The Color Green

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Friday, May 5, 2006

When Hercules O. Pitts bought Lake Arbor Golf Club in Mitchellville last year, he acquired more than a course needing major rehab. He also became the only African American course owner in the area, and one of just a handful in the United States.

Lake Arbor is in a handsome residential neighborhood, one of many that make Prince George's the nation's richest county with an African American majority.

The course had been largely neglected for several years before Pitts, 60, bought it; the greens were spotty and the bunkers filled with mud. A former general contractor who converted apartments into condos, Pitts sees Lake Arbor as a rehab with upside potential.

David Betancourt talked to Pitts about the course, the golf business, and the role of African Americans in a sport whose success in attracting a diverse audience is steady -- but very slow.

Is the golf business more open to you due to Tiger Woods's bringing minorities to the game?

That's a double-edged question. I think yes, it has. [But] I don't think Tiger Woods would have made me buy the course any more or any less. I think what made me buy the course was a business proposition more so than a color.

But here we are in the middle of the largest, the richest, the most prosperous black community in the world, and yet there was not a minority golf course owner in Prince George's County.

How can you reach Prince George's residents who play elsewhere?

Some of those folks I'll never get here to join Lake Arbor. I guess association with [more upscale] clubs makes them more affluent in their eyes. There are going to be some folks that are going to live in Lake Arbor but always play someplace else. I can't make them play at Lake Arbor. I want to make sure the amenities at Lake Arbor are just as good, if not better, than any other course you put us up against.

Do you have First Tee or other programs to get minority kids into golf?

Yes, but not First Tee. We don't have any association with the PGA [which operates the national First Tee program] right now. To tell you the truth, I don't know why they have not stepped up to greet the minorities in this field a little more. I guess my expectation as a minority in the dealings with the PGA has been disappointing.

ยท For audio of an extended interview, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/swing.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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