December 01, 2016

Five Questions: Dr. Michael Cooper

Dr. Michael Cooper serves on the GOLF 20/20 Diversity Task Force. He has worked in the golf industry for more than 35 years, including Director of Southeast Regional Affairs with The First Tee, and Director of Diversity for the World Golf Foundation.


What is the vision and purpose of the Golf 20/20 Diversity Task Force?

The vision of the GOLF 20/20 Diversity Task Force is “to be a catalyst for making golf look like America.”  Our immediate focus is to increase gender and ethnic diversity and inclusion in competitive and recreational play, as well as in the business of golf. 


Have the diversity and inclusion efforts in golf been effective?

Yes, but more progress needs to be made. Yes, as there are positive signs that golf industry leaders are taking diversity and inclusion seriously, and have increased their efforts to hire a more diverse workforce.   

More progress needs to be made because the percentage of females and minorities participating in golf has been stagnant since 2000, when the industry began collecting and reporting data.  I was fortunate to work on behalf of the Diversity Task Force, and authored the Diversity & Inclusion Report for the World Golf Foundation in 2009, and again in 2015.  Each report took an inventory of the golf industry in terms of ethnic and gender participation rates in recreational and competitive play, and golf’s workplace.  I hope to do the report a third time, and am optimistic that we’ll see improvements.    


What other diversity and inclusion initiatives are you actively involved with?

Outside of family time, nearly every facet of my life is dedicated to diversity and inclusion.  In addition to serving on the Diversity Task Force, I maintain close relationships and communications with several grassroots program leaders, with the personal goal to connect them to golf industry leaders.  I also serve on the Board of Directors with the Advocates Professional Golf Association, the National Black Golf Hall of Fame and Women of Color Golf.

On weekends, I teach adult learners at Springfield College (Tampa Bay campus).  My courses focus on social justice, leadership and equal rights.  Throughout the week, I am the Diversity & Inclusion Officer for Outdoor America Images, a 27-year old company specializing in large-format print signage and visual branding.  We are a minority-owned company and my role is to research and connect with new business opportunities.   


What recommendations do you have for increasing diversity and inclusion in golf?

Golf’s image presents a significant barrier and it must be changed to effectively get more diverse and inclusive.  Here are four recommendations I think would help: 

- Industry leaders should hire (or appoint) a full-time staff specific to diversity and inclusion.  Someone needs to “own” it, be responsible and accountable for it, set clear timelines and metrics for growth and suffer consequences for business as usual. 

- Form strategic partnerships with grass-roots golf organizations and leaders who have demonstrated the abilities to attract and retain diverse participants.  In other words, work with existing communities, as opposed to creating programs for communities. 

- Break free from the “good ol boys” network by including more female/minority owned companies in the business of golf.  Spread and share the wealth.

- Partner to create a traveling exhibit that recognizes and remembers significant female and minority contributors to the game; many who would otherwise remain unknown by mainstream golf enthusiasts.  Share their stories in non-traditional urban communities to welcome, inspire and motivate diverse populations to participate in golf. 


Why the personal passion for diversity and inclusion in golf?

My passion comes from my exposure to black golf as a teenager and young adult.  My father introduced me to golf when I was 12 years old.  We were regulars at Pipe O’ Peace Golf Course, which was a popular place for minority golfers, clubs and events.  Although it was a daily fee municipal golf course, it was sort of a community center where black golfers, sports icons and celebrity entertainers met to socialize and play the game.  Many of my life lessons were learned at Pipe O’ Peace! 

At Pipe, I met and occasionally played with adults from all walks of life – gamblers, hustlers, and successful businessmen.  I played with Billy Eckstine, a legendary jazz singer, Verne Allison with the Dells singing group, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Althea Gibson, Pete Brown, Cliff Brown, Chuck Thorpe, James Black and hundreds more. 

These names might not be familiar to mainstream golf enthusiasts, but I still see their faces and hear their stories of oppression and triumph.  Meeting them greatly influenced my life, and part of me is dedicated to recognizing, honoring, and remembering them for their courageous contributions to golf, and to society.  

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