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Desert Pioneers February 1, 2022 By Tom Mackin

For 75 years, Desert Mashie Golf Club in Phoenix has helped to make the game more diverse and inclusive

For the past 75 years, Desert Mashie Golf Club has brought together generations of golfers in an inclusive setting. (USGA/Dennis Murphy)

The following content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.

Phoenix, 1946. Encanto Golf Course, a municipal layout just north of downtown, was the only place where minorities were allowed to play golf in the city. On April 12th of that year, two foursomes of Black men completed their rounds, gathered around a picnic table not far beyond the 18th green, and started a discussion that reverberates in the lives of thousands 75 years later.

Within a month, the men had formed their own golf club, with Encanto as its home course. And despite the ongoing discrimination they faced both inside and outside the game, they ensured that their new club would be open to all. Named the Desert Mashie Golf Club (mashie being the historical name for a 5-iron), the group is now one of the 10 oldest public clubs in Arizona, helps run one of the country’s largest junior golf tournaments, and has created a tight-knit bond among generations of members.

Sean Colebrook, whose father George was a longtime Desert Mashie member, has been the club’s Junior Golf director and tournament director since 2016. “I know what the club did for me starting at 7 years old,” he said. “Growing up in the Maryvale area (of Phoenix), I was around a lot of gangs. At my high-school reunion there were people who had no idea I played on our golf team and finished sixth in the state championship. I hid it. But that’s what the Desert Mashies did for me. It got me off the street. When I moved back to Phoenix 12 years ago, I had to give back. There was no question.”

For Andy Walker, membership started him on a path to playing for Pepperdine University’s 1997 NCAA Division I national championship team and then on various professional tours. “It was great to grow up in an environment that didn’t look different than you,” said Walker, the men’s golf coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I was playing junior tournaments around the country where kids didn’t look like me, but then every Sunday I could go practice with kids in the Desert Mashies who did look like me.”

More recently it helped Noah Nuez earn a spot in the Class of 2025 at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he intends to play on the golf team. The graduate of Brophy Prep in Phoenix started with the club at age 6, eventually winning the 15-18 age division in the 2017 Desert Mashie Spring Championship at Encanto, still considered the club’s home course.

“The Desert Mashies gave me a chance to travel and play around the state and country,” said Nuez. “I also play tournaments with the older guys in the club, and that’s where I’ve learned how to compete and win.”

Nuez now pays it forward by helping junior members during twice-monthly clinics. “It’s all about getting people hooked on the game and then keeping them playing for as long as they can, and I think the Desert Mashies do that so well,” he said. “I would not be where I am without their help.”

The club conducts monthly tournaments around the greater Phoenix area for its approximately 150 members and also participates in events held by the Western States Golf Association, formed in 1954 by predominantly Black golf clubs across six states. College scholarship funds for junior members are raised through annual events, and community programs include the donation of 2,400 pounds of food to the St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix last year.

All those efforts have earned the group induction into the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame this November. “They do so much for golf in the Valley,” said Drew Woods, chairman of the Hall’s selection committee. “Several years ago, when I was president of the Arizona Golf Association, one of my goals was to figure out ways to make the Association and the Hall of Fame more inclusive and diverse. We had not done a good job of that in the past. What better way than to bring the Desert Mashies in? They have their own junior golf program, which is one of the best of its kind, the club is one of the charter members of the Western States Golf Association, and it has now been around for 75 years. It was obvious to us that they should be in the Hall of Fame.”

“I’m very proud of the club, what it does and how we’ve been able to sustain it,” said current president Booker Evans. “A good part of the reason is, although it was founded by Black people, the club was never a club only for Black people. It’s always welcomed anyone regardless of race, color or creed. None of that mattered. It was just that you were committed to the principles of golf and supporting our junior program.”

The family atmosphere fostered by the group remains centered around getting people interested in the game, both for what it gives golfers and what it stands for, according to Evans. “If you cheat the game, then you are cheating yourself,” he said. “That transfers into a lot of things for kids, including schooling. Our juniors are doing great in school, and parents are appreciative of that. I think golf is unlike other sports in developing the whole human being and growing you into adulthood in a way that is positive in all aspects.”

A key figure in Desert Mashie history was the late Bill Dickey, recruited to join in 1958 by a club founder, Dr. Lowell C. Wormley. “At some point Bill held every leadership office with the Desert Mashies, including serving as president on more than one occasion,” said Evans. “He was a great man. He had a personality that attracted both the general public and people in business. Everything he touched was positive. He was a really fine golfer, too.” Dickey, who won the USGA’s Joe Dey Award in 2001 for his contributions to the game, was a father figure for generations of Desert Mashie golfers. 

“Bill’s biggest thing was, while it’s great if you can get kids to stick with golf, he wanted to get kids scholarships to college and get a degree,” said Derek Crawford, who played at Arizona State University with the aid of a Desert Mashie scholarship and is now the general manager at Coldwater Golf Club in Avondale, Ariz. “You can do any number of things in golf beyond just playing if you have a degree.”

That said, competing both in Arizona and around the country provides invaluable experience for juniors. “If [Desert Mashie] kids can’t afford to play in our events or in national events, they will financially help those kids to travel,” said Scott McNevin, executive director of the Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA). “It’s been a great support group for kids coming up in the Phoenix area, especially for minorities looking to play at the next level.” The JGAA now runs the Desert Mashie Spring Championship, an event that drew 330 junior golfers from around the world to Phoenix this past March.

“To see the diversity of all the kids playing in the Spring Championship now and knowing where I came from, plus thinking back to where the club founders came from and what they faced, it’s huge,” said Colebrook. “It’s a joy to watch the kids compete with the proper etiquette. I remember Billy Mayfair playing (the Phoenix native, a longtime PGA Tour pro, won the event in 1981 and went on to win the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links and the 1987 U.S. Amateur), and he was one of the first Caucasian kids to come in. That’s when I started feeling accepted as a golfer.”

“To look back and think that my whole career really started because some gentlemen who were discriminated against decided to form their own golf club is amazing,” added Walker. “If that doesn’t happen, and they don’t start Desert Mashies, and my dad doesn’t start playing golf with them, I probably don’t play at Pepperdine, on the PGA Tour, or become a coach. People don’t always understand that doing something really small can have such a large impact on people, even 75 years down the line.”

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