This weekend is the Rocket Mortgage Classic, a PGA golf tournament taking place at the Detroit Golf Club. This will be the first time the PGA has come to Detroit, and the first time in Michigan since 2009.
The PGA is coordinating with several nonprofits, including The First Tee of Greater Detroit. This group works to improve access to golf among young people in lower-income communities.
Olajuwon Ajanaku is a volunteer for The First Tee. He’s a black man who participated in The First Tee program in Atlanta, played golf in college and went on to play professionally for two years. Ajanaku says black youth are the most underrepresented group in golf, and he’s working to change that.
In the golfing community, racial tension is inescapable. Even as a former professional, Ajanaku said he had trouble getting accepted into country clubs and feeling welcome on golf courses.
“It’s been a journey, honestly. It’s tough to find sponsors if you do want to take it to the pro level,” Ajanaku said.
The country club Ajanaku belongs to didn’t start accepting black members until the 1990’s. In some states, clubs can still refuse members on the basis of race. This is problematic for organizations like The First Tee in their work to bring golf to underprivileged young people in Detroit. Many of these kids are African-American.
Ajanaku thinks golf is a great way to reach kids and engage with them. He believes the sport teaches morals and skills that can be applied to everyday life. The PGA tournament in Detroit, he says, will allow young golfers to see this firsthand.
“It does show black kids that golf is a way that you can venture out and see a whole new world,” Ajanaku said.