Raquel Simpson started playing golf in Illinois when she was 9 years old.
She’d been playing for a few years when she caught the attention of Tiffany Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Black Girls Golf LLC. Fitzgerald told Raquel’s father about an opportunity to improve her golf game and learn more about the industry through a summer scholars program she was developing with Clemson University.
Two years later, Raquel was practicing her swing on Clemson’s campus.
“When I found out about the Clemson opportunity, I was really excited about the chance to be around people who both look like me and play the same sport as I do,” says Raquel. “My Dad signed me up and now I’m here, and everything is going really well.”
Raquel is one of fifteen African American high school students who improved their golf game and learned about golf management through Clemson University’s PGA Golf Management Summer Scholars program, run in partnership with Fitzgerald’s organization. The program began in 2017 to foster increased diversity in the golf industry, and to help students see they’re not alone in their love of the sport.
“We’ve created a safe space and environment where these girls can show up knowing they are welcome and don’t feel like they need to prove that they belong,” says Fitzgerald. “It warms my heart to know they’re creating new friends and bonding with people who have a shared experience.”
Students also spend the week learning the many benefits the game can offer them outside of physical activity. Classes students take between training sessions cover career paths, industry trends and opportunities, business planning, golf instruction and player development programs.
“The program is more than just golf, because we want these students to consider turning their passion for the sport into a management career in the golf industry,” says Rick Lucas, director of the PGA golf management program and senior lecturer in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department. “Teaching them key business skills, such as business planning and customer relations, can help them get a feel for managing and running a golf facility and how to work in the golf environment.”
Before they’re accepted into the program, students are required to demonstrate high academic achievement, as well as golf ability. Many of the students in this year’s program have GPAs over 3.5.
As awareness of the program grows, Fitzgerald says more applications are being seen from students across the country.
“We received 50 applications this year from girls as far away as California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, which demonstrates the need for this type of program throughout the United States,” says Fitzgerald. “The sweet spot for our camps is 10 participants at a time, which means that one of the vital pieces moving forward is going to be finding the resources and funding to continue to grow.”
Students receive scholarships from ONE Clemson to attend the program. After taking the program and seeing what Clemson has to offer, some of the students are expressing interest in pursuing their higher education at Clemson University. Additional scholarship support is now needed to help those students achieve that goal.
“These are exceptional students that have the potential to achieve great things in the golf industry if we can find them scholarship support,” says Lucas. “These students have already demonstrated they’re the best of the best, and we want them here at Clemson.”
If you would like to contribute to the Black Girls Golf program or fund a scholarship for one of these scholars to attend Clemson University’s PGA Golf Management program, please contact Rick Lucas at email@example.com.
Related: Clemson promotes diversity through golf camp for African-American girls (Clemson Newsstand, June 19, 2017)