If there were ever a perfect marriage between a corporate sponsor and one of golf’s alphabet soup organizations, the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm provided such a bond.
Wells Fargo, the tournament’s namesake and one of the world’s most prolific financial institutions, has again become embroiled in controversy over accusations of discriminatory residential mortgage policies and lending practices against its Black customers.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has worked diligently to ensure that, after decades of perceived anti-Black behavior, it slowly and relatively quietly becomes one of the more inclusive sports in America — if not globally.
Both entities have forged a working relationship with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association of America’s 230-plus Black-owned newspapers and media companies.
Separately, both Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour have wrestled with challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Together, both entities are working to change negative optics for which both understand they are responsible for their reputations.
At the championship outside of Washington, D.C., the game’s inclusivity proved discernible in key places if not yet 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 bird’s-eye views of the beautiful 16th hole and 17th tee, a fantastic mix of about 525 patrons yukked it up. They talked golf, dined on catered meals, swallowed Bud Light, Stella Artois and Coca-Cola, and enjoyed a full bar.
Interestingly, the large and exclusive tent highlighted how the color of golf is changing.
“I don’t think the game, or at least the PGA Tour and some of its sponsors, see Black and white anymore,” Daniel, a D.C. lawyer, said as Stewart Cink botched a birdie putt on 16 just as another downpour emptied the seating area just off the tent.
Daniel didn’t want his last name used because a rival law firm had provided him the expensive tickets to the Executive Club.
“I’ve loved this game forever but could never understand, even as a wealthy white guy, why there wasn’t this effort or idea that having Black people, all people, included would only make it more attractive,” Daniel remarked.
Even as Odom — who had little time to soak in leading Howard University to the PGA Works Collegiate Championships a day earlier — failed to make the cut, there were many opportunities to realize the newly found inclusivity that golf offers.
Near the Wells Fargo Welcoming Center at Avenal Farms, African American bank representatives greeted patrons.
They helped the thousands of fans in attendance find their way to and from parking lots, hospitality areas, the course itself, and shuttle buses.
Ticket-takers, traffic enforcers and executives worked while several took time to talk golf.
When Montgomery County, Maryland, native Denny McCarthy strolled from the driving range, a small group of fans braving the early morning elements yelled encouragement.
That small group included Darryl McKinley, an African American who works for a bank not named Wells Fargo.
“First, I’m just glad the championships are here because I live about 30 minutes from here,” McKinley said. “But to see McKinley representing Maryland and Odom repping Howard University and all HBCUs is exciting on different levels.”
McKinley explained that the presence of McCarthy, who is white, and Odom, a Black man, had encouraged many like him.
“Denny is from here, so it lets you know that this area can produce champions,” McKinley explained further. “Then you have Greg, a Black man, a Howard University dude doing his thing and shining a 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.”
Though Odom missed the cut, it wasn’t just the amateur who had problems with the weather. Veteran Sergio Garcia fought both the elements and officials after hitting a tee shot that went astray from the rolling terrain at Avenal Farm.
Garcia became frustrated with an official after being assessed a penalty for taking too much time while looking for his ball that went into a hazard.
Players are allowed three minutes to locate the ball once they arrive in the general area where they hit it.
“You want me to swim through the river?” Garcia barked at the official. “I wasn’t looking for the ball there. I was looking for the ball once I got onto this side. Does that make sense?”
The moment also provided a glimpse of the change in golf for some.
“They never used to argue,” said Alexis Battersby, who attended the event with a group of other women. “But this is fun because the game seems more real to us.”
Battersby, who said she would attend the entire weekend, joined a group of 12 Black women at the championship.
Meanwhile, back inside the Executive Club, Daniel, the lawyer, offered a course for Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour.
When told Wells Fargo provided the Black Press with unlimited access to the event, he nodded his head in approval.
“That’s a start,” he said. “They have to do many things to improve access for their African American customers and engage Black people the right way by doing more with you guys [the Black Press].”
He said the PGA Tour’s efforts are more pronounced.
“You got Odom playing here, and I’m certain they would like to see more people of color on the course,” Daniel said. “But, I’m also aware that in the corporate offices and other places within the PGA Tour, there are African Americans — men and women and who knows, LGBTQ individuals, who are working important jobs.
“But if I’m [the Black Press], I keep pressing,” he said. “I’m never satisfied, and neither should African Americans until there’s concrete proof that the efforts have been sustained and the word ‘diversity’ isn’t needed in our vocabulary anymore.”