Rich Jones was 23 and working as a media planner in New York City when he was introduced to golf at a client outing in New Jersey. Instantly smitten, he immediately went out afterwards and bought his first set of clubs. He switched careers and started working as a tech rep for PING Golf in 1997, the same year Tiger Woods won his first Masters.
“Watching him I felt inspired,” said Jones. “Here was this young African–American guy not only playing in The Masters, but also destroying the field. There was a personal sense of pride watching him play; and because there weren’t too many guys on the golf course that looked like us, I started to dream of becoming that kind of inspiration to others.” Today, Jones is the director of instruction at the Pine Ridge Golf Club, managed by Indigo Golf Partners, in Coram, New York. In 2020 he became the first Met Section professional ever at to win the PGA of America’s National Player Development Award.
He credits valuable guidance and advice from three late friends and African-American role models – Harvey Palmore, Oscar McFadden and George Williams – for additional inspiration. “They were all accomplished athletes who became educators and coaches. They belonged to a group that played golf every Saturday around Long Island,” he said. “They encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and helped me develop my own personal vision for a career in golf.”
Jones now builds on the legacy of his mentors by teaching and sharing his experiences with the next generation interested in the golf industry. “My advice is to go for it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but if golf is your passion, then definitely pursue it. The industry is in need of diverse representation in all areas. I don’t recall a time when the golf industry has been so ready to receive diverse talent and become a more inclusive workforce than it is today.”
He recommends five steps for those interested in pursuing a golf career: Find a trusted mentor; be prepare by reading, researching, and networking; think outside the box and find what makes you unique; stay current with technology; and keep things simple and fun.
“Breaking into a predominantly white space continues to be a difficult challenge,” he said. “Navigating those waters is a constant and exhausting process that can discourage the best of us. It will continue to discourage us until we become the examples for others to follow. I certainly faced some obstacles starting out, and others before me faced much worse. But I’m thankful because my overall career as a PGA Professional has been extremely positive and rewarding, and I hope to inspire others as others have inspired me.”
Read more stories of the golf world from Tom Mackin and his articles for TROON Magazine.