“I’m a Black female. We don’t exist in golf,” can be heard in a marketing video for PGA Works as PGA fellow, Tajma Brown shares her experience working in the golf industry. Like many Black professionals, Brown did not have the financial means, the opportunity or access to golf.
It’s myths like this that Rachel Melendez-Mabee hears all too often in her role at PGA Works as a Program Specialist for PGA Reach. The former professional golfer works on the corporate side of the game she loves by leading the strategic initiative designed to diversify the golf industry’s workforce at PGA Works.
“You can turn your passion into a career, and that there are so many opportunities that our community just really isn’t aware of yet. I want to be on the frontlines of making that awareness completely possible,” she says.
Melendez-Mabee turned her love of golf into a career inspired by her icon Renee Powell, who became the first Black woman PGA member ever. In Melendez-Mabee’s current role, she’s also creating opportunities to bring more diversity in the golf industry boardroom.
When asked about where her love of the game began, she fondly recollects her childhood. She was introduced to the game of golf at an early age through her late father. “My father was astute enough to know that I would probably face some challenges looking the way I do in playing this sport as he did,” she shares. Melendez-Mabee played in junior golf, high school golf, collegiate golf and professionally, but through her journey, she noticed she wasn’t just the only Black woman…she was the only woman of color on her golf teams.
She credits her father for giving her the strength to persevere when facing the “head winding that come along with being a woman of color playing the game at the time.” Now Melendez-Mabee is in the corporate side of golf and one of few women of color in the boardroom, and she’s hoping her position will help change the narrative and attract more people of color into the business side of golf.
For the past two years, Melendez-Mabee’s role with PGA Works is to champion the initiatives to “make our workforce near what modern day America looks like because we will not stay relevant if we don’t change that narrative and look like the communities that we serve.”
Golf is an $84 billion industry, and according to Melendez-Mabee 1 out of 75 jobs in America are impacted by the business of golf. “Those are pretty powerful numbers,” she says. And these are definitely numbers our community can and should benefit from.
One of PGA Works flagship programs is a fellowship which now has 17 fellows. One of the first fellows of the program is Tajma Brown, the woman featured in the marketing video, who was introduced to the game of golf through the fellowship. Through the knowledge and skills she learned at the fellowship, Brown now wants to be a champion of recruiting more women of color into golf.
“It’s poignant because that’s how she felt and we’ve changed her mind so much that now she wants to be her own pioneer within the industry,” Melendez-Mabee said. Melendez-Mabee’s leadership in diversity and inclusion lead to her current intern Jasmin Cunningham becoming the eighth black female PGA member. “I used to coach her. I used to work for the First Tee way back in a day, and I was sort of [had a hand] in introducing her to the game, and she’s now made it a career,” she shared.
Melendez-Mabee has helped women on and off the green achieve success in the business of golf that she hopes can attract other Black women who aspire to work in sports to try golf. “The first thing you have to do is to try it. You can’t discount the industry because of sort of the narrative that once was and the myth.”