“This is going to go way beyond the game of golf, and way beyond Howard,” Curry said, and it didn’t sound outlandish. “This is huge.”
Tuesday morning, though, Curry will be gone. The people of Langston will remain.
“This,” Ray Savoy said, “this could be uplifting.”
Savoy is 76, a District native who began working at Langston 30 years ago. Five years later, he helped start the Langston Junior Boys and Girls Golf Club. Curry’s commitment to this new Howard golf program was both jarring and genuine, but he has a day job with the Golden State Warriors and other pursuits too numerous to name. On the ground will be people such as Savoy, working daily to diversify a game that can seem unrelentingly, overwhelmingly and prohibitively white.
“Our whole challenge,” Savoy said, “is to get the kids here.”
He is saying this in 2019, but he would have said the same thing in 2009 or 1999. Every prospective youth golfer today has grown up in the era of Tiger Woods. But 22 years after the first of Woods’s 15 major championships — his historic victory at the 1997 Masters, bookended with April’s win at Augusta — there is but one other African American golfer on the PGA Tour. Can you name him? Harold Varner III. Count Cameron Champ, who’s biracial, and Woods, who’s multiracial, and you could still argue the pre-Woods days, with black stars such as Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete, were at least as diverse as the current generation.
That’s not only not okay. It’s unsettling.
Tennis can seem just as exclusionary, yet Frances Tiafoe and Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff provide young African Americans with contemporary role models. Golf? Golf has been having the same discussion around the same issue for decades, but with a more sinister underpinning: The sport has a past that was at best actively exclusionary and at worst outright racist. Places such as Langston and people such as Savoy work against that every day, but it’s there.
“The face of this game has to change if it’s going to grow,” Pete Bevacqua, then the president of the PGA of America, said just last summer. “It needs to look more like the face of America.”
What Curry is doing with Howard — luring Callaway to provide equipment, getting Under Armour to outfit the team, forking over his own cash to establish a coaching staff, on and on — is impressive on its own merits and will benefit current and future Howard students. But what if the kids who play golf and attend clinics and practice at Langston suddenly have heroes — older, college-age heroes who look like they do — working alongside them?
“Golf competes with so many sports, especially in the cities,” said Clint Sanchez, executive director of the First Tee of Greater Washington, D.C. “Golf’s not basketball. It’s not football. It’s still a sport that isn’t looked at as accessible. That’s why we’re in existence. The [HBCU] in D.C. now will have a golf team? That could be awesome. There could be a tie-in to those college kids who could be mentors to our kids.”
Sanchez’s group serves some 1,700 kids across the DMV, but Langston, where it works alongside Savoy’s program, is its original site and remains its second largest, with more than 250 kids enrolled in a year-round program. It has produced four kids who either are or will be competing in golf at HBCUs, including Lauren Artis, who will play on a full ride at Hampton this fall. Savoy’s program has issued scholarships, ranging from $500 to $2,500, every year since 1995.
These are success stories. There just aren’t enough of them. So when Curry says what was announced Monday will go “way beyond the game of golf, way beyond Howard,” he may be speaking about the example his gesture could make nationally, reminding a broad array of people about the values golf helps instill: integrity, accountability, etc. That makes sense. Savoy, though, doesn’t work anywhere else but Washington. Steph Curry, NBA superstar, could make an impact on grass-roots golf in the District.
“Steph Curry is a winner,” Savoy said, “and being a winner can create a multitude of avenues that could be opened up to a young person from here. With him coming out and being present and taking part in all of this and giving us publicity — it’s important. Very, very important.”
That this is happening at Langston is just the cherry. Few courses — not just in D.C., but anywhere — have as rich and strong of a history with African American golf as the public track off Benning Road NE. Yeah, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda has hosted U.S. Opens and has both a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup in its future. Sure, TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm is a perfectly fine PGA Tour venue. Yes, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County has hosted the Presidents Cup. But those facilities, they’re all “clubs” — and any club not only requires admission, but by definition involves exclusion.
Give me a tee time at Langston and an egg sandwich off the Langston grill, where there’s breakfast all day. Steph Curry won’t be there, and that’s just fine, because he’s done enough.
Ray Savoy will be there, though. And so will his kids. Pretty soon, because of a one-name basketball superstar, those kids will have new role models to look up to. That matters for the sport’s future. But it could matter more to those kids.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.