Golf collaboration with Stephen Curry is ‘natural fit’ for Howard
Athletic director Kery Davis says funding and recruiting already gaining momentum
From day one, adding a golf program has been on the agenda for Kery Davis, Howard University’s athletic director since 2015.
“Before I came here, I always thought Howard had a golf team,” said Davis. “Golf seemed like a natural fit for this university.”
This pairing between Howard and golf came closer to fruition after Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry announced his intention to invest in a men’s and women’s golf program at Howard last week. As part of his investment in the teams, Curry plans to contribute six years of funding (a year of preparation and financial support for the first five years of competition) beginning in August 2020. He also plans to establish an endowment fund that will help raise money to sustain the program beyond the first six years.
“One of the beauties of this relationship with Steph is that he also brings with him partnerships, such as Callaway, who will be providing the equipment. Under Armour, who we already have a deal with, will provide the apparel for the program,” said Davis.
Even with Curry’s support, there remain concerns about the university’s stewardship of school-related funds. In 2018, the university dealt with an embezzlement scandal that resulted in the dismissal of six Howard employees.
David Bennett, Howard’s vice president of development and alumni relations, said it is his job to make sure endowed funds are managed properly. “We issue reports annually about the status of all our endowed funds,” said Bennett. “We will provide Mr. Curry a report every year on what our fundraiser efforts are, how successful we are and how we are spending the money.”
Bennett said strategies for raising money include charity golf tournaments and direct donations.
“There may be alums who played in the Division II club golf teams that felt that the sport was a big part of their Bison experience, and we believe that they will be willing to invest in that endowment as well. The news has taken such interest that I think many people who aren’t even alumni understand the importance of not just a golf program at Howard but increasing access to the sport of golf for all people, especially African Americans,” said Bennett.
With the teams starting from ground zero, the first step the athletic department will take is hiring coaches who are invested in the future of the programs beyond the clubs and tees.
“Part of the challenge [in starting a new golf team] is finding a coach that is going to be capable of redirecting the program with the right policies and being able to handle various other things,” said Leonard Smoot, the head golf coach at Miles College, a historically black institution in Fairfield, Alabama.
Smoot has been the head coach at Miles since 2013, starting the NCAA Division II program himself after 24 years in the Marine Corps. Smoot, who said he was only the third black golfer on the Marines team, led Miles to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2016.
In building the golf program from the start, Davis said recruiting freshmen and transfer students will be key in the program’s inaugural season. The men’s team will play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) since it offers men’s golf. The women’s program has no MEAC competition, but Davis expressed confidence that two more MEAC schools will add women’s golf soon. If that doesn’t happen, Davis has not ruled out joining another conference or playing as an independent and hosting its own tournaments.
Another concern will be the racial makeup of the rosters. Several MEAC golf programs field predominantly white men’s teams despite being historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). “We won’t be like that,” said Davis, who reiterated his intention to provide more opportunities in golf for students of color. “Our strategy is for our athletic programs to look like the general student body.”
And on the course, the strategy for Howard is to win championships immediately.
“I think we can be competitive in the first year. We have received a great deal of interest from prospective student-athletes interested in being a part of our inaugural team,” said Davis.
With 21 teams after the addition of men’s and women’s golf, Howard prides itself on providing an array of programs, including the only HBCU Division I swimming and diving program and one of the few women’s lacrosse teams. Davis said he wants to ensure that programs like these will continue. Howard has not dropped an intercollegiate sport since 2002, when baseball and wrestling were discontinued.
Davis said that because of Curry’s gift and the abundance of potential sponsors, recruits and coaches, the future of the golf teams has been solidified for now.