9 Questions with PGA of America’s Wendell Haskins

The PGA of America sees its mission as not only growing the game of golf, but also ensuring that people enjoy it when they play. With those values in mind, the organization brought in Wendell Haskins at the start of the New Year. His new title reads, “Senior Director of Diversity and Multi-Cultural Initiatives,” but really Haskins’ new job is just a continuation of what he has always done.

Wendell Haskins He’s the founder and president of the Original Tee, a company that includes the Original Tee Clothing Brand and the Original Tee Golf Classic. Haskins seeks to combine the worlds of golf, entertainment, fashion and business, and as a result, his golf tournaments often feature golf-loving celebrities and athletes. Prior to the Original Tee, he was an executive with Island Records’ Def Jam Recordings label.

Haskins recently took some time to speak with us about some of his goals with the PGA of America, how he got into the game of golf, and some of the great players he’s been able to play with.

How did you joining the PGA of American come about?
I have a company called Original Tee and I have a tournament that I’ve been doing for a number of years. I’ve built a business of producing golf events, pretty much, for other athletes, entertainers, celebrities and national organizations. So being an entrepreneur in an entrepreneurial space, I pretty much have to do everything for those events.

So several years ago, a friend of mine named Anthony Spikes, who’s an avid golfer and participates in a number of my events, he had a friend. (Spikes) was impressed with what I was doing in the golf space and he felt like I was really growing the game and really representing the history and inclusion of African-Americans in golf. He said, ‘You got to meet a friend of mine, he works at the USGA, he’s the chief business officer. His name’s Pete Bevacqua.’ So that was probably about four or five years ago.

He set up a meeting with Pete, myself and the USGA staff; that was the first time that I met Pete Bevacqua. We had a really good meeting, he was impressed by the things that I was doing with the Original Tee and how far I had taken it, and how it was making an impact in the sports/entertainment community.

And then in the end of 2012, (Bevacqua) got appointed CEO of PGA of America. He called me and he said, ‘I’m going to be making some changes over here and really moving the game forward. Everything that you’re doing is really growing the game. You have great relationships in sports and entertainment and you know golf and popular culture. If you’re interested, I’d like to find a place for you over here at the PGA of America because I think you could be an asset to what I’m doing.’

Was the position kind of created just for you?

Yeah it was kind of created for me and it was actually given a little bit more responsibility just by the nature of what I’ve done previously. That’s why I had the “multi-cultural initiatives” attached to the title because it’s not just a diversity gig; it’s really creating other opportunities. Multi-cultural initiatives really allow me to do some cool, interesting things that run across all platforms of the business, from business development to marketing, a number of things.

Do you have any clear-cut goals?
I just think there’s a huge opportunity in forming relationships with people that are influencers in popular culture to grow the game. Because there’s a lot of influence out there with athletes and entertainers and artists and really influential people that play the game, but largely the general population doesn’t really know that this culture even exists. If you’re privy to it, it’s great, but it’s kind of largely underground when you’re talking about the population that you’re trying to grow the game amongst.

allen curry

Kids don’t know that Stephen Curry, Ray Allen, Chris Paul, Jerome Bettis, these guys are avid golfers. So I’m going to be doing things to involve youth, of course, and guys that are prevalent in sports, entertainment and popular culture to bridge that gap, to really bring that culture to the forefront, to be able to use that as an influencer for these kids to kind of know that it exists or spark more interest in the game.

So for instance, I’m working on an initiative right now where I have, possibly, Alonzo Mourning and Ray Allen playing in a match against each other and I have kids following them in a gallery. The kids are learning about golf, they’re on the course, they’re following them, they’re outdoors, a lot of them will probably be experiencing being out on a golf course for the very first time. But they’re also watching two guys that they know, love and admire and can relate to playing golf.

Not only is that inspiring but after the round, they may want to go out and try to emulate what they’ve just seen on the course because they’ve just seen somebody that they know, love and admire play the game and do things, and they see the interaction between the guys, how it’s fun, the clothes that they’re wearing, the swagger and stuff that they have when they’re playing. When kids see that they want to emulate those kinds of things.

Wendell Haskins John Starks Jemelle Hill 600

John Starks, Jemelle Hill and Wendell Haskins at 2013 Original Tee Golf Classic. (OriginalTee.com)

This sounds like a lot of what you did with the Original Tee. How does your new position affect what you do for Original Tee?
Well, the Original Tee is my tournament, is my brand that I started and it’s really how I forayed into the golf business, by creating the Original Tee golf tournament and the Original Tee brand. So this year will be the 15th year of the tournament, and actually now the Original Tee Golf Classic will be an event under the umbrella of the PGA of America. So I will continue to be able to grow that event and have it continue to mean everything that it’s meant to sports entertainment and African-Americans and the diverse-culture community.

And the PGA of America will also be able to benefit from that as well because I have a huge amount of credibility in that space. We can benefit from growing the event and then the PGA of America also will have a property that we can move forward and have represent diversity, inclusion and all the great things that we need for the PGA of America to have.

How did you get into the game of golf?
I didn’t grow up playing high school, college or anything. I got into golf when I was an executive at Island Records. And I had a friend of mine who was about 10 years older than me who was into golf. He wanted to go on a trip to New Mexico, like Albuquerque and Sante Fe. He was like, ‘I just want you to learn how to play well enough to go on this trip with me. We’ll have a good time.’ I was living in Brooklyn, New York; it’s a hard place to pick up golf for the first time, because there’s not really too many places to play and practice.

So learning golf in New York has its challenges but I was fortunate enough to connect with one of the only African-American pros there. His name was Will Larkin and he actually now runs Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course. I paid him for lessons. He was my first instructor and taught me the fundamentals, how to advance the ball and get it moving, and I could start to see results after practicing. You’re advancing the ball, you’re hitting the driver and the ball is going in the air, and some of them are going straight. And you start to build on the rewards of those results.

How is your game these days?
I’m like a 10 handicap. I just moved to Florida. The lowest I’ve been is like a 9 handicap. I haven’t been playing a lot but living in Florida now and working this gig, hopefully I’ll be able to work on my game a little bit more and get it down to something in the mid to low single digits. That’s the goal, but that’s everybody’s goal.

Bill Rhoden, Rosie Perez and Wendell Haskins

Bill Rhoden, Rosie Perez and Wendell Haskins at 2007 Original Tee Golf Classic. (Getty Images)

You’ve played a ton of different places. Do you have a favorite course?
One of the most beautiful places I’ve played is El Tamarindo, a beautiful course in Mexico. I was so impressed. It has this beautiful, like, halfway café that almost makes you want to stop playing after nine holes; it’s overlooking the cliffs.

And I played Pine Valley for the first time last year, which was awesome. A friend of mine – the guy who introduced me to Pete Bevacqua – he’s a member at Pine Valley. Then I love Friar’s Head in Long Island, in the Hamptons; Friar’s Head is a good place. And then Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (laughs).

Do you have two or three favorite people that you’ve played with?
Dr. J is definitely one of them. I always love playing with Dr. J; our relationship really developed through golf. He’s been one of my honorees at my tournaments, and I always look forward to playing with him. Of course growing up, Dr. J was like my era’s Michael Jordan.

Alonzo Mourning is a friend and we play. Now that I’m in Miami I’ll probably be kind of like part of their weekend foursome, but he’s definitely cool to play with. I guess those are probably some of my people I really look forward to playing with.

And I have a good friend, too, from my family’s hometown, a guy named Melvin Roane. The world doesn’t know Melvin Roane but Melvin Roane is one of my favorite people to play with. He was from Richmond, Virginia, where my family’s from, and now he lives in Miami. He’s a good friend of Alonzo Mourning’s as well. So we all play together and that’s one of my favorite playing partners.

Who would be in your dream foursome?
Wow. My dream foursome? My dream foursome would be me, Melvin Roane, Barack Obama and Renee Powell (the second African-American to play on the LPGA Tour). You know, that’s a tough one because I would love to play with Charlie Sifford, too (the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame). But I’ve talked to Charlie and I know his health isn’t great. Charlie’s probably not playing probably any golf nowadays, but I would have loved to be able to.

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