H.U.! Youuu KNOW!
Golf is coming back to Howard University thanks to six-time NBA All Star, Stephen Curry, and one bold student.
It all started in January with a conversation between Curry and Otis Ferguson, a junior at Howard. Curry was visiting the campus to screen “Emanuel,” a documentary about the 2015 shooting death of nine Black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, that Curry executive produced.
Ferguson told The Washington Post that he was among the crowd of students vying for handshakes and selfies after the screening when he decided to just call out, “Hey Steph! Let’s get in a round of golf before you leave.” It was a smart move. Curry is an avid golfer and that sparked his interest. The two exchanged info and talked briefly about their love of the sport, and Ferguson mentioned to Curry that he gave up an offer to play golf in college so he can attend Howard.
Like many historically Black colleges and universities, Howard does not have an existing golf team, until now. For a long time in the 50s and 60s, Howard had a very successful Division II team. It was discontinued sometime in the 70s. A college level golf program can be extremely expensive. Golf itself is an expensive sport. The equipment, access to courses and knowledge of the sport, which is usually passed down in families, have all been barriers to African Americans trying to get into the game of golf, and that’s just recreationally. When you’re looking for college players who can compete, it becomes even more difficult. Even HBCUs who do have successful Division I golf teams, have a shortage of Black players on their roster.
Calvin Sinnette, a retired Howard med professor and author of “Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf” said, “It’s not a sport that is cheap for people to play, you have to travel long distances to get to golf courses, and golfers don’t get all of the ballyhoo that basketball and football players get [so] the game doesn’t attract many young Black people.”
Well Curry and Ferguson were both attracted at a very young age. Curry was introduced to the game by his father when he was young, as was Ferguson, who was playing competitively by the time he hit middle school. The conversation the two had sparked Curry to do something. “To hear somebody as passionate about the game as I was, all the while still pursuing their education at Howard…impacted me,” Curry said.
Before Ferguson’s chance encounter he had already formed a golf club on campus. It took a while to work out logistics and find out where they would practice but he did it. After exchanging info with Curry, Ferguson began to update him periodically about the club. He told him about sponsors he had found and even tournaments they were set to compete in and how the University President was open to expanding the golf club into an official team.
At first, Curry was responding to the updates. But once basketball season started, he stopped. Ferguson continued to update thinking that Curry was just busy. But Curry was reading the emails the entire time, and more importantly, he was trying to figure out how to make this golf team at Howard a reality. When the basketball season wrapped, Curry’s team contacted Howard officials and started to figure out how to make Ferguson’s dream a reality.
Ferguson received an Instagram message from Jeron Smith, head of Curry’s creative and business ventures and a former Howard basketball player. “I don’t know what you said,” Smith told Ferguson, “but you inspired Stephen.” The next day, Ferguson got the call that it was all happening. “I don’t know how to describe how I felt when I realized the power of that moment. I was pretty much speechless,” Ferguson said.
University officials said it will take about a year to hire a coach, recruit athletes and figure out where the golf teams will practice and play but they are happy to be bringing the sport back to the campus. One of the hopeful practice sites is the Langston Golf Course, a historic Black golf course in the District, named for Howard Law School’s first dean, John Mercer Langston. Curry will be making a seven figure donation to be distributed over the next six years, geared at giving the University time to make the program self-sustainable. “No matter where you come from or what socioeconomic background you had, we all were that kid once upon a time that was just excited about finding out who they were as a person through athletics,” Curry said.
Student-athletes who join Howard’s golf program will also volunteer with Curry and his wife Ayesha’s foundation, “Eat.Learn.Play,” which encourages healthy development in children.
Photo courtesy of Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle