Eastside Golf and BIPOC golf representation: A movement
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Dec. 22, 2022
Welcome to the final Golf Thursday of 2022. Where the time has gone? I’m not really sure and I don’t think my brain has really registered that 2023 is less than 10 days away. This has been a monumental year in more ways than one. There’s a story that I’ve been dying to tell for a while now — Eastside Golf —and today seemed like the perfect moment to do so, so let’s dive in.
(Editor’s note: This is the last Golf Thursday of 2022. The IX is off next week, and Golf Thursday returns Jan. 5, 2023.)
In January, I had the privilege of going to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida as a guest of the PGA. If you haven’t been to a show, or you have no idea what it is, it is extremely difficult to articulate just how much stuff there is to see. People are flowing on and off the convention floor, golf gadgets you didn’t know could exist are everywhere you look, and a hint of anxiety radiating off of the Professional Golf Management (PGM) students lingers in the air as they try to secure internships.
It’s something every golf fan should experience just once.
The best part about the PGA Show, for me at least, wasn’t about the gadgets, it was about the people I had met. On our final day at the show, my brother Gavin had mentioned that we’d link up with some old friends of his and walk the floor with them.
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The PGA Show is meant to show off what is new in golf for the current year. From apparel, to accessories, to golf scooters, to golf specific snacks and beverages…if you have had a crazy idea about how to better the game of golf, chances are there’s someone out there who has thought of a similar idea and became a PGA Show vendor.
As I walked the floor for over three days, it demonstrated what is golf and represents in all its glory personified —vendors catered to men only, and there was absolutely nothing there for or by people of color.
So, when my brother made the decision to wear all Eastside Golf apparel as he created official content for the PGA of America and all other their social media channels, it filled my heart with pride. To him, it was about supporting his friends’ brand but it’s bigger than that.
Earl Cooper and Olajuwon Ajanaku are two young men who attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. Morehouse is an HBCU, and within the black community, holds a lot of weight. To be a Morehouse man is a powerful thing, it means that you share the likes of men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Raphael Warnock, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, and so many more incredible men who have shaped our history.
These young black men played on the golf team together at Morehouse, where they won the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship in 2010 — already writing history before truly tapping into their true potential of shaping golf for the better.
On June 1st, 2019, Olajuwon founded Eastside Golf.
Eastside Golf is a lifestyle golf brand developed to raise awareness about golf among youth and non golfers. We want to inspire the culture, promote diversity and continue to be authentic”.Eastside Golf mission statement
When I met Earl, Olajuwon, and their agent Annette Parker at the PGA Show in January, it was like connecting with old friends. Annette isn’t really my cousin, but we jokingly refer each other as just that. And over the course of this year, she has become someone I consider family.
(Author’s note: I spoke to Annette for this week’s Five at The IX…DON’T MISS IT!!!)
Earl and O treat Gavin like their brother, and the love and mentorship they give him as he embarks on his own journey of reshaping golf warms my heart. And as young black men, hellbent on disrupting traditional golf motifs not for themselves, but for the black and brown golfers to come is remarkable to witness.
Seeing them walk the floor together, decked out in Eastside Golf as people stopped them for photos like celebrities, filled me with pride. They had claimed their seat the table, and cemented themselves as difference-makers.
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Growing up, golf wasn’t cool. I mean, I always thought it was, but my friends didn’t. My non-golf friends thought it was weird I played such an ‘old man sport’ and liked it. And sure, I had my golf friends who I grew up playing on junior circuits with, but I still felt like an outsider. I knew that I didn’t really belong, and was in a space that didn’t fully accept me for who I am: a young Black girl who loved golf.
And the clothes…that’s a whole other problem to unpack. I’d wear khakis from Gap or Lands End. I could never find golf apparel that was in my size, and on the rare chances I did, I looked like a 65-year-old woman. I promise this isn’t ageism, but no middle-school aged girl wants to look/dress like a retiree.
It’s cliché but it’s true, when you look good you play good, and for eight years of my junior golf career I didn’t do either. I had to scavenge for other brands to find golf clothes I felt confident and comfortable in, but yet none of them were “cool enough”.
So fast forward to now, a time where a brand like Eastside Golf exists, with this black golfer in streetwear and a chain is the logo, I can’t help but smile.
The logo is nuanced, it’s intentional, and it’s powerful. I think about the Black and brown kids who will show up at tournaments with a logo on their person, who represents them, and they look cool, and they feel empowered because they are wearing a brand made for them by people who look like them — it sends chills down my spine.
From everyday people, to professional athletes like Jayson Tatum and Chris Paul, to stars like DJ Khaled all repping Eastside Golf shows that this is a golf brand doing something that no other golf brand has done — it has made golf culturally relevant.
And some could argue that Tiger did that decades ago, and there’s no argument from me that he single-handedly changed how the world perceived golf, but in order to make something culturally relevant, you have to meet people where they are. You cultivate a mission that’s meant to serve all cultures, all marginalized folks, and use your platform to enable them. Cultural relevancy is product of equity, inclusion, and diversity all existing in the same sphere, at the same time.
As much as Tiger revolutionized golf, we didn’t see an influx of Black golfers on tour. We didn’t even see the numbers drastically increase at the amateur and college levels either. Where change occurs, it has to be localized.
Something as simple as creating a golf shoe that looks like a pair of sneakers you’d wear out and about is filling in the margins. Changing the dress code at courses to be less stringent and more expressive is filling in the margins. Eastside Golf does that, and does it beautifully.
Golf apparel has entered a new space. We are saying goodbye to traditional color palettes and silhouettes. Brands are introducing collar-less polos, joggers, and so much more.
But what Eastside has done in conjunction with Nike and Jordan Golf: they have developed a narrative that transcends golf.
In early November, Gavin and I flew to Atlanta to celebrate the launch of Eastside’s newest collection, Red Clay. The ‘Out the Mud’ shoe, shown above, tells the story of hard work. Golf courses in Atlanta are muddy, and under the grass there’s red clay, which gets all over your shoes. And if you wear white, go ahead and toss that in the trash because those stains aren’t coming out.
To dig deep, figuratively and literally, where you reach the mud shows a level of dedication and persistence. We all have an ‘Out the Mud’ story. Moments in time where we were in the trenches, fighting to do something for ourselves.
There’s a story behind every piece Eastside Golf puts out and it makes them relatable. We can find a little bit of ourselves within Earl and Olajuwon’s stories. Their journey has been documented in their newly released docuseries on Hulu, titled Grails: When Sneakers Change the Game.
The six-episode documentary walks you through the process of developing Eastside, Earl and O’s friendship, and so much more. It’s worth your time, I promise.
To have met Earl and Olajuwon and the whole ESG team in 2022 has shaped how I look at the golf space now. I think for far too long, those who didn’t belong in golf or weren’t accepted have tried to force themselves to fit a mold never meant for us. But rather, we have to go elsewhere and establish our own way.
Much like the establishment of HBCUs, white schools wouldn’t educate black people, so we founded our own.
Much like what we do here at The IX, we created a space to report, celebrate, critique, and dissect women’s sports. And we do so independently, without fear, making it more than just any old publication.
We owe it to ourselves to find belonging in this life. Catering to something that doesn’t serve you, does you no good. If that’s your only option, find another way, otherwise you’re selling yourself short of what you’re truly capable of.
Eastside Golf is more than golf. This is their moment and they’re seizing it, but they have created a movement.
Happy Holidays, and I will see you in 2023.
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Five at The IX: Interview with Annette Parker, Brand Executive for Eastside Golf
Annette Parker of CAA sports is a force to be reckon with. She is an incredible person to know and I am so honored to have her as my final interview of 2022. Her hard work and dedication to reshaping golf as a black woman is paramount. She, as a Brand Executive and agent to Earl Cooper and Olajuwon Ajanaku founders of Eastside Golf, discusses the importance of the brand, being authentic, and so much more.
Describe your golf journey. Was there a defining moment when you realized that you realized that it would be a part of your professional career?
Well believe it or not, I did not grow up with a background in golf. I had no exposure, I didn’t watch it on television, no one in my family played it. I didn’t have friends who played it.
I ran track in college, and during my junior and senior years, I had injuries so I couldn’t run anymore. Between one of the surgeries I had, my mom said that I should learn to play golf. I was like, that sounds so boring, I practically fall asleep to it whenever it’s on [laughs]. And I told her no.
But the summer after I had graduated college I was working at a sports camp that had just opened up a driving range, it was also a teaching, learning and development center in honor of Payne Stewart. I was the athletic director of that camp and because of that, I decided to maybe learn what this golf thing was about.
I fell in love with the sport after my first swing. After my first swing my second question became do people work in this industry? I had no idea what the golf industry offered.
So, I learned about the game, I started to learn more about the industry and then it endeared me into the sport even more because I learned that the tours are 501 (c)(6), I learned that every tournament as a beneficiary. I learned there is a there is a charitable, give back, social responsibility derived for every event that played on tour.
And I was like, this is line with my personal values. The sport is challenging. I’ll never perfect it, it satisfied with my personal ethos of trying be a perfectionist, not so much anymore, but just learning how to thrive and grow. It’s something that you will never master and it presents itself as a great space of self discipline.
And channeled my retired athlete-ness. You know, I ran track, I was competitive. I didn’t know what life was gonna be like, I thought I didn’t know what life would be like as a non-runner. And it was hard to separate myself from running. But golf gave me a deeper sense of purpose. And it helped me pivot my identity from running into just me.
The Eastside Golf slogan is “Be Authentic”, when or where do you feel like your authentic self? How does that drive the work you do with Eastside Golf?
I feel like I’m my most authentic self when I’m equally balanced between my spiritual, mental, and physical points. That doesn’t mean that I’m super strong or perfect, but I’m feeding each of those parts of me equally. Therefore as a result of that, I’m showing up in confidence, on purpose, and with grace and with an open heart like that sounds that sounds cheesy. But truly when I know I’m being my authentic self, I’m not trying to make it about me, I’m trying to find the best way to connect with the people around me. To connect with someone well you have to know who you are.
Working with the guys has pulled something out of me that I didn’t know I had. Working with two black men, ultimately they’re my bosses, they’re my clients, they tell me what they want and I follow their directions. I bring so much in my work with them. But I ultimately here to serve them.
Being around them and doing the work that they commissioned themselves and their team to do, has challenged me to look deep inside at how do I communicate, how to communicate well, how to communicate with black men, how do I help black men’s voices get amplified? How do I, even working with black men making sure my voice is getting heard? These things are important to remain my authentic self being here in this role.
I didn’t have to change myself to work with them, I knew who I was, they knew what they wanted and who they were, and it fit. A relationship shouldn’t demand that you changed for it, but rather that you should change with it. And we have been changing with and growing with each other for the past two years and so I go back to, you know, I know who I am and my purpose. They’re not asking me to do anything that is outside of that purpose. They’re not asking me to compromise myself, they’re not asking me to change my business ethos. Hopefully we all walk through life and don’t encounter those people who ask you to change yourself, but we know the decisions get made where people compromise themselves, so they try and put themselves in space they don’t belong. And that’s what you see the unfortunate side of business and relationships and not growth. But being with them as their brand strategist, as their brand executive as a counterpart to their company and growth plan you have to be yourself because we’re going in spaces where people are gonna tell us who do they think we should be.
Being with them has challenged me in the most beautiful way possible to remind myself of who I am, and why I want to do this work.
What does being apart of Eastside Golf mean to you?
That’s a big question, and I try to answer in two parts. Both personally and professionally.
Personally, what Earl and O have modeled for me, what they’ve displayed for me as young black men, I actually don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully articulate it on in my lifetime. I’m watching two young men jump into an industry that they didn’t go to school for like they had components of it, but O didn’t go to fashion school, he was a finance guy. Earl I think was poli-sci. They had this thing together and shared commonality with being golfers and that’s been quite the catalyst for everything that they’ve accomplished today. Golf is woven into their story. But personally, again, I’m watching two men not lead with egos. I’m watching two men be kind, be funny, be very pointed, and be uplifting.
If I were describe that you’d think I’m describing unicorns, but we inundated that men just don’t do, men aren’t this, they don’t listen, they’re chauvinistic, they’re critical. I’m not saying that these men are perfect. But what I’m saying is that they are helping reestablish expectations and setting so effortlessly, a standard for how black men move. And I know they’re not unique in that, that they have friends that exhibit the same things, but like I’m watching these two men build a business and they are great. They’re integrious, even when they have moments of flaw, they are open to learning. So that means they’re learners, that means they’re not leading with ego. They are humble, and yet they are still hunters. And they will fight until they get it done.
I’m older than them, not by much, but I like they’re like little brothers, you know. That sounds like I’m responsible for them and I’m not but the bond is more than that. When you’re connected on purpose like that it’s just different and that’s been awesome to have professionally. They trust me with this brand, like it’s their baby and I’ve worked hard to build that trust. I do not take that trust for granted and every single day I wake up to make sure I’m showing myself as trustworthy to them.
How do you see golf opening up to black women?
It’s something that I am very intended on adding on to. I don’t consider myself a unicorn. I didn’t jump in the space to be the only one, I jumped in the space knowing I was one of few. But knowing that I had to change that, and if I leave the space and it looks the same then I didn’t do my part well enough. I didn’t serve my mission, the way that I was commissioned to do.
Black women are uniquely positioned as both citizens and members of society to see the margins and engage in the margins because we exist in them. But we are oriented divinely and with a lot of grace because there’s not a lot of people who can endure what we’ve endured system systemically and still keep wanting to show up. So I think we’re uniquely positioned to see the margins and engage the margins and golf, and golf has a lot of margins, a lot of margins to bring people in from the outside. And so I think black women absolutely not only have a space in golf, but can give so much to this space, and that’s the message I want to spread. There’s so much for us to offer to the space.
You don’t have to love golf to get in golf. You know, if it’s graphic design, are you a good artists? Then do art around golf. Are you a good marketer? Help brands understand their plan. Are you good with digital media and content? Do well and shoot content. The golf part might follow second, or it may not come at all. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t give your gift to the space.
Now, if you happen to love golf or even mildly like it, now you’re really dangerous because you, you love it and then anyone who loves something wants to see that thing improve. And you want to add value to it.
I think golf has been underserved in its ability to be even greater because of a lack of black women. And I’ll put my name on that, think that golf is going to get better because I’m a part of it. And then I’ll say golf will get even better because there are other black women to come or who are in it right now, I’m not the only one, there are other black women in it right now, from a teaching perspective, from a member organization perspective, from a media perspective who are doing very good work and we will continue to do so and show other women that they can do excellence here as well.
What can we expect from you and the ESG team in 2023?
Expansion but strategically. You’ll see growth, I’ll say. That’s just not like we’re gonna sell more sweatshirts. No, we’re gonna do more, we’re gonna get more capital to sell but to the fund the mission. The Eastside mission is not only to be authentic, but their purpose is to expose other people to the game who aren’t in it and you have to tactically do that. That’s what you’ll see in 2023 from Eastside.
It’s going to be build year. We’re growing. It’s going to be very exciting and I cannot wait for it.
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