One of the most visible and important ways the USGA impacts the game is through the P.J. Boatwright internship program, which helps fund jobs for young men and women interested in pursuing a career in golf administration. The interns work for state and regional golf associations, typically over a six- or nine-month period, and help the SRGAs with tournaments, junior golf programs, membership services and other activities. The SRGAs, the interns and the game all benefit from the program.
The P.J. Boatwright internship program is also a pathway into the game for young people who might not have gained much exposure to golf otherwise. A pair of recent Boatwright interns, both African American, shared their experiences.
22, Atlanta, Ga.
Keenan Jones and his brother, Cam, wanted to play golf, just like their dad.
“We grew up in Decatur, Ga., and my father, Chris, played Sugar Creek Golf Course, which is part of the DeKalb County Parks and Recreation facility,” he said. “Our mom, Carole, didn’t play, but encouraged us. I was 7 or 8 when I started.
“Cam and I played in Atlanta Junior Golf Association tournaments. We played at Candler Park Golf Course, a nine-hole course where we could play for $5. But we’d also play from dawn to dusk at Sugar Creek. We would shag some of the balls from the driving range so we could practice later. We weren’t too far from The First Tee of East Lake program, so we would go there for instruction. It was great, too, because most of the time we were playing with other African-American kids.”
Keenan played whenever he could and eventually made the Southwest DeKalb High School golf team.
“I wasn’t great, but I enjoyed playing. I placed sixth in our county tournament. I earned some ribbons and a couple of medals, but we knew that we were golfers. We idolized Tiger, for sure. We also started liking other players too, but we always rooted for Tiger. I remember how important it was to my dad and to us all when Tiger dominated the game, just as it was important to see Venus and Serena Williams dominate tennis. It meant so much to us.”
As a college student at Emory University in Atlanta, Keenan majored in sociology and educational studies. He always wondered about working in golf. He spent a summer working as a range attendant at Druid Hills Golf Club, a frequent host for USGA championship qualifiers.
“I just wanted to enjoy working and it was exceptional. We got to play the course on Monday and practice on the range. After that, I thought I needed to do summer work that would help my career. I got a law internship and then got to work at the East Lake Foundation, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a Boatwright internship.”
That interest led Keenan away from Atlanta. Two weeks after graduating from Emory, he and his father drove cross-country to the Northern California Golf Association, where Keenan worked with the Youth On Course program, helping to develop caddie training and working on a variety of other initiatives.
“It was a new program. There were four people on the staff and I just decided to be productive and let my personality shine. It was a completely different world and I had to learn to handle situations that I had never been in before, like being looked at as an authority figure as we trained caddies, and then dealing with wealthy donors and attending galas and black-tie events. That kind of balancing act, understanding that there was a reason that I was there, stepping up to deal with work failures and successes, all while processing the shooting in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a great experience for me, a lesson in reflection. I was experiencing life in a part of the world that I may not ever get to visit again. Not many people get to play Spyglass, Poppy Hills or Lake Merced and say they were doing it for work!”
When his internship ended, Keenan returned to Atlanta and now works as a trainee in the Atlanta Braves’ community relations department. He is happy, but golf remains in the back of his mind.
“Golf is going through an important time, re-creating itself in the image of everyone who plays golf and becoming accessible for all. It’s an important time for golf and I would be happy to help it evolve.”
23, Irvington, N.J.
Domonique Wilcher’s parents, Tyrone and Jessie, didn’t play golf, but that didn’t matter when they drove then-11-year-old Domonique to The First Tee program at Weequahic Park in nearby Newark.
“I hit my first golf ball and it went in the air,” said Domonique. “That was all it took. I was hooked.”
Jessie found herself driving her daughter for lessons, tournaments and, eventually, to Mother Seton Regional High School, where Domonique joined the golf team.
“It was such a great experience,” said Domonique. “I found myself playing with people who didn’t look like me – but they were just like me because they were passionate about golf. Then we bonded over the game and became friends. I spent my summers volunteering with The First Tee, where I got started. I helped people who were just like me get into golf.”
She also got into college – Albright College, in Reading, Pa., where she earned a spot on the women’s golf team.
“I became the co-captain of the team, with a double-major in biology and business administration.”
Domonique worked for the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association (WMGA) as a Boatwright intern and gained perspective and inspiration from the experience.
“When I got the internship through the WMGA, it was an eye-opening experience to see what it takes to set up a program, to run a tournament, to make a difference for people who love golf,” she said.
Throughout my internship, I would think about the times when I was lonely and felt different. I would be at some of golf’s most famous places and still be the only minority in the room. But I do know that the kids I worked with at Weequahic could represent the next generation of golfers. I also know that if they keep playing golf, no matter where they play, it will change the game.”
Domonique, 23, says her internship prepared her for a new job with ADP in a management program. She is proud of one immediate change she has made to golf in Irvington.
“I got my dad to play,” she said. “He is about to retire and I got him started in golf so that he can enjoy it when he does retire. I told him President Obama is doing it, why shouldn’t he? I am still working on my mom and my sister, Whitney.”
The 10-handicapper, who says she plays whenever she can, hasn’t ruled out working in golf again, but even if it isn’t in a full-time capacity, she will continue volunteering in golf.
“I had people who were my mentors and I want to repay the favor. I want to be somebody kids can look up to.”
David Chmiel is manager of Members content for the USGA. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org