Writer: Desirée Walker

For the past few years, the golf industry has grappled with two questions, how to identify cultural barriers to golf and how to remove them. For most this question is answered with diversity and inclusion programs, but some have said these have fallen short of both goals. In an $84 Billion dollar industry, the answer is possibly more linked in bigger marketing budgets and opportunities.  With great enthusiasm, the PGA TOUR’s Rocket Mortgage Classic could possibly answer that question this summer. 

This June, “THE JOHN SHIPPEN NATIONAL INVITATIONAL GOLF TOURNAMENT FOR BLACK GOLFERS & THE JOHN SHIPPEN SPORTS BUSINESS SUMMIT FOR STUDENTS will debut in Detroit June 27-30th, 2021.” This historical event will feature the Nation’s Top Black Men and Women Collegiate & Professional Golfers from across the country for an opportunity to compete in upcoming PGA & LPGA events. 

John Shippen, JR., was the first Black golf professional and first American born golf professional to compete in six US Opens from 1896-1902. John Shippen’s legacy is kept alive by The John Shippen Foundation which was founded in 1995 by Thurman and Ruby Simmons.  THE JOHN SHIPPEN will not only assist potential and current tour players, but also fund paid internships, scholarship opportunities, and donations to THE JOHN SHIPPEN Memorial Golf Foundation. 

 john shippen swing

Sponsored by Rocket Mortgage, Intersport, Woods & Watts Effect, LPGA TOUR, and the PGA TOUR, THE JOHN SHIPPEN will invite the nation’s top amateur and professional Black golfers to provide a platform for heightened opportunities and recognition within the sport.  “We at Intersport believe THE JOHN SHIPPEN will serve as a springboard from which to bolster accessibility to the sport of golf for young Black players and sports professionals,” said Jason Langwell, Executive Vice President of Intersport and Executive Director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Equity in sports for us is not just an issue for athletes but also for business professionals. Sommer Woods, Co-Founder of Woods and Watts Effect, Tournament Lead for THE JOHN SHIPPEN and Volunteer Vice Chair of the Rocket Mortgage Classic says  “Collaborating on THE JOHN SHIPPEN affords Woods & Watts Effect the opportunity to address an issue that we are passionate about, which is equity in sports. We are excited about our partnership with the Rocket Mortgage Classic and Intersport, and we look forward to this transformative event. This event can change the world, starting with the world of golf.”

This monumental event will provide the women’s division an opportunity for two women to earn an exemption in the LPGA’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational (July 14-17) through their two player team format. The men’s division will be individual stroke play, and the winner will receive an exemption into the PGA TOUR’s Rocket Mortgage Classic (July 1-4). THE JOHN SHIPPEN will cover all travel costs (airfare and hotel) for all players thus removing financial barriers often equated with access issues for Black players.  

“THE JOHN SHIPPEN aims to address barriers that have prevented talented Black golfers and aspiring business professionals from realizing their dreams of playing professional golf or working in the golf industry,” said Rocket Mortgage CEO Jay Farner. Rocket Mortgage has signed on as presenting sponsor of THE JOHN SHIPPEN. Trion Solutions, the nation’s largest minority-owned Professional Employer Organization, has agreed to become the first of six national sponsors for the event.

THE JOHN SHIPPEN Sports Business Summit for high school and college students will be held virtually June 29-30, allowing athletes, influencers and business professionals to share their experiences and advice about how to pursue and secure a career within the business of sports. Summit attendees will be given the opportunity to apply for paid internships and scholarships from sponsors, organizations and foundations within and beyond the sports industry.

According to the National Golf Foundation, less than 5% percent of recreational golfers are African American — and that drops to less than 2% percent when it comes to competitive golfers. While the PGA tour has four African Americans, the Ladies PGA tour has just one member, the golf industry does not come close to resembling the national makeup of African Americans in America. For business professionals the numbers are even lower on percentages. Be sure to tune into THE JOHN SHIPPEN airing on CBS leading into final-round coverage of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday, July 4.

It is important for our next generation of golf professionals and athletes to know the great strides those before us have made and its equally important for the industry to provide opportunities to those often left out and underrepresented.  We look forward to all of the opportunities that will be presented by the THE JOHN SHIPPEN and hope this new bridge will add to the growth of Black professionals not just today, but also for tomorrow.