Color & Golf

By: Jeff Shelley

Even though most of us know otherwise, golf has been regarded for decades as a white (and rich) man's and woman's game. That stereotype is, of course, dead wrong, and the world's most cross-culturally advanced sport continues to prove it. Golf now has excellent players of all skin colors, many with modest, non-country club roots. With his African-American and Thai lineage, Tiger Woods, the biggest and wealthiest star in any sport in the world, clearly evinces that.

While Mexico's Lorena Ochoa has taken the LPGA Tour to a new paradigm, men like Sergio Garcia, Angel Romero, Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim have drawn international respect for their skills, class, work ethic and dizzying abilities.

I could ramble on about the Korean-ization of the LPGA, a Far East influence that is at the tip of a future iceberg. Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens got into hot water recently by instituting an ill-advised policy calling for Koreans and other foreign-born members to learn English in two years or face possible suspension.

I'm not saying Bivens' motivation was xenophobic. But I know it didn't go over well with people of all colors in and out of golf.

I also understand the Chinese are getting into the game. With a population projected to reach 1.4 billion by 2010, imagine the number of potential champions that country's "athletic machine" will be introducing to the competitive scene for generations to come.

Golf is not monochromatic now and probably never has been. The game's contemporary polyglot nature is irrefutable, and perhaps inevitable. I may be taking another wild hack here, but those Middle Ages' Scottish shepherds certainly didn't care who specifically would be crazy enough to try the exasperating task of whacking a small ball into a rabbit hole on some field out in the middle of nowhere.

So here we are in fall 2008: Americans in a watershed election year with a man of color in line to become our next President. For the next four years - a stretch of time that will take me from a past-prime 58 to a potentially doddering 62, a black man bearing an Islamic-sounding name could be my leader.

No suspense from this side of the fairway (though my ball will probably be along the left since I've been fighting a nasty hook). I'm ready for a change and will embrace it. After all, America's steamrolling election process is here to stay and, since we're in the realm of golf, let's play this round in November 2008 and see how we do.

Folks around the world recognize America as a melting pot, one that through some crazy cosmic circumstances - and a democratic form of government with laws that prohibit discrimination - actually encourages hard-working emigrants to succeed as citizens. This wonderful nation is, essentially, the only place on our shrinking Earth that allows such a dynamic.

We should be proud of our diversity. Our motley skin palette and regional dialects make America very unusual, a factoid the Bush administration has repeatedly sought to marginalize. (As a taxpayer, are you happy having paid for an ineffectual multi-billion-dollar fence along our Mexican border? Here's something to chew on: In the past 20 years the U.S. has experienced its largest influx of immigrants since the early 1900s, the vast majority of which are coming from Spanish-speaking countries. The latest census figures show that by 2050 the number of Hispanics - from various nations - in the U.S. will nearly triple, to 133 million, and represent one-third of the nation's total population. Do you really think a fence will make a difference?)

A remarkable mix of peoples (and I haven't even mentioned blond-haired Swedes!) has won dozens of golf tournaments in recent years. These victories have been notched by folks with the guts and skills to beat the very best in the world.

That makes golf the perfect mate for this platitude: "If you work hard and practice enough, regardless of how you look, you'll succeed." This is certainly the way it is today in the good old U.S. of A., and I'm proud to be part of it.

Many foreign-born players recognize this as they continue moving to our country to avail themselves of the best golf instructors and courses. That won't be changing soon. There simply aren't tall enough fences to keep everyone out.

America, more than ever - golf and otherwise - is still the place to be, where acceptance and accomplishment link hand in hand.

Let's celebrate it, meeting on the first tee and finding that simple common ground: our handicaps and unrequited love of the game. Golf is better for the opportunity.

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