University of Maryland Eastern Shore Aims To Start First Golf Degree at HBCU
PRINCESS ANNE, Md.
A manicured golf course was right across the street from the house where Christina Cooper spent her childhood.
But growing up Black in Baltimore, Cooper never thought of golf as a game for her — until her college announced plans to offer the nation’s first golf management degree at a historically Black university, and opened up for-credit lessons and a driving range on campus.
“I kind of always wanted to play, but I never did. It was expensive, kind of a club,” says the 22-year-old biology major, who is taking Golf Instruction 101. “When I think of golf, I think of rich people and country clubs. So that’s cool that they’re teaching us this.”
The Golf Academy at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore is still in its infancy. Started last year, the only course is a one-credit elective, and school officials say their dreams of building a golf course on campus and offering a bachelor’s degree in golf management are years away.
But school president Dr. Thelma B. Thompson has ambitious goals. She envisions UMES as a way to introduce the game to students who didn’t have access to it growing up and would like to see it become the nation’s first historically Black college with a PGA-endorsed degree in golf management.
“Golf is a growing sport for minorities and women right now, and we want to focus on the future,” says Thompson, who got the idea after visiting the Princess Anne campus in 2002 as a prospective president. She says the college’s lush landscaping reminded her of a golf course.
Three semesters ago, the UMES Golf Academy set up an office in a racquetball court in the school gym and started asking the 3,800 students through e-mails and flyers if they wanted to learn golf.
Leading the academy is Marshall Cropper, a UMES alumnus who played pro football in the 1960s before retiring and running golf tournaments full-time. He acknowledges that students who see the “Golf Academy” sign in his window are sometimes skeptical.
“We have been raised to play football and basketball. We have come to see football and basketball as a means to get an education. We were not raised to play golf,” Cropper says. “Golf starts with grandfathers and daddies who play golf and pass it on to their children. And on the minority side, we have a lot of single moms that don’t have the time to play golf. But that’s changing.”
Cropper says a growing Black middle class, more high-school golf teams and prominent minority golfers such as Tiger Woods have increased interest in golf among younger Blacks. Cropper hopes to start the degree program and resurrect a school golf team that hasn’t been fielded since 1961.
But more than that, he says, he wants Black college students to learn the game even if they have no interest in a golf-related career.
The game of golf, school officials say, is a business networking tool. Knowing how to play could help launch graduates’ careers. Not knowing the game could leave them feeling intimidated and out of place in the business world when White colleagues go out for a round.
“We want to graduate students who don’t feel intimidated by golf, because it plays such an integral role in the business world,” Thompson says.
— Associated Press
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