Catch The Flying Tiger

African American interest in golf is growing rapidly, but how do we profit from the windfall?

golf courses upon his return home from World War II. While overseas, his interest in golf had sparked into a passion, in part because access to golf courses wasn’t denied him while he was stationed in England. Upon returning, Powell located several acres of farmland in East Canton on which to build his own nine-hole course.

Today, Clearview is a family-run operation. Powell’s son Lawrence has been course superintendent since 1978. His daughter Renee, the second black woman to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, is now the golf club’s head pro. Although Powell declined to reveal the specific costs associated with running Clearview, the National Golf Course Owners Association projects the average operating costs to run a course (which includes, among other factors, maintenance, property tax, utilities and costs of food and beverages) at approximately $131,000 annually. And at an average of $3-$4 million in start-up costs for an 18- hole course, the entry into this market will remain exclusive.

It comes as no shock to Renee Powell that few have followed her father’s lead over the last five decades. “It doesn’t surprise me because I know this industry. But it troubles me,” she says. “You look at Clearview and you think that someone started this 51 years ago and there should be more, but there aren’t.” Renee says the problem is that rarely will you see blacks who even work on a golf course, much less own one. “Only in the last few years have there even been black manufacturer reps or sales people that called on golf courses.”

Hearing Powell speak, you might think other entrees into the industry might be less difficult. Warren Smith, III thought designing an African American-inspired golf apparel line would be a relatively easy endeavor when he created Gofu Wear in 1995. Indeed,
the start-up costs were low. Smith’s initial investment of $2,000 bought him a patent, logo and some designing samples. But the Cincinnati-based designer, who had prior retailing experience, says it’s been a learning experience from Day One. The market is already dominated by major apparel designers like Reebok and Nike. And Gofu (Swahili for golf), which targets 25-55-year-old “fashion conscious” golfers, was hard-pressed to find retail space in an industry that likes to go with established brand names. This leaves niche players like Gofu a limited market in which to work.

Smith says the inspiration for the company came two years ago after picking up a copy of Minority Golf magazine. “My first thought was that we are fashion conscious people,” he chuckles. “Brothers are going to have to look good when we play golf.” So Smith secured a patent and began designing clothing ranging from knitted shirts and sweater-vests to straw hats. The items run in price from $39-$85. Yet breaking down doors has been difficult.

Lesson one involved dealing with suppliers and manufacturers who are often reluctant to work with small start-ups. “Volume is everything in retail. And most manufacturers are reluctant to work with you unless you’re talking about

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