THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Black Golfers Launch Group to Shatter Stereotypes, Get Urban Residents Onto the Green

Monday, May 5, 2014, 2:00 AM

Queens

United Black Golfers Association — the first co-ed club of its kind in Queens — formed in March to nix the deep-rooted prejudice in the predominantly white sport.

Vernel Bennett (left) and Jacques Leandre, both from Laurelton, started the United Black Golfers Association with hopes of uniting urban communities.

MELISSA CHAN - Vernel Bennett (left) and Jacques Leandre, both from Laurelton, started the United Black Golfers Association with hopes of uniting urban communities.

Their strokes on the green still draw stares and snide remarks in what is supposed to be a “post-racial” America.

A Queens-based group of black golfers has launched a nonprofit called the United Black Golfers Association — the first co-ed club of its kind in the borough — to nix the deep-rooted prejudice in the predominantly white sport.

“Sometimes you don’t even get the verbal racism,” said Vernel Bennett, 62, who leads the progressive club. “It's in the silence. That doesn’t bother me, but it could bother people. I just smile because it’s typical.”

The retired Laurelton man said he wants to shatter stereotypes and get urban residents of color into the game and onto the borough’s four public golf courses.

Pro golfer and former champ Fuzzy Zoeller landed in hot water after the 1997’s Masters when he told Tiger Woods “in jest” not to serve fried chicken at the champions’ dinner.

More recently, disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks got him banned from the NBA for life.

“This isn’t something we can get away from,” said Jacques Leandre, the group’s vice president, of the bigotry. “That’s historical, and the remnants of that still exist.”

The face of the sport has been changing, the golfer said, but it has been slow to come.

Vernel Bennett, 62, learned to play golf on a cruise ship about seven years ago. The retired tax auditor said the game brings strangers together for sometimes five hours.
MELISSA CHAN - Vernel Bennett, 62, learned to play golf on a cruise ship about seven years ago. The retired tax auditor said the game brings strangers together for sometimes five hours.

“A lot of us would like to believe we live in a post-racial America,” said Leandre, a 43-year-old Laurelton attorney who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last year. “That doesn’t exist. Any time you go into a community or setting where you’re not the majority, there are going to be some stares. Some of them are from folks curious about why you’re there. Some wonder how you can afford the game.”

The seven-member group, which formed in March, will welcome all races and genders, ranging from rookies to experts.

Monthly membership is $20 after a one-time $100 fee. The fees go toward reduced-rate lessons with Professional Golf Association-certified trainers and biweekly group trips.

Some Queens golfers teeing off at Kissena Park Golf Course Friday applauded the club’s efforts, saying they see more diversity on the city’s courses each year.

“I don’t see race,” said Bayside resident Michael Scricca, who was at the golf course with others. “It's old-fashioned thinking, and every generation is getting smarter.”

Club in hand, golfer Marty Puntus, 72, said it all boiled down to ability.

“As long as they have the skill, the sky is the limit,” said Puntus just before a round of golf.

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United Black Golfers Association, Inc.