Swinging For the Love Of The Game

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Swingers Golf Club’s Bernard Cooper, right, helps sixth-grader Claudia Mendoza with her stance during gym class as the Swingers Golf Club helps introduce the game to the kids at George Washington Carver Academy. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2013 file photo)

A common phrase that is used a lot is “numbers never lie.” Sports and media critics uttered that line a lot during The Masters Tournament in April. The ratings were down significantly for The Masters due to Tiger Woods not participating in the tournament, due to an injury and surgery.

It’s not surprising a majority of sports talking heads are screaming from the rooftops about how golf is suffering without Tiger’s presence in the big tournaments this year. That may be true, this is also true:  golf was here before Tiger, and will be here after Tiger. Woods isn’t the only superstar in this game…he just happens to be the superstar casual fans will flock to their television screens to see.

(My opinion: It would be in Tiger’s best interest to take the entire year off. It isn’t worth trying to come back and re-injuring himself to appease the fans…ahem…the patrons and the media.)

There is something, however, that tends to be ignored: how many of those casual fans have taken up the game of golf since Tiger Woods?  What about the groups, without fanfare, that have worked tirelessly to promote and encourage others to play golf?

One of those groups resides in Waterloo, Iowa, and have quietly taught young children how much fun it is to play golf.

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Tannis Morgan, 11, of Waterloo swing during a putting competition at the annual Swingers Golf Club back-to-school event at Gates Park Golf Course. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2010 file photo)

The Waterloo Swingers Golf Club, Swingers for short, consists of a group of African-American men in Waterloo who play golf and teach the game to young kids, particularly African-American children. Most of the members of the Swingers picked up the sport either when they young, working, or after retiring from their jobs and careers. For a few, they started to take up the game as far back as the 60’s.

Two weeks ago, I participated the 2nd annual Jim Montgomery memorial golf outing to benefit the Swingers’ junior golf program and the National Kidney Foundation. Montgomery was one of those individuals where no matter what happens, he was quick with a smile and something funny to say. As the father of one of my best friends, Travis, Jim and wife Charlene was always there to support Travis and older sister Liz in everything they did. Jim was one of the guys who started the Swingers Golf Club and made the Gates Park Golf Course their home.

In 2012, Jim passed away from kidney disease. His family decided to use his passion, golf, as a source of raising awareness of kidney health and support the Swingers’ junior program.

No, not all of kids in the junior program are going to be playing on the PGA tour and be superstars (it would be awesome if that did happen).The point is giving children an opportunity to learn a sport that isn’t always basketball or football. One young man in particular has become one of the best golfers coming out of the juniors program. Dominick Smith will be starting his senior year at Wartburg next fall, as a member of the men’s golf team.

We have a propensity to measure a game by superstars, social media, ratings, TV executives, and knuckleheads like Skip Bayless. But, do any or all of these factors encourage casual fans to take lessons and try to play golf? How many “Tiger” fans have taken up the sport since 1997?  And no, I’m not counting the inebriated bros on the 18th green hollering “You da man!” as a golfer tees off.

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Calvin Peete

I learned how to play golf in high school, as part of gym class in the early 90’s. Tiger Woods didn’t entice me to pick up the sport. It was Nicklaus, Faldo, Trevino, and a guy named Calvin Peete.

Who’s Calvin Peete?  Peete was the first African-American to play on the tour. Back then, Peete’s journey was a lot harder, amid racism and other factors back then, when it was next to impossible for minorities to play on any golf course, public or private. Casual fans are quick to assume that Woods is a pioneer. Yes and no. Peete and Trevino, for me, are pioneers. Woods enhanced it.

The Swingers Club are more than pioneers. They are teachers and fans of the game. It what makes what they do with the junior program that mean so much and a lasting impression on the children who spend time learning about golf with this special group of men..  

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