If there ever was a perfect marriage between a corporate sponsor and one of golf’s alphabet soup organizations, the Wells Fargo Championships at TPC Potomac Avenal Farm provided such a bond.
Wells Fargo, the tournament’s namesake and one of the world’s most prolific financial institutions, has once again been embroiled in controversy over allegations of discriminatory residential mortgage policies and lending practices against its black clients.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has worked diligently to ensure that after decades of anti-black behavior, it slowly and relatively quietly becomes one of the most inclusive sports in America — if not the world.
The two entities have forged a working relationship with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association for more than 230 black-owned American newspapers and media companies.
Together, the two entities work to change the negative lens for which both understand they are responsible for their reputation.
At the championships outside of Washington, D.C., the game’s inclusivity proved noticeable in key places if not on the course itself, where Howard University phenom Greg Odom Jr. stood out. as the only black player to participate in a field of 156.
At the exclusive ‘Executive Club’, where corporate citizens enjoy a bird’s eye view of the magnificent 16th hole and 17th tee, a fantastic mix of around 525 patrons feasted.
They talked golf, dined on catered meals, downed Bud Light, Stella Artois and Coca-Cola, and enjoyed a full bar.
Interestingly, the exclusive large tent highlighted the color evolution of golf.
“I don’t think the game, or at least the PGA Tour and some of its sponsors, see more black and white,” Daniel, a DC lawyer, said as Stewart Cink missed a birdie put on 16 just as where another downpour emptied the seating area right next to the tent.
Daniel didn’t want his last name used because a rival law firm had provided him with the expensive Executive Club tickets.
“I’ve always loved this game but never understood, even as a rich white man, why there wasn’t this effort or this idea that having black people, all people, included would only make the make it more appealing,” Daniel remarked.
Even though Odom – who had little time to soak up Howard University’s drive at the PGA Works Collegiate Championships a day earlier – failed to make the cut, there were plenty of opportunities to achieve the newly found inclusiveness that golf offers.
Near the Wells Fargo welcome center at Avenal Farms, representatives from African-American banks greeted customers.
They helped the thousands of fans in attendance find their way to and from the car parks, reception areas, the course itself and the shuttles.
Ticket takers, traffic cops and executives worked while many took time to talk golf.
When Denny McCarthy, a native of Montgomery County, Maryland, emerged from the driving range, a small group of fans braving the early morning elements shouted encouragement.
This small group included Darryl McKinley, an African American who works for a bank not named Wells Fargo.
“First of all, I’m just glad the championships are here because I live about 30 minutes from here,” McKinley said. “But seeing McKinley representing Maryland and Odom representing Howard University and all of HBCUs is exciting on different levels.”
McKinley said the presence of McCarthy, who is white, and Odom, a black man, encouraged many like him.
“Denny is from here, so it lets you know that this area can produce champions,” McKinley explained. “Then you have Greg, a black man, a guy from Howard University doing his thing and shining the spotlight on us in this game. What else do you need to see to be convinced that the doors are now wide open for everyone in this game.”
Although Odom missed the cut, it wasn’t just the amateur who had problems with the weather. Veteran Sergio Garcia battled both the elements and the officials after hitting a tee shot that strayed from the hilly terrain at Avenal Farm.
Garcia became frustrated with an official after receiving a penalty for taking too long to search for his ball which entered a hazard.
Players have three minutes to locate the ball once they get to the general area where they hit it.
“Do you want me to swim in the river?” Garcia barked at the official. “I wasn’t looking for the ball there. I was looking for the ball once I got to that side. Does that make sense?”
The moment also provided a glimpse of change in golf for some.
“They never used to argue,” said Alexis Battersby, who attended the event with a group of other women. “But it’s fun because the game feels more real to us,” she said.
Battersby, who said she would attend all weekend, joined a group of 12 black women at the championships.
Meanwhile, back at the Executive Club, Daniel, the lawyer, was offering a course for Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour.
When told that Wells Fargo provided the black press with unrestricted access to the event, he shook his head in approval.
“It’s a start,” he said. “They need to do a lot of things to improve access for their African American customers and engage black people in the right way by doing more with you (the black press).”
He said the PGA Tour’s efforts are more pronounced.
“You have Odom playing here, and I’m sure they would like to see more people of color on the course,” Daniel said.
“But I’m also aware that in corporate offices and other places on the PGA Tour, there are African Americans – men and women and who knows, LGBTQ people, who hold important jobs. .
“But, if I am you (the black press), I keep pressing. I am never satisfied, and neither are African Americans until there is concrete evidence that the efforts have been sustained and the word “diversity” is no longer needed in our vocabulary.