Home » On the Spot

Think American golf has race inequality issues? Look elsewhere

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Racial inequality in American golf came into the news in a major way with Kelly Tilghman's "lynch" Tiger Woods comment, her return to the Golf Channel booth and Golfweek's noose cover. A look beyond the United States' borders to the Bahamas shows the harsh reality in other parts of the world.

Rashad McKenzie
Rashad McKenzie cleans a club in the strange game he could never play.
Rashad McKenzieGreg NormanBlue Shark Golf Club - slave ruins

NASSAU, Bahamas - Want to feel low as a white guy?

Turn around and ask your black Bahamian caddie what those ruins are behind the 12th tee and have someone else in your group mouth nervously from over the caddie's back shoulder, "Slave ruins." While playing golf, of course, the ultimate white man's sport.

Of course, the caddie was nonplussed by any fuss. In America, where something is read into everything, you might get a cold stare and at best an uncomfortable silence in such an exchange with a stranger.

In the Bahamas, you might actually learn something.

"These are the homes of my ancestors," Rashad McKenzie, the 19-year-old caddie says. "They're going to put a plaque there to tell their story."

There has been a lot of talk about race in golf in America lately with Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman coming back onto the air after introducing lynching into sports commentary, Golfweek putting a noose on its cover and firing its editor over it quicker than George W. Bush plays a round, and Tiger Woods once again revealing he prizes loyalty to Tiger above all. American golf hasn't come out looking very good in the discussion, which is usually the case.

Get outside the country to other golf lands, and you might be surprised by what you find.

If you think there's a plethora of places where non-whites enjoy a golf nirvana, you need to think again.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I did what a lot of folks who get the day off (and aren't snowbound) do: obliviously golf. It wasn't until I returned to the hotel after my round at Greg Norman's new Blue Shark Golf Club in South Ocean, that I thought how the caddie's story relates to the day.

Rashad McKenzie is one of the top young basketball players in the Bahamas, small forward on a bronze medal-winning Junior Olympic Team. In the U.S., this would bring him at minimum free sneakers galore, a college scholarship, a traveling lifestyle worthy of a rock star (as long as he kept hitting the jump shot) and the lure of future riches. Bahamian basketball isn't close to American basketball's level, though. It's more like being the best squash player in the U.S.

McKenzie gets a few trips to the nearby Dominican Republic and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to play and the need to grab at a life raft caddie job in a sport he never had any chance to play.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity for the caddies," said Mark Young, a Canadian real estate facilitator who assisted the developers in making Blue Shark come to life.

McKenzie's mom drives him the 15 miles from their home to the course. Then, he does his best to understand a game that has all these foreigners swinging clubs and wondering why he doesn't get the intricacies of their sport's passion.

"These caddies know nothing about golf," more than a few golf travel writers on the Blue Shark's grand preview day said to each other. "No yardages. No help lining up putts."

Most complainers forgot, there was no chance to learn.

It's 'No Golf For You' in much of the world

Think it's hard to make it as a golfer of color in America?

It's still all but impossible in the Bahamas.

The golf courses tend to be behind walls - and these are stone walls and iron gates, not figurative ones - of resort luxury communities where the overwhelming majority of native Bahamians are not welcome - except to work.

In fact, they're not just not welcome. They're stopped at security checkpoints at resorts like Atlantis where cars are either waved through or turned away.

Paradise Island is 10 miles from downtown Nassau, just over a bridge. Still, it's foreign land for many who work in downtown's cramped streets and wait for the public buses.

"Maybe one or two," my cab driver snorts when asked if any native Bahamians live on Paradise Island. "S**t, man. That's where Michael Jordan lives. That's where multi-millionaires live. Donald Trump has a place there.

"How am I supposed to live where Michael Jordan lives?"

As with many things involving race, it's really in large part a class issue. In the Bahamas, the average annual per capita sits at $13,000. That doesn't sound like much, but it's actually the third highest in the Americas region after the U.S. and Canada. Compared to many other spots in the Caribbean like the Dominican Republic, it's a fortune.

Yet even here, the gap between the have-a-lots and the have-littles stands as wide as that greenish blue ocean that lures so many tourists.

At Blue Shark, with one of golf's most obscenely rich entrepreneurs ever, Greg Norman, showing off the course, former Bahamian Parliament member Henry Bostwick made a plea for locals being able to play. Bostwick says none of the other courses on the whole New Providence island (which includes Nassau and Paradise) regularly let locals on.

To be fair, a few Bahamians were playing the $35 twilight Cable Beach Golf Club the afternoon I played it, and Blue Shark's owner says there will be local access (though if the greens fees aren't discounted steeply, only the Bahamian elite could play anyways, which would effectively bar the working class without having to set a policy). Overall, Bostwick's point is right on.

On this day, there's security everywhere. Blue Shark, largely out in its own world on the south shore, had so many guards with their backs turned to the course that you wouldn't be surprised if they had one of those big bags the Secret Service hauls around with a bazooka in it.

Who are they worried about getting in?

Rashad McKenzie doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about that when he shows up in his white caddie coveralls. He's 19. He's lamenting another lost season by the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA team he first adopted as his own. He's looking to get enough tips to go out with his girlfriend.

Very few 19-year-olds are worried about saving the world.

When I ask McKenzie if there are famous basketball coaches in the Bahamas, he lists off a few names.

"In five years, you can add me," he laughs.

McKenzie has a dream. He wants to coach basketball and teach. More importantly, he has the opportunity to reach it. He's pursing a degree in physical education at a local college, knowing that's the best path to becoming a high school coach.

He's using golf to help get there.

It's about time someone here got something out of the game.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Bahamas golf

    Joe Euteneuer wrote on: Jan 30, 2008

    Can you please tell me what planet you come from? I have just finished reading your blog comments about Bahamas golf, only to realize that my time could have been better spent doing something more productive: like cleaning my ears or counting palm trees along "Castle" Beach.
    Yes, I'll contribute to the hits on your blog this one time, in order to sound off.
    You would be wise to keep your obvious American white guilt to yourself when traveling to other countries. This is one export that the Bahamas does not want, or need. Most Bahamians don't view the world through such jaundiced racial eyes, nor are they interested in being the subject of such nonsensical interpretations as you have offered on your blog.
    Your assessment of Bahamians in general, and Bahamian golf in particular couldn't be more inaccurate. Even worse, your facts are wrong, which should give your readers pause when considering the substance of your blog.
    *Paradise Island is not "10 miles from downtown". The entire island is only 21 miles long.
    *"Castle" Beach Golf Club does not exist. You mean "Cable" Beach (a name whose significance you also failed to grasp).
    *All cars are stopped at security checkpoints at Atlantis and elsewhere. Duh! Do we need to define "security" for you, or can you learn this for yourself with a quick visit to one of the many exclusive golf clubs that abound in the US?
    And still more self-serving comments: "Bahamian basketball isn't close to American basketball's level." What an idiotic statement that reeks of American patronizing and completely dismisses the achievements of former professional NBA players Michael "Sweet Bells" Thompson and Rick Fox, both Bahamians. (But I would venture a guess that you didn't know these gentlemen were Bahamian, did you?)
    Bahamian taxi driver: "How am I supposed to live where Michael Jordan lives?" This may seem ridiculously obvious to everyone but you, but relatively few Americans could afford to live where Michael Jordan lives!
    Thanks for visiting the Bahamas, but next time you come (if there is a next time), please leave your racial baggage behind. Bahamian skin color runs the gamut from black to yellow to white and all shades in between. Bahamians manage to live in relative harmony with each other, and that's how we'd like to keep it.
    Second-rate commentary and inaccurate reporting like yours should be confined to more appropriate subjects, like Britney Spears' addictions or how aliens from Jupiter have secretly taken control of the White House.
    As far as Bahamian golf goes, you'd be better served practicing your putting on the Blue Shark course, rather than commenting on supposed inequities in the game here.
    Rashad McKenzie has, in fact, already "gotten something out of the game" here in the Bahamas: He got a job.
    But I'm sure you'll find something to fault in that as well.
    Joe Euteneuer
    Nassau, Bahamas


Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!