For decades, golf has been known to be one common sport that lacks diversity all over the world. A recent study shows that 1-18% of golfers are Black, and a little under 30% are women. Of course, that did not stop minorities from participating in the sport. When a Westfield Country Club was bought by a group of black investors in 1921, the first ever Black country club came to light, Shady Rest Golf and Country Club. Not long after, in 1937 the first all-women’s Black country club was formed, Wake Robin. Even famous boxer Joe Lewis fought for golf diversity all the way up until he died in 1981. To this day, Black country clubs are still being created and running just as smoothly as they have been for decades. Track on the other hand, is a sport that supports diversity globally, yet only about 3% of American runners are Black.
I recently spoke with my uncle, Lawson Smart, about his experiences being a track runner in high school and college. He started playing recreational golf in his early 20s as an outlet as he no longer wanted to play basketball or football at that age. “Golfing was something to do with the coworkers. I was 21 or 22. It was something I took up when I was young,” Smart said. “Golf, or any type of physical activity you need to start early.” To him, sports like golf and tennis are great forms of physical activity where you are less prone to injuries which he recommends to anyone. Smart would compete in golf tournaments and often win. The more he won, the more he considered playing professional golf, which he started when he hit his 50s.
However, golf didn’t hold a spot in his heart like hurdles did. He was widely known as Skeeter because of his incredibly hasty feet on the track. Going to high school at Booker T. Washington, Smart competed in various track competitions and set records. Despite how much his team celebrated winning and congratulated him on his performance, he was never one to participate in the hype. “When I got in college, and we would win, I would never celebrate with my teammates,” Smart said. “If four of us ran, three of us would hop up and down. The only thing I would do is take my shoes off.” After a race, Smart never knew who placed second or third because he never looked back. “I did my job.”
Even though he knew he was one of the best, he was never full of himself. He would never discriminate against other players who were not as good as he was, but he would be hard on them and push them to do better. He often played the role of a leader, yet other teammates didn’t like him for it. They would judge and talk about him negatively. What they didn’t know was that Smart was bottling up his emotions inside from his life at home.
With split parents and monitoring one unstable sibling, he felt irritated inside, which is where he developed his leader mentality. “I was the boss around the house when my daddy left,” Smart said. “So, I was the captain in junior high school, the captain in high school, and I was the captain in college. So I was mad. I was really mad.” Jumping hurdles on the track was one of the only things that relieved him. Soon into his college career, he received a scholarship to Texas Southern University but was more than proud to run for Morgan State University. Since then, Smart has continued to play golf and has learned to enjoy the little things in life. “I would have my coffee and look outside at the trees and what they have going on over here,” he stated, “and that’s all I need.” Smart shared with me photo books of all of his track milestones in high school and college, tens, and tens of newspaper headlines of his name, and a tray of bronze, silver, and gold medals.
Smart’s message for young athletes is to never pick a sport for its salary. Ensure that you have a passion for it, and the mental and emotional stability to get through the challenges along the way. Smart believes that athletes shall never overestimate their abilities as it will lead them to what he says is the biggest drawback, failure. “Most of the time a person will feel pretty good about himself, but sometimes he’ll overestimate himself,” Smart stated. “That’s where the problem comes in. When you think you’re better than what you are.”