GCSAA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council convenes at headquarters

DEI Advisory CouncilWhen Jim Beatty was asked to be part of GCSAA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council and was invited to the council’s first meeting at GCSAA headquarters, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Beatty — president of Jim Beatty Golf Ventures and executive editor of African American Golfer’s Digest — was part of the 10-person council that spent June 24 at GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., in a frank and far-ranging exploration of topics of gender and race in the golf industry at large and GCSAA in particular. Beatty was blown away.

“The day went by so quickly,” Beatty said. “The discussions were so engaging and the discussions so honest. I’ve been around diversity and inclusion for many, many years, and I have to say, this was one of the most organized and genuine efforts that I’ve seen in America. Period. Hands down. Without question. What GCSAA has done can or should become a model, not just for the golf industry, but for all industry in America. There’s no doubt in my mind. There’s no doubt about it, your commitment is clear. The challenge is there. Your senior leadership has clearly said, ‘We’re ready to lead this effort and take it to places it needs to go.’ They’re ready. This is really, really good for America. It’s going to be a great program that, I hope, will be copied, emulated by other companies.

“Was it a surprise? Oh, heck yes. Many of us didn’t know what to expect when we came in. We were certainly pleased to be asked to be a part of it and pleased to come to Lawrence. We were very eager to learn how this was going to play out. I’d say, to a person, as we talked among each other, we all left with the conclusion that this is outstanding and unprecedented. I sure as heck hope that other leaders in the golf industry will take a look at this program and contact you and see what you’re doing. This model has to be emulated and replicated through the industry. It HAS TO BE.”

Beatty was joined in the daylong series of meetings and discussions by council members:

  • Mark F. Jordan, CGCS, GCSAA president
  • Kevin P. Breen, CGCS, GCSAA vice president
  • Jan Bel Jan, ASGCA, golf course architect
  • Craig Kirby, founder of Golf. My Future. My Game.
  • Azucena Maldonado, founder of Latina Golfer’s Association
  • Jamie Taylor, CEO/founder of Black Golf Directory
  • Desiree Walker, CEO of Road2Par LLC
  • Rhett Evans, CEO of GCSAA
  • Shelia Finney, GCSAA’s senior director of member programs

The committee was born of a meeting last year between Jordan and Evans.

“We were having a conversation about what our strategic goals were for 2021,” Jordan said. “He asked me, ‘What area of focus would you like to have?’ I said I’d personally like to have it be diversity, equity and inclusion. He said that was perfect, because that was about the time the internal DEI team was being put together at HQ. We started discussing it, and I had an epiphany one night. I said, ‘If we really want to learn, what we really need to do is, instead of building it from the inside out, we need to build it from the outside in.’ The bottom line is, we wanted people from outside the superintendent realm to provide alternative perspectives for us, to take a look at our programs and give us an additional perspective.”

The council’s initial meeting at GCSAA was foundational by nature. Its purpose — codified as, “To engage the advisory council in assisting GCSAA in the enhancement and development of existing and potential programs for underrepresented populations to have a career in the golf industry” — strives to help make the golf industry more reflective of the greater American population.

“Businesses nearly everywhere in America say they’re desperate for workers,” Evans said. “If left unchecked, today’s conditions could easily develop into one of the worst qualified-worker shortages the golf industry has experienced. One of our key objectives in engaging this DEI Advisory Council was to listen to their thoughts and ideas as well as apply their experience in developing the framework for successful career mapping. We discussed at length the practices we should employ as we continue with our efforts to introduce underrepresented populations to a career in golf course management.”

It was the first trip to GCSAA headquarters for some council members. It was the second for Beatty, whose first in-person contact with the association came serendipitously — he and Bob Randquist, CGCS, GCSAA’s chief operating officer, shared a shuttle ride to a National Golf Day event two years ago. A few months back, Beatty visited GCSAA headquarters over issues surrounding the association’s sponsorship of the African American Golf Expo and Forum, which will be held Aug. 21-24 in Atlanta.

Though GCSAA is just one of countless businesses in nearly every American industry grappling with introspection born from 2020’s summer of racial and societal reckoning, the sincerity of the association’s efforts was what most struck Beatty. “Start with the fact that your top three leaders were there for the entire time,” he said. “That stands out. The commitment from the senior level and the C-suite is absolutely unparalleled. Secondly, the desire expressed by senior leadership to say to us, ‘We want you to help build a pipeline of new workers, new managers, new superintendents through this effort. We want to purposefully reach out to groups that haven’t been reached out to before.’ Then the scholarships, the First Green (STEM outreach educational) program. Oh, my goodness. That’s just genius.”

In addition to discussing big-picture topics — like the overarching blue-sky vision, a framework for career mapping, and short- and long-term goals — the council met with GCSAA’s internal DEI Task Group and toured headquarters. The council will continue to meet virtually every quarter and in-person every June.

“I’m quite effusive over what I saw,” Beatty says. “I’m beyond encouraged. The honesty and integrity of the way the program was built is unsurpassed. I’m psyched and motivated to help GCSAA in any way I can, and I know I speak for other members of the council when I say we’re ready to help in any way possible.”

Jordan was similarly inspired after the council’s initial in-person meeting.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “I don’t want to diminish work that has been done before in this area, but I think this was a very successful interaction. Everybody’s extremely happy with the discussions we’ve had, but the most important part is the action. We have to keep moving on.”