Nonprofit aims to bring greater diversity, inclusion to professional golf

The renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula played host to a special tournament this week.

Golfers took to the courses for the second annual Cisco Invitational, marking the first-ever 54-hole event in the history of the Advocates Professional Golf Association (AGPA) tour.

"When we started this 14 years ago, we had a lot of visions and dreams about what we wanted," said Kenneth Bentley, co-founder and CEO of the tour. "This far surpasses all that."

The APGA is a nonprofit organization established in 2008 with the goal of promoting diversity and accessibility in golf. The idea was born when Bentley questioned the lack of African American players on the tour.

"Cost is a barrier," Bentley explained. "And we’re trying to eliminate that barrier and give them the tools so they can be successful."

"You’re spending what could be thousands of dollars every time you’re traveling to a tournament, going to venues, paying for practice rounds, food, hotel stays and then golf clubs," said Andrew Walker, one of the players on the tour.

Walker is one of nearly 70 talented athletes from diverse backgrounds who benefit from sponsorship-supported player development and career coaching.

The tour has formed partnerships with major sponsors such as Cisco to support its growth.

"Not only do we want to get guys on tour," said Bentley. "We want to get guys in the golf industry, our guys are running their own businesses, mostly-college educated."

"When you think about our purpose mission, it’s around empowering an inclusive future for all," stated Cliff Thomas, Cisco’s Senior Vice President for Global Enterprise Segment. "This is a great platform in the game of golf to do just that."

APGA's initiatives also extend to the next generation, as they collaborate with inner-city youth organizations to introduce boys and girls to the sport.

"We want that equal representation," said Walker. "It starts by giving more people the opportunity to play at the higher level. But really at the lowest level giving kids more access."

The golfers not only competed at the iconic Pebble Beach, but also vied for a share of a $150,000 purse, the second-largest on the tour this year.

"To have the opportunity go out and play for some big bucks, but more importantly shows how committed companies like Cisco are to back guys out here, who are pushing and striving for their dreams," said Walker.

These dreams have the potential to thrive and carry forward through the APGA where players are given the opportunity to pursue careers that may have once seemed unattainable.

For people like Bentley who pour so much into the tour, the goal remains simple: "We really want to see golf on Sunday looking like America and I think we’ve started to do that."