Driving Change: Golf's Battle For Equality

Driving Change: Golf's Battle For Equality

With the US Women's Open taking place at Trump National this month, Sarah Mulkerrins travels to the US to examine the history of women's involvement in the sport.

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I got a threat letters in my life. I couple of times they tried to run me


off the highway as I was driving. I really did feel like my life was in


danger. Growing up, golf was not for us. You look like you don't play


golf. What is the local golf? As far as they were concerned, we are


trash, so that's all we deserve. Golf, for many it is a hobby, The


Sun career, but not so long ago if you were black or a woman it wasn't


even an option. In the USA until 1961 professional golfers


Association had a Caucasian only clause. Until then black players had


to play in their own events. For women, their first players


association was set up in 1950, yet it was only in 2014 and one of the


oldest clubs in the world, the Royal and Ancient, voted to admit female


members. So how far has the sport come in embracing race and gender


diversity? William J Powell, or Bill as he was known, was born the


grandson of slaves in Alabama in 1916. He moved to Ohio in a teenager


and play golf at his school and college. In 1946 he returned from


serving in the US Air Force during the Second World War. But he was


banned from the all-white public courses in the area. With the world


of golf all the closed to William Powell, he had his own vision, a


course open to all. In the 1940s this was an old dairy farm. He spent


two years working at night as a security guard, and by day he hand


seeded this course. In 1948 is opened. William Powell was a


pioneer, and he was watched on by his daughter Renae. My first members


of the' -- memories of heading golf clubs were with my dad, I was around


four years old and was hitting golf balls and trying to hit them down to


where the creek was, the water. This is a picture of my mum and dad. This


was number three green, that comes down here. We're standing on the


first tee, and behind us is number three green. Your mum play golf? By


Monday, my dad got us all involved in the game. My mum used to tease,


she would say that when I was a little girl I used to run out and


play and she would say, Colback in! And then I just continue to play the


game. The LPGA had not started and mighty and 50 four stop I joined the


Tour in 1967. At that time there were a lot of tensions in our


country. Sometimes we were going to restaurants and it would serve


everybody but me. And my remit on Tour, a Canadian pro, a few years


ago she said, I used to wonder why would go to restaurants and they


would serve their body else but us. I said, Sandra I didn't want to tell


you it was because you were a Canadian, I didn't want you to feel


bad! But things like that. I remember going home crying telling


my parents the first time I got a threat letter I thought they would


tell me to come home and they didn't! I thought, evidently they


don't think somebody is quick to jump out from behind a tree and


shoot me. Is that letters were saying? They were just say, dear N,


he better not play if you know what is good for you. I went out a


director and shot in the letters and he said, there is nothing we can do


about it. Cos I really thought something would happen. But it


didn't. One of the great players, and Hall of Famer 's, I had walked


into the Wattel and the lost my reservation, and Cathy said, we all


stay, we all walk. Those individuals knew me before I joined the Tour,


and everybody... I had no problems with players on the Tour, it was the


outside. She was there in the heart of racism and discrimination. And


you see that kind of thing had just become institutionalised in this


country, because even the country set of laws against us. I had some


inkling of probably the challenges that she would have had, but you


never got a hint of that from her. She never talked about it until you


fully set down and had a real heart-to-heart discussion. It was


not something she would ever show, that that was part of her history or


even her father's history. I admired her spirit, but she was able to stay


out there, because I'm aware of the cruelty that Shakespearean. -- that


she experienced. I thought about summoning people that came before me


and I always felt strongly that we stand on the shoulders of those who


came before us. There were people who did so much to allow others, to


give others freedom. Helen Webb Harris was one of those who paved


the way. A schoolteacher and wife of a doctor, she was tired of staying


at home while her husband played golf, so Helen, along with 12


friends, founded their ladies club in 1937. The first African-American


women's golf club in the USA. The only place they could play was a


three hole golf course down at the mosh and in Monument. -- the


Washington monument. And they were taunted by white teenagers. They


threw rocks at them. And they were called names and all kinds of


things. But they persisted. The battle began here in Washington, DC.


80 years ago this was a rubbish dump, full of broken glass, rusty


tins and old tyres. The ladies were campaigning for the desegregation of


public golf courses, but in 1938 they were given this. They were


collecting trash on this course, and even when they built the course they


had to play over the last bottles and cans. It's not so bad to me that


it was put on a crash dump, we should have tried to take away the


trash. But you see, as far as they were concerned, we were trash, so


that's all we deserved. It was a dump, but they embraced that dump


and they were going to make it their own, and they came out here with


much pride and conviction to make this work for them. The Wake-Robin


ladies continue to push for the opening of courses in Washington,


DC, and in 1941 the district confirmed they would do so. Their


battle for equality and then just there. They were also part of the


movement to force the PGA to drop its whites only rule, which it did


in 1961. Knowing where it started, all the historical individuals had


come through this course, and I think I probably went by Langston


many times before becoming a member of Wake-Robin, and not fully knowing


all the history of Langston. My name is Elizabeth Rice McNeill. I have


been in clubs 60 years. I came to Washington, DC from Pennsylvania. I


lived with my auntie, she took me to church, and the church I went to was


Sarah Smith's church, and she was a golfer. I went to her house to a


meeting, and she had a big piano with these huge trophies on it. And


I was fascinated by that. So we got a bunch of young girls together and


reformed a little club. We had about 18 young girls who started out


playing golf. I had never heard of golf before. I got hooked on it.


Elizabeth Rice McNeill isn't unique individual or brown. -- she is a


unique individual. Is it right you have six holes in one. I have six


holes and one in my golfing career. That's phenomenal! It is, it is. We


don't have any weak women in this club. We have had good, principled


women, good leaders, who have kept this club going all these years.


Eight decades after that first meeting, inclusion and support are


still at the heart of their mission. The Helen Webb scholarship honours


the memory of their founder by supporting young woman dreaming of


turning professional. As a young female trying to play, it is


difficult because there aren't that many, especially African-Americans.


It tears me apart that there really aren't any, and just not what


happened between the time of Renee and on. They kept pursuing even when


it was tough, and that's what I'm trying to do, as hard as I can.


These ladies just helped me so much. In 1962 tennis great day Gibson


became the first African-American woman to complete any LPGA Tour.


Powell followed in 1967. It took another 28 years for the next black


player to arrive in 1995. Since then others, most recently Mariah


Stackhouse, have all made it. Eight African-American women in six to


seven years. -- 67 years. There are situations where you feel genuinely


uncomfortable and you feel you need to get out of that situation. People


staring at you, wondering whether you work there come a not golfing in


the adjournment, or asking where you are from. I get the occasional, "Are


you Tiger Woods' Nice?" It's not that they don't mean to be


discriminating or rude or anything, but sometimes people will think just


because you are African-American... But thankfully I am in a generation


where it is not too horrible as to what Renee had to go through all


those years ago. It makes me stride. I believe it has a long way to go,


because still I go into a store and I have a golf outfit on, and you


meet people that say," I didn't know that minorities play golf. You look


like you don't play golf." Well, what is the look of golf? You're


right, it is a male, Caucasian dominated sport. And I think that


right now it is getting better, which is inclusion. That's the big


thing. Inclusion and having access to the game. And not just getting


started, but continuing to have the opportunity to go ahead and think,


you know what? I want to do this professionally. It works out, great,


if not, I will work on the golf industry. It is getting better, to


slow progress, but it is progress. Playing out here with a course that


is so much history, and playing with Renee, it is so inspiring to me.


Every time I see her and the others, Sadena Parks, Mariah Stackhouse and


the others, it is great to be around them because first off there are


great people, they have great characters, and we all have


something in common. Being the next one to make it onto. In 2015 Renee


Powell was again making history. After the break through to allow


female members into the Royal and Ancient, she was one of the first


women to be invited. To me it is the highest honour one can ever get, the


Old Course! The Royal and Ancient, with golf began, right there! To be


one of the first seven women that was selected from around the entire


world was absolutely amazing. And to me also it was a win in a sense for


women. It was a win for African-Americans and my family. So


when I actually walked through the door as a bonus ID member, it was


like all these other women were walking with me and my whole family


was going with me. It's just amazing. I'm so appreciative of that


membership. But it is all due to all the sacrifices that my family had to


make to be a part of something that is real history, and the fact that


it was your family or your parents let me that history, yeah. And I'm


the one that really gets a chance to benefit from it. On the face of it,


golf has come a long way to ridding itself of the explicit barriers


towards minorities and women. But how many implicit barriers remain?


Let's say you managed to play the sport as a youngster and perhaps go


to college scholarship was Mike you're good enough, so you look to


make it a career in turn professional. How difficult is that?


For high near Alvarez, it proved very tough. For me personally it was


a struggle just to find sponsors. That was one main reason that I


decided to stop playing was because I was just exhausted of having to


ask people for money. I had played decent, I had finished third at a


European Tour event of the year, I had made the cut at the US Open, so


I felt like I had proved myself as a player in many regards where I was


hoping that someone would take a chance on me, and I was barely just


covering my expensive. It is several thousand dollars a year just for


entry fees. And then you are looking at paying your caddy, up to $2000 a


week, and then flights, rental cars, hotels if you cannot find post


housing. It can range from 50,000 a year from just the expenses itself


-- up to $75,000 a year. And that puts much pressure on it took away


the joy of playing because I was constantly worrying how to pay for


the next element. If I don't pay well, how will I pay rent? How will


I live outside my golf expenses? And I just decided from a mental health


and well-being it was better to step away from it rather than put myself


into debt as I know others had done. In 2016 15 female golfers earned


over $1 million in prize money on the LPGA Tour. 110 male golfers


crossed that mark on the PGA Tour. The biggest chance of earnings comes


in the Majors. Combined, the offer $17.8 million in prize money, with


the US women's open offering the largest amount. This year it has


increased to $5 million in total that is one of the most important


events of the year. 80 years after Helen Webb Harris founded the first


black women's golf club in the USA, the oldest major for women's, the US


Open, is being criticised for being healthier. We are at Trump National


in New Jersey, owned by Donald Trump. There have been calls to have


the major mover boycotted because of his rubber tree comments towards


women and minorities. -- his derogative comments. I know some


people didn't want it there, and it was a really tough decision. There


was a lot of backlash against it, and distillers. Understandably so


because a lot of people are justifiably upset it is being held


there. The fact they say they can have this event at a Trump course


because they are apolitical and because Trump is not technically


violating the rules that they have established about eligibility for


holding tournaments and that is that the course does not have


discriminatory policies or practices against minorities and women, and I


maintain that what Trump has done and said violates the spirit of the


rule. In response, the US golf Association told us that column :


The Association also wanted to pay tribute to Renee Powell, a pioneer


of inclusion in the sport. When you look at women's sport in general,


controversy seems to be the driving factor of one coverage is given, and


this is something that is going to take away from just focusing on that


playing of that week because it will be a huge part of the discussion


that this is Donald Trump's course and what that means, that it was


held at his golf course. It is becoming a very political issue that


I know a lot of players wish it had not become. If you're struggling to


keep your Tour card at that point and you're in the open, and you are


dead last in the list, you have to do what you have to do. You've got


to eat! That's the simplest way to say it. You have to look out for


yourself, and at that moment make sure that you are still going to be


will to live your dream. The battles for some continue, but now there is


a generation enabled and inspired by Helen Webb Harris and the Wake-Robin


ladies, by Bill and Renee Powell, their vision and determination to


open up the world of golf. I didn't have somebody to be inspired by that


looked just like me. All I watched was Tiger Woods. I feel that is


great for young kids know that they have some girls to look up to that


are still young and later down the load, maybe 30 years from now, they


will be following in her footsteps. Our own governing bodies don't tell


stories, and in fact, they suppress a lot of history. Stories of people


are coming, stepping up, doing what's right. Making sure these kind


of important stories about golf and about the evolution of golf need to


be told. Until we get the numbers up within the organisations of current


golf, I don't think it's going to change romantically. Because I think


a lot of things start from the top. Look at the Board of Directors of


all the golf organisations, and they are mostly old white men. We need to


be in those positions to actually advocate for change. But they are


not asking us to be on the board, asking their bodies to be on the


board with them. And as a result, not much changes. I truly feel that


everybody should play golf. It is such an incredible sport and I have


gained from it. We want the world to know what we are capable of. And not


be denied their God-given rights that we all have.


Cloudy and damn picture across many parts on


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