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Pro and amateur golfers hope to entice Black kids with the game and its possibilities

Urban Golf of Greater St. Louis volunteer teaches children how to golf at the Highlands Golf Course in Forest Park.
Urban Golf of Greater St. Louis
An Urban Golf of Greater St. Louis volunteer teaches children how to golf at the Highlands Golf Course in Forest Park.

Jerome Harris picked up his first golf club at nearly 25 years old. He had a natural swing and wished he had been exposed to the sport as a child.

Golf taught Harris sportsmanship, discipline and honesty. Ten years later, he wants to help Black children learn about the game and the opportunities surrounding it.

His nonprofit Urban Golf of Greater St. Louis is bringing professional golfers and local college athletes to seven recreation centers in St. Louis beginning this September. Participants can learn the basics of golfing and caddying. They will also learn about golf course management, landscaping and course design.

Many Black children in St. Louis cannot easily gain access to golf courses because they are not members or cannot afford to play, said Harris, who is Black.

“We are not only exposing them to the game, but to solid relationships that will encourage them to pursue a sport that they probably wouldn't have,” he said.

He hopes the year-round program creates a pipeline of Black golfing professionals in St. Louis.

“If I was exposed to the game of golf as a kid early, who knows, I could have went to school on a full ride scholarship,” Harris said. “I probably would have been a PGA pro by now.”

Kids from kindergarten through high school can sign up for six-week courses that will rotate through Tandy, Buder, Cherokee, Wohl, 12th & Park, Gamble and Marquette recreation centers in St. Louis.

The program will provide equipment for children to practice their swings and their stance. Participants also will take trips to local golf courses to watch athletes and others play, learn about the course and practice playing golf with their group instructors.

Besides teaching the basics of golf, program volunteers also will expose kids to other career opportunities in the sport.

Harris said he would not have been able to afford to play golf as a child because lessons can typically run about $100 per hour.

Professional golfer Christian Heavens of St. Louis was introduced to golf by his grandfather, who bought him his first set of golf clubs for his first birthday. Heavens, who is Black, said having accomplished golfers teach children in the program will develop their skills and help them have success on the golf course.

“The thing with golf is, you can't just do it in your backyard like basketball or football, you have to go to golf courses and most of those golf courses aren't in the neighborhoods that these kids are accustomed to or have access to getting into,” said Heavens, 33.

He hopes introducing children to golf will get them excited about the sport’s possibilities and spark their interest in college golf scholarships.

“Taking the game and taking these opportunities to them [Black children] is one of the more important things that we can do to increase diversity in the game of golf,” Heavens said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.