Last week, the Copperhead Course at Palm Harbor’s Innisbrook Resort played host to a groundbreaking golf tour dedicated to opening new pathways for often overlooked and underrepresented junior golfers.
Basketball superstar Steph Curry launched the Underrated Golf Tour to provide better equity, access and opportunity to a sport not historically known for its inclusivity. According to its website, there are only two Black men in the top 100 worldwide rankings and just one Black woman in the top 300.
For its inaugural season, Underrated officials hand-selected 60 (30 boys and girls) underrepresented, “3-star” competitive junior golfers to participate in a five-city tour that provides much-needed opportunities to network with college coaches and receive mentorship from PGA professionals. Innisbrook hosted the tour from Aug. 8-10, the last stop before the championship round at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park that begins Aug. 28.
“It really provides a platform for these kids to showcase their skillset, and that’s just from a golf point of view,” said Will Lowery, tour ambassador. “But also from a career perspective, it sheds some light on career opportunities that they may want to go down in the game of golf, or just in general.”
Lowery, a Charlotte, N.C native, is uniquely qualified for his role. He is one of the few African Americans who were able to parlay his time as a professional into a career in golf media.
Lowery said there is no doubt he would have benefited from the Underrated tour as a kid. While not exclusively for players of color, he reiterated the focus is increasing participation numbers among minority junior golfers in both the introductory and competitive levels of golf.
“They’re really paying attention to detail to some of the kids and some of their needs to be successful in this sport,” he added. “Less than 2% of Black and Brown kids are competing on a competitive level.”
“If you look at the grand scheme of things, we’re creating another talent pool where these kids and parents don’t have to pay so much money just to participate and get their name out there.”
Morgan Rodriguez, 15, is one of the Florida natives participating on the Underrated Tour. She noted the connections made with college coaches and the surrounding golf community could have a lasting impact on her future in the sport. She also appreciates the camaraderie that touring the country with other junior golfers has provided.
Morgan, from Delray Beach, explained that many younger golfers often get overlooked, regardless of their background. She said high school players – especially females – are not typically afforded the same scholarship opportunities as their football, baseball and basketball counterparts. That increases the need to gain critical exposure through national tournaments.
“And then, of course, when you are kind of underprivileged with not having enough money to play or not the proper equipment, you’re just overlooked in general,” she said.
The Underrated tour covers all travel, room and meal expenses for its golfers, and there are no tournament entry fees. Lowery said officials pay for almost everything so participants can focus on playing, competing and learning from the experience.
While the junior golfers might be underrepresented, that does not mean they are untalented. Lowery said he and other tour officials hand-selected above-average and elite juniors according to their skill set, handicap and scores.
Lowery envisions Underrated becoming more like the PGA in the coming years, with qualifying rounds and scores determining if players remain on the tour.
Before Innisbrook, Underrated brought junior golfers to Chicago, Phoenix, and Houston. As a Floridian, Morgan said Copperhead was the only course she played before, and teeing up from the other links provided valuable experience.
The tour is competitive, with participants vying to be a part of the top 12 boys and girls to play in front of Curry during the championship round in San Francisco. The female winner of the season points race earns a spot in professional golfer Annika Sorenstam’s junior invitational, while the highest scoring male receives an invite to Jordan Spieth’s tournament.
However, Morgan said that with the number of friends she has made over the last two months, she is still having fun.
“And obviously, I think that benefits my golf game as well,” she added. “Because having some fun while you’re playing competitively adds more joy to the sport … we kind of leave it out on the course, and everybody just comes back to chill and relax, and there are events planned – and I think that is honestly what makes the tour so great.”