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Latinos & Golf

From Father To Son

Jaime (Jim) Diaz with son Jaime

Jaime (Jim) Diaz with son Jaime (Jimmy) Diaz, 16, as winners of the 1970 Northern California Father and Son Championship.

December 2013

Anyone is lucky to become a golfer, but considering my background, I was luckier than most.

As this package of stories explains, Latinos are proportionately underrepresented in golf. Part of the reason is that contrary to persistent stereotypes, Latinos are made up of very diverse groups.

Globally, there are 20 sovereign countries and one dependent territory (Puerto Rico) where Spanish is the main language. That's a lot of different cultures, and for various reasons one of the few constants is that golf has never been very big in any of them. And that's held true for descendants who have immigrated to the United States.

Which is why I increasingly appreciate my introduction to the game as such a happy accident. My father is from Spain; my mother was from Mexico. Because I spent a lot of time around my grandparents growing up in San Francisco, I spoke Spanish and Catalan before I spoke English.

I was named after my father, but because he preferred to be called Jim, I was usually called Jimmy or Jim Jr. instead of Jaime. This was a common theme in our family and a product of the tension between ancestral pride and the strong desire to assimilate.

It was my Uncle Pepe (Joe) who first took up golf and got my father—a soccer player who was looking for a new sport to play in his new country—started in the game of Dwight Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer. By the time I was 8, on weekends my father was taking me with him to the golf course, usually Harding Park, with a welcoming crowd and a beautiful landscape.

He was still playing soccer at this point, in San Francisco's semipro "ethnic" leagues at Crocker Amazon Playground, where Latino immigrants from various countries had teams. My recollection was that for all the Spanish-speaking fathers and sons who were gathered, few if any ever mentioned golf. One who might have was a Spanish friend of my father, Lucio Ortiz, who soon would start Orlimar Golf, later run by his son Jesse.

My dad kept getting more avid, and so did I. After we moved to Concord when I was 10, our place to play became Diablo Creek, a low-priced public course where my father, now 84, has been a regular for 50 years. On summer weekdays my mother would drop me off in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon. My green fees were covered by an $11 monthly ticket and a per-round payment of 25 cents.

In those days, even on Bay Area courses near diverse neighborhoods, it seemed hardly any Latino kids—or even adults—played golf.

But I remember a lot of Asian groups, and I sometimes played with a traveling group of low-handicap African-Americans who called themselves the Rat Patrol.

Occasionally a local Latino golfer would do something special. There was a rough-and-ready pro named Francisco Lopez who sometimes got into PGA Tour events through Monday qualifying. And a gifted kid named Armando Claudio from San Jose won the 1972 Northern California Junior Championship. On the big stage, I read about Homero Blancas shooting 55, watched Chi Chi Rodriguez win the 1964 Western Open, and a few years later became a huge fan (and swing imitator) of Lee Trevino.

My ethnic tie to those players gave me some inspiration, but that element has been even more vital for Latino kids whose fathers didn't play. It was from watching Trevino that comedian George Lopez started his love affair with the game. Now on his new show, "Saint George," the set includes a facsimile of a putting green for scenes at the country club where Lopez's character is a member. Naturally, Trevino has already done a guest appearance in an upcoming episode. Perhaps seeing two charismatic figures on television will lead more Latinos to golf.

Still, Trevino sees the issue as more basic. His big idea is that golf's ruling bodies and wealthy donors should get together with urban municipalities and buy run-down golf facilities, then turn them over to The First Tee to provide total and essentially free course access on non-school days to kids from lower-income environments.

"It's not just about Latinos," Trevino says. "It's about poor kids who would get into the game if they had a place where they could play all they wanted. That's how you grow the game for the future, and that's how more Latinos will become golfers. It's all about the start."

Any golfer's luckiest moment.

Jaime Diaz is a senior writer at Golf Digest and the Editor-in-Chief of Golf World.

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