Dozens of the nation’s top African-American golfers traveled to Chicago to play in one of the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour’s premier events held at Harborside International Golf Course, 11001 S. Doty Ave., on June 24-25.
The Advocates Professional Golf Association strives to develop the careers of African Americans and other minorities in the game of golf through professional tournaments, mentoring, and career fairs as a means to increase diversity. APGA hosts professional golf events in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa, Los Angeles, and more.
Ken Bentley, APGA president and executive director, said the organization began eight years ago under the original premise that a group of African American men would come together twice a year to play golf, discuss ideas, and raise money for community organizations. He said he received the initial funds to help produce the first three tournament sites in Tampa, Atlanta, and Los Angeles from Nestle (while he was employed by the company). By 2013, a breakthrough occurred. The PGA Tour took notice of the APGA’s growth and offered a five-year grant to make additions. Additionally, he said the Tour received a significant amount of support from African American donors.
“We were the first minority organization to get support from the PGA Tour,” said Bentley. “They recognized what we were doing and looked at our organization as a way to bring diversity to golf.”
AGPA prize money increased by 300 percent, event participation doubled, the number of events per year doubled, and the creation of the Adrian Stills Bonus Pool, which allows players to earn extra money while playing on the Tour, all occurred within the last five years, according to Bentley.
The APGA Tour impacts players both on the course as well as with their own personal development.
“Because there are so many African American golfers, it builds some camaraderie; guys become friends, they support each other, they travel together, the older guys serve as mentors to the younger guys, and so that’s been great to see,” said Bentley. “Our guys have started to play better. Two of our guys have already gone on to the PGA Tour. We also have guys on PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latin America, and PGA Tour China.”
Despite the rising success of the APGA, the Tour was not always met with optimism. Bentley said there was skepticism over the quality of the players on the Tour and the Tour’s ability to generate revenue was called into question.
“The golf community didn’t embrace us, I think they wanted us to prove ourselves, and a lot of people said ‘If I don’t see these guys on TV, then they must not be that great,’” said Bentley. “One of the reasons we do this tour is to introduce the game to people because the people that come out and watch our events rarely get a chance to see professional golf and so now you get to see golf by people who look like you, who will be the next Tiger Woods, the next great golfers.”
Beyond their excellence on the greens, APGA golfers give back to the surrounding community. Bentley said the organization partners with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and introduces the game to youth. He said at least 50 youth participants attended events like free lessons in Chicago.
“We talk to the kids about health and wellness and different kinds of career choices,” said Bentley.