Golf needs to address its culture problem


For years, the PGA Tour and other golf bodies have stressed “growing the game” as one of their primary initiatives. In 2019, the United States Golf Association and the R&A made historic rule changes for this exact purpose. 

The PGA Tour and LIV Golf rivalry involves a similar situation, where two competing professional sports leagues provide different structures for golfers, trying to “grow the game” amongst fans. This had led to several changes, all in the attempt to entice players and make the game more popular. 

In every move, it seems these governing bodies and leagues view that golf’s inaccessibility problems are caused by the game itself. This deflects the blame away from the true problem — the game’s culture. 

There are around 15,000 golf courses in the United States — an estimated 11,300 of those are public and almost 3700 are private, about a 75:25 split. 

Looking at that, you would think golf is relatively accessible. But public is an inaccurate term. The famed Pebble Beach Golf Links is public, but it’ll cost every player at least $595 to play a full round. Even locally, golf courses predominantly charge above $50 for their green fees

That in itself, not to mention the exorbitant cost of golf clubs and other equipment, instills a high degree of classism within the sport. Additionally, many public courses impose dress codes, further alienating potential players. 

Private golf courses are the esteemed venues of the golfing world (such as places like Augusta National and Oakmont) yet they are behind closed doors that hide significant historical problems. 

Racism and misogyny are historically rooted at these places. Augusta National, the site of the Masters Tournament, first invited a Black player to compete in 1975 (Lee Elder), didn’t allow Black men to join until 1990 and first permitted women as members in 2012. Augusta National’s founder, Clifford Roberts, was attributed to saying “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be Black.” 

This is the story of private golf courses across the country. They may not be as explicit in their racism or misogyny as Augusta National, but the exclusion remains. Connecticut College’s president was recently forced to resign after planning a visit to the Everglades Club, a club alleged to be racist and antisemitic to this day

Does the PGA Tour mention Augusta National’s historic racism and misogyny before the Masters? 

No, they do not. 

With the current power structures that country clubs hold over the golf world, the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, USGA and R&A are not incentivized to address these historical problems, nor do they likely want to admit to them publicly. 

With these country clubs being the training grounds for elite golfers, it’s no wonder that in 2020, only four of the PGA Tour’s 267 members were of Black heritage. The game itself has a culture of exclusion. 

But even still, golf has problems beyond exclusion based on class, race and gender. Water usage is an issue, especially with droughts increasing due to climate change. While citizens and public works are limiting water usage out in the West, golf courses are still running without limitations

Despite these issues, golf can be a positive game. It’s an individual sport that teaches patience and responsibility through its structure. Though the game has environmental impacts, it’s a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. It’s a game that deserves to be accessible for everyone. Though as long as golf leaders avoid addressing the historical and truly present exclusion at country clubs, the harmful culture will remain. 

The PGA Tour, USGA, R&A and figures in the golf community need to speak out on these issues. Continuing to deflect onto the structure of the sport itself ultimately serves no purpose. 

If these institutions truly want to “grow the game,” they need to admit to the game’s historical racism, misogyny and classist exclusion. 


  1. Golf comes in so many forms. And it’s hyper local — in that it often can mirror its local area.
    And it’s painfully obvious that this is the lens this writer is looking through, having grown up in CT and attended a high school that is 85% white. This, by the way, is FAR less diverse than overall golf participant base in the U.S.

    So, yes, if your breadth of experience is CT private clubs or a handful of the private clubs on TV… well, that’s all you know.
    Sadly, he perpetuates a myth that — on a national level — simply isn’t true to the extent he portrays it.
    And hopefully his world view changes with age and seeing beyond his bubble.
    Visit one of the municipal courses in Los Angeles and see how the diverse participant base very much looks like the community.
    Go to some of the historic courses in Detroit and see what the golfer population looks like…

    I’m sure this was an attempt at an opinion piece with an intended diversity angle, but it falls disappointingly flat.

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