Former Exec Wendell J. Haskins Says the PGA is Inactive in Promoting Diversity

Uptown Magazine

Haskins says he experienced a variety of microaggressions as one of the few Black executives ever at the PGA of America.

This open letter was originally published on Wendell J. Haskins’s social media. It has been edited to fit UPTOWN’s writing style.

Dear PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, PGA of America President Suzy Whaley, and my former PGA of America colleagues,

I hope this letter finds everyone in the best of health and making the best of a very challenging 2020 for everyone around the world. I write this letter in response to the open letters that you and Suzy Whaley both concluded by asking colleagues to share thoughts and ideas concerning race and the PGA of America. Let me start off by first saying this: Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love the game of golf and have committed a significant portion of my life to making the game better — particularly for Black people.

When Pete Bevacqua first approached me with an opportunity to work for the PGA of America to join his executive team because of what I was doing in golf and with my own Original Tee Golf Classic, it was a rare opportunity and I couldn’t have been more excited for a chance to contribute to the game at the highest level. Two things Pete emphasized when he approached me were:

  • He was impressed with my network and wanted me to bring those relationships to the PGA of America
  • He wanted to produce and grow my Original Tee Golf Classic under the PGA umbrella

Seth, like you, the vast majority of the friends I’ve made over the past 20 years have been through golf and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work for the PGA and grow golf. The things that I was able to accomplish at the PGA of America are some of my proudest professional accomplishments, and I literally had a ball getting them done. But these myriad accomplishments didn’t come without unexpected resistance and lack of acceptance from my colleagues.

In the wake of this current consciousness concerning the undeserved experiences of Black people, I just want to share with you what the experience of working there was like for me, as one of the very few Black executives to ever walk through the doors of the PGA of America. As the son of a lifetime Urban League executive who has the purpose of equality and civil rights baked into my DNA, I find it necessary to share this with you in hope that it will help you understand the culture of your company, and take the courageous and necessary actions to make the PGA of America a truly diverse and inclusive organization.

Seth, I’ve heard really great things about you and it’s unfortunate that we never had the opportunity to meet over lunch, dinner, or a round of golf. Some of my dearest friends come from the banking industry and are members of the clubs to which you belong and where I am fortunate to play frequently by invitation, like Shinnecock, National, and Pine Valley. This distinguished group of men have welcomed me into a golf brotherhood that has allowed me to support Black golf initiatives that have far exceeded what I was able to do financially within the PGA. I am copying some of those people under this cover, as well as numerous PGA professionals who I continue to support and provide a platform through the Original Tee Golf Classic. I think it is also important that they know of these accounts and findings which I’ve never publicly shared. Hopefully everyone may find this transparency helpful for the collective healing that needs to take place to advance golf forward.

When I saw the photo accompanying the Golf World article about the PGA making a statement on racial protests, it only conjured up thoughts of my own experience while working for the PGA of America. The relationship with Steph Curry was one that I relentlessly cultivated and initiated at the PGA of America, only to be denied the opportunity to do my job and close the deal myself. Below I want to share a chronology of events that paint a picture of the culture of the PGA that led to my departure. Following these facts, I will provide my thoughts on what the PGA of America needs to do to make it an organization that is truly diverse and inclusive with equal opportunities for employees of color.

President Barack Obama honors Charlie Sifford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, during a ceremony attended by Roland Martin, Haskins, and others.

  • When I started at the PGA of America in 2014 as senior director of diversity, I proposed that I pursue the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Charlie Sifford — golf’s “Jackie Robinson” and PGA member — as well as petition the board to induct him into the PGA of America Hall of Fame. This was to give Sifford the deserved recognition while he was alive and to create an opportunity for atonement and better relations between the PGA of America and the Black community.
  • In November of 2014, no PGA of America leadership came to Washington, D.C. to congratulate Sifford for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • The PGA denied expediting 92-year-old Sifford’s induction into the PGA of America Hall of Fame. My petition was denied by the board, and the Hall of Fame ended up posthumously inducting Sifford.
  • My peer-supervisor directed one of my coworkers to blind-copy her on all of the coworker’s emails with me regarding the Sifford initiative. (Yes, my white coworker was kind enough to inform me.)
  • My peer-supervisor instructed me to return 12 complimentary Delta Air Lines travel certificates that I arranged through my relationship with a Delta Airlines Employee (who happened to be African-American and my college alumni) to fly certain dignitaries who had written to the president to attend my PGA private dinner congratulating Sifford. The people included Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Alonzo Mourning, Renee Powell, Pete McDaniel, Jesse Jackson, Ken Chenault, and others. Subsequently, I was not approved to invite these guests and the dinner for Sifford was diminished to a humble gathering. My supervisor at the time emailed me, saying, “If people weren’t going to the actual White House ceremony, she didn’t see why anyone would be interested in attending a dinner for Sifford.”
  • I was told that “this wasn’t a time to be trying to plan a party for my friends.”
  • I was also told that I could not invite Dr. Calvin Sinnette to the dinner. Dr. Sinnette is the most prominent historian of African-American golf and is one of my inspirations, and he lived in Washington, D.C. My supervisor told me that Dr. Sinnette need not be there because PGA historian Bob Denney would be at the dinner. Sadly, Dr. Sinnette was not invited.
  • PGA Professional Anthony G. Stepney who is African-American wanted to collaborate with me to host a reception for Sifford at the Capitol Building, hosted by Elijah Cummings and Jim Clyburn. Mr. Stepney had a budget of $50,000 towards the effort. I was forbidden to collaborate with Mr. Stepney on the occasion. He held the reception and I attended, and so did PGA historian Denny, who said the entire experience was one the most rewarding of his career. My peer-supervisor was in D.C. that day, but declined the invitation.
  • My peer-supervisor also called my Delta contact to ask if I had returned the airline tickets. She never said a word to me about calling him, but of course, he called me immediately and was flabbergasted. For the record, we used those tickets to fly in a few Black golf students to attend the Capitol ceremony and meet Sifford. One of those students was Harold Varner who is now one of the few African Americans on the PGA Tour.
  • In 2014, Ted Bishop was permanently ousted as PGA president for his Facebook comments stating that Ian Poulter “sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess,” meanwhile Donald Trump said he can “grab women by the p---y,” and is awarded the organization’s major championship. This is dreadfully inconsistent with the organization’s stated values.
  • Every Black employee, whom I’m aware of, who left the PGA around the time I was there, did so with non-disclosure agreements and legal representation. There were three in total, from managerial to support roles.
  • In 2014, the PGA chief legal officer, advised me to cancel my own Original Tee Golf Classic Tournament in New York and allowed no support. The tournament was in its 14th year and honoring Renee Powell (first Black female PGA member, former LPGA player, and current PGA board member) that year. My sponsors were already the National Basketball Association, Pepsi, Delta Air Lines, DICK’s, and Mercedes-Benz to name a few. The OTGC celebrates the history of African Americans in golf. I did not follow the advice to cancel. That would have been the end of a great tradition in golf, as the Original Tee Golf Classic is mentioned in the World Golf Hall of Fame, at the hands of the PGA of America.
  • In the following year, in order to show support of my colleagues and hoping to gain the company’s involvement in my Original Tee Golf Classic, I contributed $10,000 dollars to PGA REACH under the condition that they would designate that money to The Bridge golf program to fund a Junior League Golf Team in Harlem, New York. I was told the team would receive $2,000 a year for five years. That expectation was not upheld by REACH.
  • My former peer-supervisor went to my personal Twitter feed and told the PGA leadership that they needed to be cautious of me because I used offensive language in a tweet. I’d merely tweeted that a golfer went “H.A.M.” in a golf tournament. This was also divulged to me by my new supervisor in confidence.
  • In September of 2015, the PGA pulled the PGA Grand Slam from a Trump course in California because of his controversial and racist remarks about Mexicans, yet still kept the company’s more highly-regarded and valued PGA Championship at a Trump venue for an event that was seven years in the future at the time. The PGA Championship is at Trump National Bedminster in 2022.
  • In late 2015, I asked my friend Lamell McMorris to join the board of trustees for PGA REACH Foundation. He kindly did, yet I was excluded from attending many of the key PGA functions that both he and I expected me to attend, given my position and relationship. Sadly, there were no other PGA executives of color at these events. McMorris is still a trustee.
  • In 2015, I arranged a meeting for the key representatives of the HBCU golf teams to meet with PGA leadership (COO and CCO) to have input on the future of the Minority Collegiate Championship. The coaches were driving to Florida from Alabama for the meeting. The COO canceled the day before the meeting and the chief championships officer communicated that he was in Las Vegas and was unable to attend. The coaches showed up in Florida and there was no meeting with PGA leadership.
  • In 2016, I also recruited David Jones of CastleOak Securities to be the title sponsor of the Minority Collegiate Championship for $100,000 per year for three years. Business development and sponsorship was not my role but no one at the PGA had committed to secure sponsorship support, nor was it tied into their performance to find sponsors for this tournament. Had I not gotten sponsors there wouldn’t have been any at all. After the second year and numerous comments to me and the leadership, Jones felt that the event was not garnering the deserved attention from PGA leadership of an event that was said to be important. Jones withdrew his third-year commitment and I was blamed. I recall the chief commercial officer saying that “he’s acting like it’s a million dollars.”

  • In 2016, I tapped NBA All-Star Chris Paul to do a “Thanks PGA Pro” commercial in a national campaign promoting the PGA professionals. The commercial featured Chris, his father, and his brother enjoying golf and fun banter with their PGA professional Jeremy Story at Sage Valley. I was confused and disappointed when the senior director of media didn’t want to release the commercial on Golf Channel because he felt it was “too different.”

  • In September of 2016, I brought an incident that I experienced at Abacoa Golf Club, a public golf course in Jupiter, Florida, to the attention of PGA of America leadership. A young white kid, named Ian Wilson, who worked at the golf course joined me as a twosome, and I soon noticed his bag tag read “Young Ni--- Wilson.” Upon further conversation, I learned that the moniker and tag were given to him by a PGA Professional because Wilson was the rookie in the cart barn. Rather than make it a news story I took it to the PGA leadership to handle. I was told it would be addressed immediately, but it never was.
  • In 2017, I pursued NBA superstar Steph Curry for several months to be an ambassador for PGA Jr. League Golf. My friends at the NBA were gracious enough to invite me to the NBA Finals in Cleveland in order to introduce me to Curry. We met briefly after the game and agreed to connect when Curry became available after the NBA Finals. When Curry’s people called me to grant me the meeting, I informed our chief commercial officer, who directed me to reschedule the meeting because he wanted to attend but had a schedule conflict. Shortly after, the CCO called Curry’s agency and rescheduled the meeting for himself — without me. He closed the deal with Curry who then became an ambassador for PGA Jr. League. Since then they’ve held an event and raised $1,000,000 for REACH and Curry’s foundation which you attended as seen in the photo accompanying the Golf World article.

There were a myriad of microaggressions, unscrupulous practices, and instances in which the PGA could have stepped up, stepped in, or merely showed up to improve race relations and did not.

I can expound on each of these accounts in more detail if desired, but those are the general details of the incidents I experienced and positions of the PGA during my tenure.

It’s unfortunate when you have the ability and desire to contribute to the business and cultural advancement of an organization, yet there are coworkers and supervisors who marginalize your ability to contribute. Pastor John Gray put it nicely when he said nothing reveals character more than the way you treat people who you think you don’t need. Seth and Suzy, it is my belief that your personal views may not always coincide with the values of the board that represents the membership, but the integrity of the PGA of America is dependent on the character of its leadership.

These are some of my recommendations for moving forward:

  • Board: Create a new process for your board selection or a structure that will require diversity. Your current process is not designed to be inclusive or welcome any women or minorities to your board in the foreseeable future. When Suzy Whaley’s tenure is over, it will likely lead to a future in which women and minorities will be underrepresented. Establish a Bill/Renee Powell Independent Board Seat for an independent board director that is designated to an African-American board member. Inclusion begins when people of color are consistently contributing to your highest level of decision making. It’s time to rethink your current process that is not diverse or inclusive of Black people. Understand that not seeing color in the room is a problem. And seeing one person of color in the room is also a problem.
  • Show Some Atonement: Seth and Suzy, your letters state that humanity stems from kindness, faith, and hope and that our country was conceived and built upon the concept of equality. That is true for white people. Black people were not even considered humans in early America so those tenets did not apply to us. Black people have to fight for basic human rights and civil rights continuously. The PGA of America’s Caucasian-only clause wouldn’t even allow Blacks to play golf until 1962. You have to acknowledge these facts and show some kindness, faith, and action to make golf a better industry.
  • Lean-In: Support some majority-Black events, actually attend them, and participate without leaving early. Invite more Black people to your own events and develop more understanding of Black culture. The Original Tee Golf Classic is a good one, but the company continuously passed on the invitation. You’d be surprised at who you might meet.
  • Hire Black Executives at HQ: Hire Black executives or “a” Black executive who controls a budget, has hiring power, and has the authority to make decisions.
  • Compensate Your Minority Employees Fairly: There aren’t any (with the exception of possibly one) Black employees at the PGA of America headquarters who earn a six-figure salary.
  • Reinstate the PGA Post Graduate Diversity Program: This program attracted more Black people to become PGA professionals. Bring it back.
  • Have Your Stated Company Values Match Your Actions: Diversity work is very difficult, and it’s virtually impossible for diversity executives to be successful when organizations don’t fully support diversity at the CEO/president level. It is also imperative that the organization be willing to make the courageous and often difficult decisions that support the values of diversity and inclusion. Your Black employees are often covering for you and preaching that things are getting better, advocating on behalf of the company. When you fail to uphold fundamental principles, for any reason, in the face of adversity your advocates look foolish and their credibility is diminished if not stripped completely.
  • Tie Diversity Into Performance: Diversity requires setting goals, creating benchmarks, and accountability. If there are no consequences for not meeting certain goals and expectations around diversity, it’s pointless.
  • Rename The Horton Smith Award: He was a racist.
  • Establish ERGs and MRGs: Form employee resource groups and member resource groups and have your district directors and PGA HQ leadership meet with them quarterly. Listen to what they have to say and what their recommendations are, in order to improve race relations throughout your sections.
  • Be Willing to Let Go of Bigots and Racist Members: The PGA of America was founded with racist and non-inclusive principles. There are still members who want to protect those doctrines. Don’t hesitate to take a stand and let them go.

I have since moved on from the PGA of America and am the chief marketing officer of the Professional Collegiate League of Basketball (PCL). I’m happy and would not have written this letter if it were not for the recent turn of events. I still have great relationships with many of the PGA professionals, and continue to help and support a number of them. The Original Tee Golf Classic continues to elevate them and showcase their importance. Diversity work in golf was part of my purpose and not just my position at the PGA of America.

The PGA of America and its PGA professionals still have the greatest impact on growing the game of golf. The game of golf deserves the best in us. I’m always here to help make golf a better game.

See you in the fairways.

Kind regards,

Wendell J. Haskins