SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PGA REACH
RACHEL MELENDEZ MABEE
PGA WORKS SPECIALIST
Growing the game is the new mantra in golf. As the Baby Boomer ages out the focus in getting new people — Millennials, minorities, women, military, disabled — to play has become a major items of emphasis Not only exposing new people to the game — but retain them for the long haul as a lifetime pastime.
A number of organizations within the sport are taking various approaches. The PGA of America, which originated in 1916 and in November, 2018, elected its first female president in Suzy Whaley, is attempting to build entry points encouraging such groups to embracer the sport. Various approaches are being carried out through such efforts as PGA REACH and PGA WORKS. Two frontline staffers — Ryan Cannon and Rachel Melendez Mabee — provide their personal testimonies on how they see such efforts impacting golf in 2019 and beyond.
BACKGROUNDER: RYAN CANNON
THE CANNON STORY —
My response to a small anonymous classified ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in December of 2000 is how I got into the golf industry. The next thing you know I was the Operations Coordinator for the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club and my golf career was off and running. You never know what lies ahead.
BACKGROUNDER: RACHEL MELENDEZ MABEE
Rachel Melendez Mabee is the PGA WORKS Program Specialist for PGA REACH, the 501(c)(3) charitable foundation of the PGA of America. Mabee is responsible for oversight and overall execution of PGA REACH’s diversity and inclusion program, PGA WORKS. In addition to serving as an integral part of internal and external communication efforts for all PGA REACH activities, Mabee’s main role is to help lead the charge for PGA WORKS. The program’s mission is to establish a deep bench of diverse talent prepared to ascend to key employment industries in the game and business of golf.
THE MELENDEZ MABEE STORY —
I played golf most of my life, junior golf, collegiate and even some mini tour tournaments. My late father was my one and only teacher and my biggest supporter who introduced the game to me at a very young age. I often kid that I came out of the womb with a golf club in my hand. After many years of playing and competing, I had the aspirations of “making it big” and at the time, that meant being on the LPGA Tour. However, I knew if I never made it on tour that my calling was to be in the golf industry in some way. As my game was never up to “par” for LPGA play, my first glimpse into the business of golf came via my years at the First Tee and now have the privilege of working what I can blessed to call my “dream job” working for the PGA of America in a capacity allowing to me share my love of the sport and authentically impact lives through our foundations programming.
When you wake up in the morning what’s the driving passion?
RM: To continue to help change what the golf industry looks like and build an industry that truly reflects what modern day America looks like.
RC: To impact lives through golf.
Growing the game has been the adopted slogan for nearly all golf organizations. Define the term as you see it?
RC: Creating opportunities for everyone to have a golf experience.
RM: Growing the game has a much deeper meaning — growth comes when all are invited to be included in the game and business of golf. The sport has to be inclusive in order for it to authentically grow.
Golf faces clear hurdles with socio-economic barriers among the most vexing of challenges. How do you see your involvement influencing that in a positive manner especially for youth in the urban areas where access to golf is rather difficult.
RM: Like life — we all face hurdles — we recognize them and make them opportunities to create solutions. We are committed to inviting youth from all backgrounds to play this game through inclusive programming that makes the game not only fun and inviting, but accessible.
RC: We stay focused within the areas of youth, military and inclusion to create opportunities to have a golf experience. For example, in partnership with the DICKS Sports Matter Foundation, PGA REACH has scholarships that will provide kids of financial need the opportunity to participate in PGA Jr League free of charge. In 2018, year two of the program, nearly 2000 kids had the chance to play because of this program.
PGA REACH is the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. What was the genesis in creating this initiative?
RC: The mission of PGA REACH is to impact lives by enabling access to PGA Members, Sections, and the game of golf. Golf, 29,000 PGA members, and 41 Section offices are amazing forces for good. No one is more passionate about golf than a PGA member, and no one is more committed to supporting that passion than the staff at the 41 Section offices around the country. Together, we intend to execute against our mission at the largest scale possible and try to ensure the scale is sustainable long after we are gone.
RM: To impact lives through golf. With unique programming, we are harnessing the “power of an invitation” to make this game accessible to all.
There are also efforts to secure military involvement via PGA HOPE. What’s been the reaction, thus far, and how do you envision the program growing in the years ahead?
RC: Again, golf and the PGA member are amazing forces for good. In 2018, nearly 2000 Veterans participated in PGA HOPE nationwide. While we are proud of the growth and impact, we have hardly scratched the surface. Like all of our programs, we would like to see PGA HOPE continue to grow in a measured and meaningful way over time. It takes a Nation to heal our Veterans, as the golf organization in US with 29,000 professional members, PGA HOPE is our attempt to do our part.
How will you measure the activities of PGA REACH and PGA HOPE?
RC: We measure everything based on impact, and impact starts with program participation. We want program participation to be as large as it possibly can be while maintaining consistent delivery. Ultimately, we need youth golf to be fun, accessible and inclusive and we are getting there through PGA Jr League; we need a healthier Veteran community and we are getting there through PGA HOPE; we need a golf industry workforce that mirrors the demographics of modern day America and we are getting there through PGA WORKS. That is the long view when it comes to impact, and we get there one program participant at a time.
RM: Measurement is relative. We could easily quantify this question, but the activities and programing that are part of PGA REACH are, to me, measured by the sustainable impact each program makes. We want to impact lives in the most authentic way possible that will sustain this industry for years to come.
Access to courses, the time it takes to play a round, the costs of equipment and the need to get quality instruction are all significant impediments — especially for Millennials. What’s your take on this and how do you see such obstacles being alleviated?
RM: These obstacles have been opportunities for us to create the solutions necessary to make the game accessible to all and have helped in or approach to designing programs to make golf an inclusive sport for people from all backgrounds.
RC: We stay focused within the areas of youth, military and inclusion to create opportunities to have a golf experience. A golf experience can be defined as playing 18 holes, playing TopGolf, hitting balls on the practice range, playing 9 holes, or using a simulator like GolfTec just to name a few. Our job is to steward the game as best we can during the short amount of time we have available to do so, but each generation will make it their own.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
RC: Nothing. There are no silver bullets. I believe in steady, focused, group effort consistently over time. That is how big impact is created and sustained.
RM: I don’t ever want to mess with the integrity of the game, but only to continue to do what we are doing to share my love of the sport and making it inclusive for all. Through our unique programming and commitment to impacting lives through golf, I want to de-mystify the image of golf being an elitist sport intended for only certain people.
Your greatest satisfaction within golf comes from what?
RC: It is the ultimate combination of mind, body, art, nature, and life. It can be enjoyed alone or with friends. It is pure fun at face value, but it can also be pursued to immense depth over a life time with infinite mystery and wonderment around every corner. No other human endeavor offers the same opportunity.
RM: Golf is a unique sport, it is only you and not a team against the “elements”. Additionally, golf has been a sport that teaches life skills like no other sport really can. From the simple act of a handshake to introducing yourself to your playing partner to being able to have the integrity to “self-officiate” during a round of golf.
Best advice received — what was it and who from?
RM: Do not assume anything. It makes an “ass” out of you and me — my father, Luis Melendez.
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