Catch The Flying Tiger

African American interest in golf is growing rapidly, but how do we profit from the windfall?

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It’s only been five months since Tiger Woods set the world on its ear by demolishing his competition at the Master’s tournament at Augusta, Georgia. Woods won the event by 12 strokes and set a new course record at golf’s premier event. He also set in motion a marketing behemoth that has transformed the 21-year-old into a celebrity and icon.

But that victory and his current status as golf’s golden child have together created high expectations. The belief is Woods’ youth, good looks and urban appeal will not only propel blacks toward golf in record numbers but also increase the overall allure of both the game and its products to youth across the board, literally transforming the face of the sport.

Woods is getting paid for his accomplishments. His professional winnings worldwide have topped a record $2 million in the year since he turned pro. Add that to another $80 million in endorsements and Woods is on a serious roll toward a hole in one. But can his professional success help expand avenues for black entrepreneurs within the industry, where the real green is made away from the course?

“Tiger has created a great deal of excitement and exposure for the game within the minority community. But that’s not necessarily going to equate into profit dollars for minority entrepreneurs,” says Herschel Caldwell, publisher of Minority Golf magazine, which chronicles the growing number of black golfers in the United States.

Tiger Woods aside, golf is a multibillion-dollar industry that is growing in popularity. While it’s a game and business that has traditionally been closed to blacks, industry insiders agree there are growing opportunities for career advancement and entrepreneurial endeavors, whether it’s in apparel, equipment or providing ancillary services for golf tournaments.

As blacks’ interest in the game grows, the hope is that large golf corporations will be forced to expand their sales, public relations, marketing and, ultimately, upper management staff to reach out to a diversifying consumer base. For those looking for career paths, the biggest challenge may no longer be in simply getting into the industry, but in determining how to exploit the opportunities once on the inside.

For entrepreneurs, the key is having a hot product or service to offer in a field already dominated by players like Titleist and Nike. “You also have to have deep pockets and a genuine interest in the game,” says Bill Dickey, founder and president of the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association in Phoenix. Dickey has followed the growing black involvement in golf over several decades and believes more African Americans playing will translate into more blacks working within the industry. “But I think it will take time for that to happen,” he says. “And to make it work, you have to find a way to build a better mousetrap.”

According to a 1994 study by the National Golf Foundation (NGF), there are 676,000 African American golfers comprising 2.7% of the 24.7 million that play the game annually, almost double the number of blacks playing 10 years ago.

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