The Ladies Professional Golf Assn. does not have a black player on its tour; the PGA Tour has only two black players, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe, and there are four black players on the Senior PGA Tour.
Only two black women, one of whom was former tennis star Althea Gibson at 63, even attempted to qualify for the LPGA tour last month.
One reason, perhaps the most significant, for the lack of black golfers is that there is no base of black and other minority players from which to develop championship-caliber prospects. According to the National Golf Foundation, only 2.8% of all golfers are black.
Working quietly toward changing those figures, although not necessarily to create tournament players, the LPGA, with funding from the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, has developed a pilot program in Los Angeles and Orange counties designed to introduce golf to disadvantaged youths of all backgrounds. If it proves workable, and after two years it appears working, it will be adapted for use in other metropolitan areas of the country.
"Last year, we introduced 250 youngsters to golf, youngsters who otherwise might never have had the opportunity, and this year we expect to do the same for more than 320 others," said Andree Martin, who was hired by the LPGA to develop the program.
"Our numbers are limited only by our playing and teaching sites. We are working at four locations--El Segundo driving range, Griffith Park driving range, Newport Beach golf course and Victoria Park in Carson--at the moment, but we hope to expand next year, perhaps to Montebello or Whittier Narrows."
The ethnic ratio is 42% black, 31% Latino, 24% Caucasian--of which 90% are female--and 3% Asian. The ages are 7 to 17.
"The neighborhoods we have been working with are mostly black and Hispanic, which accounts for the balance," Martin said. "If we get Montebello in the fall, it will increase our Asian figure. Tommy Camacho, the head professional there, has a real desire to help, as he is formerly an inner-city youth himself."
The Western States Golf Assn., a black golfers' organization in 11 states, helps recruit players from Watts, Compton, Inglewood and South Central Los Angeles for the El Segundo and Victoria Park sites. Maggie Hathaway, director of golf at the Jack Thompson county course in Jesse Owens Park, also is a major recruiter. For several years, Hathaway has conducted her own junior golf programs at the Thompson course.
The Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks brings players from housing projects in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and other communities to take lessons at pro Tom Barber's Griffith Park range.
Newport Beach is for girls only, with the Newport Mesa Girls Club furnishing youngsters from single-parent and foster families in Orange County.
"For some reason, girls seem to be a minority when it comes to junior golf, and we hope to change that," Martin said. "We don't know why, but nationally only 18% of junior golfers are girls. Our ratio, thanks to the help from the Newport Mesa Girls Club, is only 55-45 in favor of boys."
There are no lesson fees, and if a youngster does not have clubs and golf balls or cannot afford them, they are provided free through a grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation.
"Our main purpose is to help underprivileged youngsters build self-esteem, to provide a positive environment so that they want to come back," Martin said. "We want them to have fun, but more important, we want them to have self-esteem. With the environmental background of most of these kids, that point of self-esteem cannot be overemphasized."
More than just swinging a club or sinking a putt is taught by the LPGA and PGA professionals. Golf etiquette and rules are also stressed, along with how to keep up with play on a course.
"We want to give them as much (of) a golfing environment as possible, but within their limitations," Martin said. "Our program is in six-week increments with a series of six one-hour lessons, plus time available for them to work on what they learn. At the end of the six weeks, one of our pros takes them on a course for a final evaluation.
"If they have enough aptitude to play, we issue them a course access card so they can play at places such as par-three courses at Alondra Park or Jack Thompson or a nine-hole course at El Segundo. If they aren't ready for a course, we encourage them to take another series of lessons. Those that show they are particularly adept, we give them access to a higher level of courses--full-sized facilities like Griffith Park, Westchester, Chester Washington (formerly Western Avenue), Alondra Park or Victoria Park."
To avoid conflict with regular play and to not interfere with school, the lessons at El Segundo are at night and at the other sites between 4 and 6 p.m.
Martin, the project director, was a golfer at the University of South Florida whose hopes for a professional career were cut short by injuries. She was involved with golf manufacturing when she was recruited for the pilot program by Kerry Graham, LPGA national teaching division president.
"It has been an uplifting experience for me to watch the enthusiasm of the youngsters as they develop," Martin said. "We have one 14-year-old, Leroy Bates, who takes four buses to get from his home in Inglewood to the lessons. He tells us he wants to be the next Tiger Woods."
Woods, also 14, is a black player from Cypress who has won five Junior World championships and was runner-up last month to a 17-year-old in the PGA National Junior Championships.
Next week, all the youngsters in the program will be guests of the LPGA at the $325,000 MBS tournament at Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park. The tournament will start on Sept. 20 and run through Sept. 23.
"It should be a wonderful experience for all of them to watch the professionals play, especially for the young girls," Martin said. "We are arranging transportation and have tickets, so I hope all of them will make it."
The program is being financed this year through a grant of $165,000 from the Amateur Athletic Foundation. The money is used for course and range access, equipment purchases, administrative fees, salaries, range balls, storage of equipment and a nominal fee for the golf professionals.
"The kids will continue to play until the end of the year, or until we run out of dollars," Martin said.
The 72-hole MBS LPGA tournament at Los Coyotes will be preceded by two pro-ams, one for women only next Monday and the other, a celebrity pro-am honoring Jim Murray, The Times' columnist, on Sept. 19. Among the celebrities entered are James Garner, Chuck Connors, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Claude Akins and Mac Davis. . . . Magic Johnson and many of his basketball friends, including Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Bill Russell and Bill Sharman, will play Monday at Riviera Country Club in Johnson's golf tournament. It is a fund-raiser for the American Heart Assn. Helping Johnson as greeter will be Andria Coffman, 8, who received a heart transplant last year.
Veteran senior professional Billy Casper will conduct his 16th annual clinic and invitational tournament Tuesday at Anaheim Hills to benefit Brigham Young University's athletic fund and the missionary service of the Mormon church. Former baseball star Ernie Banks will participate. . . . The recently organized Mini-Tour Golf Assn., headed by Alfred Laurence Zamora of San Diego, will hold a $60,000 event next Monday through Sept. 19 at Soboba Springs CC in San Jacinto, followed by a $50,000 tournament Oct. 8-10 at Sandpiper GC in Goleta. . . .
Hoot Whitaker, 73, head professional at the Eaton Canyon county course for 28 years and a PGA member for 35, died last week of cancer. . . . Bill Barringer shot a 75 to win the Mountain Gate CC seniors championship.