded from attending many of the key PGA functions that both he and I would have expected me to be present given my position and relationship. Sadly, there were no other PGA executives of color at these events. Mr. McMorris is still a trustee.
- In 2015 I arranged a meeting for the key representatives of the HBCU golf teams to meet with PGA leadership (COO, CCO) to have input on the future of the Minority Collegiate Championship. The coaches were driving to Florida from Alabama for the meeting. The COO canceled the day before the meeting and the Chief Championships Officer communicated that he was in Vegas and unable to attend. The coaches showed up in Florida and there was no meeting with PGA leadership.
- In 2016 I also recruited David Jones of CastleOak Securities to be the title sponsor of the Minority Collegiate Championship for $100,000 per year for three years. Business development and sponsorship was not my role but no one at the PGA was committed to secure sponsorship support, nor was it tied into their performance to find sponsors for this tournament. Had I not gotten sponsors there wouldn’t have been any at all. After the second year and numerous comments to me and the leadership, Mr. Jones felt that the event was not garnering the deserved attention from PGA leadership… Mr. Jones withdrew his third-year commitment and I was blamed. I recall the Chief Commercial Officer saying that “he’s acting like it’s a million dollars.”
- In 2016 I tapped NBA All-Star Chris Paul to do a “Thanks PGA Pro” commercial in a national campaign promoting the PGA professionals. The commercial featured Chris, his father and brother enjoying golf and fun banter with their PGA professional Jeremy Story at Sage Valley.
I was confused and disappointed when the Senior Director of Media didn’t want to release the commercial on Golf Channel because he felt it was “too different.”
- In September of 2016, I brought an incident that I experienced at the local Jupiter, public golf course named Abacoa to the attention of PGA of America leadership. A young white kid that worked at the golf course joined me as a twosome and I soon noticed his bag tag read “Young Nigga Wilson.” Upon further conversation, I learned that the moniker and tag was given to him by a PGA Professional because he/Ian Wilson was the rookie in the cart barn. Rather than make it a news story I took it to the PGA leadership to handle. I was told it would be addressed immediately and it never was.
Despite these slights, Haskins continued to work with the PGA, secure funding for events, try his best to build relationships with executives, represent the organization positively to media and the Black community and diversify a culture reluctant to step into the 21st century. The breaking point, however, occurred in 2017.
- In 2017 I pursued NBA Superstar Steph Curry for several months to be an ambassador for PGA Jr. League Golf. My friends at the NBA were gracious enough to invite me to the NBA Finals in Cleveland to introduce me to Steph. Steph and I met briefly after the game and agreed to connect when he became available after the NBA Finals. When Steph’s people called me to grant me the meeting, I informed our Chief Commercial Officer who directed me to reschedule the meeting because he wanted to attend but had a schedule conflict. Shortly after, the CCO called Curry’s agency and rescheduled the meeting for himself; without me. He closed the deal with Curry and Steph became an ambassador for PGA Jr. League. Since then they’ve held an event and raised $1,000,000 for REACH and Steph Curry’s Foundation which you attended as seen in the photo.
In light of these facts… I will provide my thoughts on what the PGA of America needs to do to make the PGA of America an organization that is truly diverse and inclusive with equal opportunities for employees of color.
These are some of my recommendations moving forward:
- Board: Create a new process for your board selection or structure that will require diversity. Your current process is not designed to be inclusive or welcome any women or minorities to your board in the foreseeable future. When Suzy Whaley’s tenure is over, it will lead to a future in which women and minorities likely will be underrepresented. Establish a Bill/Renee Powell Independent Board Seat for an independent board director that is designated to an African American board member. Inclusion begins when people of color are consistently contributing to your highest level of decision making. It’s time to rethink your process. It is not diverse or inclusive of black people. Understand that not seeing color in the room is a problem. And seeing one person of color in a room is also a problem.
- Show Some Atonement: Seth and Suzy your letters state that humanity stems from “Kindness, faith and hope” and that our country was conceived and built upon the concept of equality. That is true for white people. Black people were not even considered humans in early America so those tenets did not apply to us. Black people have to fight for basic human rights and civil rights continuously. The PGA of America’s Caucasian only clause wouldn’t even allow Blacks to play golf until 1962. You have to acknowledge these facts and show some kindness, faith and action to make golf a better industry.
- Lean In: Support some majority Black events, actually attend them and participate without leaving early. Invite more Black people to your own events and develop more understanding of Black culture. The Original Tee Golf Classic is a good one but the company continuously passed on the invitation. You’d be surprised at who you might meet.
- Hire Black Executives at HQ: Hire black executives or “a” black executive that controls a budget, has hiring power and has the authority to make decisions.
- Compensate Your Minority Employees Fairly: There aren’t any Black employees at the PGA of America HQ that earn a six-figure salary (with the exception of possibly one).
- Reinstate the PGA Post Graduate Diversity Program: This program attracted more Black people to become PGA professionals. Bring it back.
- Have Your Stated Company Values Match Your Actions: Diversity work is very difficult and virtually impossible for diversity executives to be successful when organizations don’t fully support it at the CEO/President level. It is also imperative that the organization be willing to make courageous and often difficult decisions that support the values of diversity and inclusion. Your black employees are often covering for you and preaching that things are getting better, advocating on behalf of the company. When you fail to uphold fundamental principles for any reason in the face of adversity your advocates look foolish and their credibility is diminished if not stripped completely.
- Tie Diversity Into Performance: Diversity requires setting goals, creating benchmarks and accountability. If there are no consequences for not meeting certain goals and expectations around diversity it’s pointless.
- Rename The Horton Smith Award – He was a racist.
- Establish ERG’s and MRG’s: Form Employee Resource Groups and Member Resource Groups and have your district Directors and PGA HQ leadership meet with them quarterly. Listen to what they have to say and what their recommendations are in order to improve race relations throughout your sections.
- Be Willing to Let Go of Bigots and Racist Members: The PGA of America was founded with racist and non-inclusive principles. There are still members who want to protect those doctrines. Don’t hesitate to take a stand and let them go.