Clemmie Perry strives to get more black women and children to play sports

Mariah Stackhouse hits her tee shot on the 6th hole in the first round of the Cognizant Founders Cup at Mountain Ridge Country Club on October 7 in West Caldwell, New Jersey. Stackhouse is the only black golfer on the LPGA Tour.

TAMPA – It didn’t take long for Clemmie Perry to realize that she stood out on the golf course.

It wasn’t because of her lack of skill or because she was a middle-aged woman who was just starting to learn the game.

She was the only black woman on the course.

Perry’s experiences prompted her to take whatever she had and put it into her own programs, Women of Color Golf and Girls on the Green Tee.

“I haven’t seen minority women like me on the green,” Perry said. “What I realized was half of my life was over, but I had to change it very quickly for the women and girls behind me.”

When Perry started researching and talking to professionals in the game, she discovered a glaring set of numbers: over 24 million people played golf in the United States, but only four million were minorities and only 1. % were women of color.

Since 2014, Perry’s programs have reached over 1,000 girls and women in the Tampa Bay area.

The LPGA Tour, which was in Belleair last weekend for the second annual Pelican Women’s Championship, knows the organization has room to grow when it comes to diversity.

“I am a firm believer in golf that changes lives,” said LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “I think it’s our responsibility, in fact, to give this game to people who otherwise might not have it and who might not feel comfortable in the game.”

“Treasure in the trash”

Perry was looking for ways to fill her time when she lost her senior job at Lockheed Martin. She had always wanted to learn golf, but a hectic work-life balance didn’t allow it until 2012.

Make great strides on the golf course

Clemmie Perry speaks after receiving the 2018 WAVES Award at the Center for Women Waves of Change Luncheon at Armature Works in Tampa.

Luckily, his younger brother Ross found an old set of clubs sitting on top of a trash heap at the intersection of PGA Boulevard and Prosperity Road while driving around Palm Beach Gardens.

“There was treasure in the trash,” Perry said now. “It changed my life.”

Perry’s older brother Kenneth paid lessons with Jim Wright, a 25-year-old professional golfer. Soon after Perry started acting, his talent became evident.

His love for the game deepened with each outing. And because golf changed her life, she wanted it to help change the lives of others too.

After a year of training, Perry decided to create a community of golfers. So she started coordinating clinics and groups at Golfer’s Grail in Tampa.

Seeing young girls fall in love with the game was her greatest reward. She loved watching them pick up a set of clubs for the first time and make contact with the ball on a successful swing.

She started offering summer camps, but that wasn’t sustainable when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“As the doors kept closing,” Perry said, “I had to keep figuring out what to do. “

A legacy to build on

Perry’s family helped shape his vision of what it means to make real change.

Her mother, Doris Ross Reddick, was the first black woman to chair the Hillsborough County School Board, where she served three terms from 1992 to 2004.

Her grandmother, Clemmie Ross James, was a civil rights leader who taught in the county in the 1940s. She gave up her retirement savings for Florida teachers to teach Tampa Bay area students, working over 40 years as a teacher and vice-principal at Lomax primary school.

Today, two elementary schools in the area are named after Perry’s mother and grandmother. Clemmie Ross James Elementary was inaugurated in 2005, Doris Ross Reddick Elementary School in 2009.

It all came full circle in the spring of 2021 when Perry was looking for the right partner schools to work with his programs.

When she walked through the doors of Clemmie Ross James Elementary School, she saw her grandmother’s portrait hanging on the school office wall before meeting the school principal.

“It was almost like she said, ‘What took you so long? “, Recalls Perry. “It will work now.”

In the spring of 2021, Perry’s Youth Program was piloted at Clemmie Ross James Elementary School. This month, she completed the pilot program at the school named after her mother.

“Their two schools represent their life,” said Perry. “Clemmie Ross James in East Tampa serves marginalized girls and students who are African American… and Ross Reddick serves a Hispanic population, which were the two demographic groups the golf industry is trying to reach. I just said, ‘I found my place.’ “

Building blocks for something bigger

When Perry started her organization, she had two mentors who helped her move the programs forward.

Renee Powell made history when she became the second African American woman to play golf on the LPGA Tour – after Althea Gibson – in 1967. She retired in 1980 and was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2017.

Running a class from Canton, Ohio, Powell connected with Perry and found they shared a soul mate. Today, Powell is one of three people on Perry’s key advisory board.

“She took me under her wings,” Perry said. “I have listened to her and she guides me to this day.”

Additionally, Perry enlisted Michael Cooper’s help. The former director of diversity for the World Golf Foundation helped develop the First Tee program in the Tampa Bay area.

Women of Color Golf and Girls On the Green Tee was named the 2020 PGA Tour Charity of the Year. In 2016, Perry was recognized by the Obama administration as one of its 10 “Champions for Change” for “extracurricular enrichment, after school and summer programs for marginalized girls, including girls of color.”

In 2017, Perry was selected as one of the Heroes of the Tampa Bay Lightning Community, receiving a $ 50,000 donation that went to his Women of Color Golf Program, Florida Sports Hall of Fame, Where Love Grows and the Center for Women.

This year, its programs were recognized by Saudi Arabian company Aramco Oil as a driving force for diversity.

Change is coming

The LPGA acknowledged its diversity shortfalls last summer after months of social unrest over the murder of George Floyd while in custody in Minneapolis.

The Tour does not have a demographic breakdown of its players but keeps track of the countries of origin of the players. More than 47 countries are currently represented between the LPGA, the Symetra Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

A 2020 CNN Sport report said the organization had only eight full-time black members on the tour since 1950. Additionally, CNN reported that of the 220 active tour members, Mariah Stackhouse is the only one. black golfer to be a full-time member.

“Mariah is just one example of an amazing role model,” Samaan said. “… I think it’s extremely useful to have role models, but we have to put the core curriculum first and put the resources into it to introduce people to the game.”

In February, the organization released “C-Me,” a play about the CME Championship that takes place at the end of each year on the LPGA Tour.

“C stands for Commitment and Me means that each individual is personally committed to listening, learning and being better about it,” the organization wrote on its website. “The ‘C-Me’ also has another meaning. These are the women and girls who see other people who are like them in golf. “

Former LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan wrote in the same month that 2020 was a year of personal growth for him as he learned and listened to those around him and paid special attention to black players on the tour and to their experiences.

“As much as I wanted to believe the LPGA was a no-discrimination zone, hearing personal stories made me realize that we still have work to do,” he wrote. “We are the leaders when it comes to gender diversity in golf, but we can (and should) be much more than that. “

Samaan, who became commissioner in August, continued the conversation on diversity.

“We believe deeply in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Samaan said. “And we really believe in giving this opportunity to young kids who might not otherwise have it or to underfunded kids from different backgrounds who don’t feel comfortable in the game.”

The LPGA is focused on working with its foundation board to create a strategy on how they can get more kids to golf, Samaan added.

Along with the US Golf Association, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, the LPGA is also a sponsor of the “Make Golf Your Thing” initiative, which aims to make golf accessible to everyone. However, the work remains to be done.

“It’s essential to see someone who looks like you in almost everything you do,” Perry said. “You have to be representative so that people feel welcome and you can do it. … If you can see it you can be, but if you never see it you don’t even know it’s possible.