Teaching Kids Lessons About Life and Links
Sitting quietly in a tucked away corner of William Devine Golf Course in Boston, George Lyons reflects on what might have been.
The golfer's memories of "the game," as he fondly distinguishes it, rarely allude to the alienation and discrimination he confronted as an African-American in a sport dominated by an exclusionary, white establishment.
With the success of Tiger Woods, at the dawn of what appears to be a brighter future for blacks in the game, Lyons expresses nothing but optimism for the sport that never seemed to reciprocate the lifetime of respect and devotion he offered it.
Nevertheless, as the golf pro at the public course in Roxbury - a predominately black section of Boston - Lyons has made a point of helping children from low-income, minority families with instruction both on and off the course. He recognizes the effect the game can have on the minds of children. "Golf helps young people build their character. You're out there alone, it's you against the elements...it teaches you to think on your feet and play the game honestly," he says.
Once a regular on the United Golfers' Association tour - the league for African-American players excluded by the discriminatory policies of the Professional Golfers' Association - Lyons competed with many players good enough for the PGA, including the first African-American allowed on the tour, Charlie Sifford.
In the late 1950s, Sifford invited Lyons to join him in attempting to qualify for the PGA's Buick Open in New York, but Lyons chose to put his dreams on hold for more important matters. "I had a young family at the time so I chose not to go," he says.
Over the past four years, Lyons, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Golf Association, has invited 400 inner-city kids to a week-long golf clinic led by New England's top professional players.
Besides instructing them in the nuances of the golf swing, the children learn lessons in life. "We talk to them about staying in school, avoiding dope, peer pressure, and how to seek help if they get in trouble," says Lyons.
Because of the lobbying efforts of Lyons, and other community leaders in Boston, the state administrates one of the largest golf education programs in the country.
In the city-sponsored Red Shirt Program, children and teenagers work for two hours at the golf course, spend the next two hours with an English and a math tutor, finishing the day with an enthusiastic two hours on the course.
Although Lyons believes his efforts have made a difference in the lives of children and the game of golf, from his perspective, no person has had a larger impact on the game, in such a short period of time, than Tiger Woods.
He believes Woods has been a model for more than people of color. "Tiger taught kids that you can have a humble beginning and still achieve some of the finer things. He's a great role model. His skill and family relationships are so great. He's developed into a role model, not just for blacks, but for the entire country." Overall, he believes blacks will make a large contribution to the game of golf. "It's an industry that not too many blacks are employed in. But it's changing," he says.