As Charles Howell III traveled the country to events in what is his 20th season as a member of the PGA Tour, he reflected on all that the game has given him and concluded it was time to give back.
And then on May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest, and Howell zeroed in on a cause he could get behind. Howell, a three-time PGA Tour winner, pledged to make performance-based cash donations to the APGA Tour, a 10-year-old mini-tour for minority players, and its affiliated Advocates Foundation, through an initiative named #CharlesHowell4APGATour.
“Given the current situation in our country, I thought it would be really neat to do something via the game of golf,” Howell said. “It’s been my life since I was 7 years old. There’s a way here to help other golfers to reach their dreams and goals. I thought the Advocates Tour was a really good fit.”
But that’s only half the story. Howell is the first to admit that he’d never heard of the Advocates Tour until he was paired with one of its founders, Ken Bentley, during the pro-am a couple of years ago at the Farmers Insurance Open. It turns out that Howell’s caddie, Nick Jones, who played collegiately at USC, had competed in three APGA events, including a playoff loss, and knew Bentley, a retired Nestle executive, who made a lasting impression on Howell that day. On June 24, Howell left a voicemail for Bentley, saying he’d like to talk to him about how he could be part of the APGA’s effort to create more opportunities for minorities within the game of golf.
“It was a shock, a pleasant shock. He called out of the blue and said he wanted to help. He was feeling like he had to do something to make the world a better place, and being a golfer he felt like what he wanted to do should involve golf. He did some research and he wanted to be a part of it,” Bentley said.
The Advocates Pro Golf Association’s mission is to bring greater diversity to the sport by developing African Americans and other minorities for a variety of careers in golf. This grassroots effort began as 20-30 friends organizing three events in its first year has blossomed to eight events this year with $250,000 in prize money, including its first 72-hole tournament. Bentley said he expects to grow to 12 tournaments next year.
Howell committed to donate $50 for every birdie he makes and $100 for every eagle, but his involvement will extend far beyond monetary concerns to something far more valuable – his time.
“He wants to talk to the players and play with the guys. He really wants to make a difference. It adds another layer to guys understanding what it takes to get to the PGA Tour and stay on Tour,” Bentley said.
Initially, Howell didn’t want to bring attention to his good deed. It took some coaxing from Bentley, who explained, “if we tell people what you’re doing, it could help other people get involved. I can envision other players doing the same thing.”
Bentley’s prediction already has come to fruition to some extent. When Farmers heard about Howell’s involvement, the company agreed to match Howell’s financial contributions based on the birdies and eagles of Willie Mack III and Kamaiu Johnson, two APGA players that Farmers is supporting financially to the tune of $25,000 per year through 2021.
The APGA has made steady progress since its humble beginning with three tournaments at inner-city courses. The PGA Tour’s involvement in 2012 provided a boost of credibility as well as an upgrade to tournament-tested courses – TPC Scottsdale, TPC Deere Run, Innisbrook Resort and Torrey Pines among them – and a glimpse of what it takes to be on Tour. Bentley believes that having a player of Howell’s pedigree could be the missing ingredient in establishing a platform for minority golfers to succeed in the professional ranks.
“Charles is a game-changer. It’s inspirational for our guys to know that Charles is interested in their development, but also Charles can tell them what it takes to get where they want to get to,” Bentley said. “We have four or five guys who are a putt away from the Korn Ferry Tour or PGA Tour. With Charles’s involvement in player development, I think that his impact will result in that one or two putts they need to make it on the PGA Tour.”
Despite Tiger Woods being the dominant golfer and the formation of youth golf development programs such as First Tee, there are currently only four Black golfers on the PGA Tour, roughly the same number as when Howell grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and had minority golfers Jim Dent and Jim Thorpe as influences in his own development.
“We’ve been talking for a long time about how we can diversify golf, but other than the PGA Tour we haven’t gotten a lot of support from the golf community,” Bentley said. “Now everybody is talking about how we need to expand the game. I think the George Floyd situation heightened attention that golf needs to change. If I had a crystal ball, I really think golf will look more like America in the next five years.”
Howell can’t explain why more minorities haven’t progressed to the highest levels of the game, and concedes he doesn’t have an answer. But as he wrote in an Instagram post, “I believe in a better America, and I want to be a part of the solution.”