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Taking the Golf World by Storm

Alum Who Survived Golf Course Lightning Strike Now Manages Tournament Promoting Diversity in Sport

By Annie Krakower

Tee shot

Photos courtesy of PGA of America

A golfer makes his tee shot at the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship last May in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Alum Scooter Clark '95 (below) is managing the tournament this year.

Scooter Clark ’95 entered Terp lore as the 17-year-old knocked cold by a bolt of lightning while he worked on the University of Maryland Golf Course. A less familiar story might be what Clark has been working hard at more recently—sparking golfers from diverse backgrounds to make their mark in the sport.

Clark, manager of the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship, will lead the 54-hole tournament and career expo Thursday through Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The annual event is celebrating its 33rd year as a symbol of diversity and inclusion in golf, with many participating teams representing historically black colleges and universities. All minority men and women golfers at Division I, II or NAIA levels or those enrolled in a PGA Golf Management University Program can play.

“He’s beautifully suited for the role,” Sandy Cross, PGA of America’s chief people officer, said of Clark. “He’s had this really unique perspective from all sides of the golf industry.”Scooter on course

He began tagging along with his dad on golf outings as a 5-year-old, and he won the 1987 Maryland individual state championship as a student at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Md. He was already a regular by then at UMD’s 18 holes, where employees took him in as a “golf course rat,” Clark says, and he began working on the cart staff as a 16-year-old under then-head men’s golf coach Fred Funk ’80.

In late spring 1987, Clark decided to hit a couple of putts—and then the storm rolled in. He was struck on the neck by the first bolt, throwing him to the ground and into a coma for around 30 hours. Doctors told his parents he’d be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

But just a few weeks later, during Fourth of July weekend, the teenager was back to work on the course.

“Coming out of that, I think I had a different perspective on life, as anyone would imagine,” Clark said. “I needed to be more impactful and purposeful.”

He went on to play a year at Southern University and transferred to UMD to finish his college career. Along the way, he played in the first three PGA WORKS Collegiate Championships, previously called the PGA Minority Collegiate Championship.

The event was founded in an era when student-athletes at historically black colleges and universities were often excluded from collegiate golf, reflecting a broad system of racial discrimination in the sport. The PGA of America didn’t remove its “Caucasian-only” clause in professional tournaments until 1961, and Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters, didn’t accept its first African-American member until 1990. Tiger Woods won his first Major championship there seven years later, the first African-American to do so.

“Minority institutions might not have the opportunity to compete on a national stage” without the PGA WORKS tournament, Clark said. “It’s a special event, like no other. It provides opportunities that others don’t.”

In addition to playing in the tournament, he has plenty of experience successfully coaching in it as well. After two years as an assistant professional at UMD post-graduation, he worked for a variety of big names in the golf world, making stops at the Tournament Players Club, Titleist, Disney Sports and Golf Channel before coaching at Bethune-Cookman University. There, he led the men and women to a record 10 combined PGA Minority Collegiate Championship titles.

So last year, when PGA of America offered Clark, then the executive director of the First Tee youth golf organization in Baltimore, the job managing the PGA Minority Collegiate Championship, Clark’s experience with the tournament came full circle.

“I still have friendships with well over 20-plus men and women who have participated in this championship,” Clark said. “(The new role is) different from coaching. I’m able to go deeper and create a lasting opportunity.”

After a year on the job, he’s getting more deeply involved, including helping with this year’s rebranding campaign. The new name brings the championship under the PGA WORKS umbrella, which includes programs designed to attract and retain diverse talent within the golf industry—on and off the course.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to make the game of golf more inclusive,” Clark said. “As we grow, we want the demographics of the game to match and mirror the community.”
 

 

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