Race and golf: Four BAME golfers discuss their experiences in the sport

Race and golf: Four BAME golfers discuss their experiences in the sport

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 focussed. 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 and 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 onto 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."

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