Not a black-and-white issue for HBCUs

One glance at the team pictures of the men’s and women’s winners from last weekend’s PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship might make people rethink the term “minority.”

“There’s something missing, isn’t there?” Jackson State golf coach Eddie Payton said with a sly grin. “Pictures are a little grainy, aren’t they?”

The men of Texas Pan-American and the women of Bethune-Cookman each won for the second time in the past three years. Neither school has an African-American on its roster. In fact, half of Bethune-Cookman’s six golfers are European.

Where are all the minority golfers at the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship?

“I raise that question sometimes myself,” said Earnie Ellison, the PGA director of business and community relations, who is African-American. “But we do not tell the coaches who to put on their teams.”

Bethune-Cookman is a historically black college, or HBCU. So is the second-place women’s team, South Carolina State, which featured three African-Americans — including Tiana Jones, who was the individual medalist in the three-round tournament at Port St. Lucie, Fla. — and a pair of Asian sisters.

Still, South Carolina State coach Sandy Burris has no complaints about Bethune-Cookman’s roster.

“I’m in the exact same position as they are,” Burris said. “I’m also the soccer coach and our roster is filled with Californians. I’ll be honest with you: This is a business, and our job is to win.”

Payton, who is NFL great Walter Payton’s older brother, took over the golf program at Jackson State in 1985 and realized no HBCU school had been invited to play in the NCAA golf championships.

“The kids at HBCUs didn’t have an honest chance to qualify because none of the major schools would even play in the same tournaments,” said Payton, who learned to golf as a youngster. “What college golf coach wanted to go back to his athletic director and tell him he’d lost to a team with five black golfers?”

Payton pooled resources and influence with a few other African-American leaders to create the Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, which made its debut in 1987. Eight year later, Jackson State became the first HBCU to qualify for the NCAAs.

“It gave the kids the feeling of playing for a national championship,” Payton said of the tournament he helped create. “My problem is now they don’t want it to be a black-only event.”

It should be noted that only three of the seven golfers on Payton’s own men’s roster are African-American.

The PGA was granted complete ownership and management of the event in 2006. The field was opened not only to HBCUs, but also to “Hispanic-serving institutions,” such as Texas Pan-American. As the disparity between non-minority and minority golfers competing at the tournament grew, officials created a men’s independent division and a women’s independent division specifically for minority individuals.

The men’s winner, Justin Hawkins, attends Central Oklahoma but is not even on the school’s golf team.

“I’ve never even heard of him,” Central Oklahoma sports information director Mike Kirk said.

How does Bethune-Cookman, a school that is 94.3 percent African-American and 1.5 percent white, draw such talented female golfers from Austria, Denmark and Great Britain? Coach Loritz “Scooter” Clark declined comment for this story, but the Daytona Beach (Fla.)-based school’s home course is the LPGA International Legends Course, which is located within driving distance, as it were, from the LPGA headquarters.

Renee Powell was the second black female to play on the LPGA Tour. Powell, 66, recalled twisting the arm of a sponsor in order to send golf equipment to three HBCUs. When she arrived at a tournament in which they were playing, Powell had a startling discovery.

“All of your golfers are white,” Powell told the coach.

“My school president wants to win,” the coach replied.

“If I had known that I would have given the equipment to another college where minority kids were struggling,” Powell said.

Ellison understands the objections to what transpired last weekend, but he defends the tournament.

“We’re sticking with the original mission to promote historical black colleges,” he said. “There’s no other golf tournament on this continent that represents this many minorities.”

Powell, who was raised in an era when it was exponentially tougher for women, let alone black women, to crack a college roster, is not particularly outraged that non-minorities are predominant on many HBCU golf teams.

“If you’re a young black golfer, you might decide you have to play a little harder,” Powell said. “After all, you can look at it this way: Those white girls are minorities at their school.”