Golf tournament brings diversity to the green

More than a hundred golfers from London, the Bahamas and right here in Houston played in a weekend tournament unlike any other. The Mack Champ Invitational is a one-of-a-kind junior golf event created for diverse players.

"The amount of kids from different racial backgrounds in this tournament is surprising," says 11-year-old Aleah Shields-Rodipe from Canada.

She is one of 120 young golfers of different shades from 20 states, seven countries, and various incomes at the second Mack Champ Invitational weekend put on by Houston-area resident and three-time PGA Tour winner Cameron Champ.

"If you want to grow the game, I always say there’s a huge section of the pie just sitting there. A lot of it has to do with accessibility," says Champ. "A lot of it has to do with the time, the era the game came up in. It’s taken generations for it to kick into another gear," he says.

His Cameron Champ Foundation is carving a path for those who might otherwise miss opportunities to play golf by sponsoring players with potential, many of who rely on community support.

"Some tournaments we can’t compete in because it’s very expensive- even the travel, even staying in different hotels, but we find a way," says one father Patrick Pinkney.

Through the event, winners with little experience can also get exemptions to play in major tournaments. Champ says it's about finding talent where others won't look.

"It’s giving them that chance," explains the pro-golfer.  

"Back home in my community [we’re] targeting those areas because we grew up there, we’re comfortable there, we know the slang, we know how to get to those kids," he adds.

For the competitors from 11 to 18 years old, the invitational is a rare chance to play with kids who look like them.

"With people of a different color you feel worried that you’re going to do something, and they’re not gonna talk to you, they’re going to be afraid of you," says Shields-Rodipe.
"Here, you don’t feel any difference because they all look like you, they play golf like you, and they have so much in common with you," she says.

Without parents well-versed in golf, some of the players stumbled into the game. 
"We live right next to a golf course [and] the balls kept hitting our house," explain California sisters Layla Phillips, 11 and Roxanne Phillips, 9.

"Our mom made a complaint, and then they were like ‘I’ll give you some lessons," say the girls who admit they’re often compared to Venus and Serena Williams.

Unlikely starts like theirs paired with the Mack Champ competition are giving them a shot at success.

Twelve-year-old Patrick Pinkney started playing golf after learning about it on a field trip.
"I like to compete, and I like to meet other people, and I like winning," says Pinkney.

"In the future, if I go pro, I can help my dad out with some money," he adds.

In a sport traditionally reserved for the white and the wealthy, the players see here it can be open to anyone with a love for the game.

"One day when we're playing golf when we're older, we'll all thank the Mack Champ tournament for showing us that this can be done," says Shields-Rodipe.