A Path Forward for Paine College

Last April, the Wall Street Journal profiled the real estate acquisition activities of the Augusta National Golf Club, one of the hallowed courses in American golf and the host of the annual Masters Tournament.

The gist — the club was spending other-worldly sums of money on non-descript residential and commercial properties surrounding the course, using associated LLCs and never disclosing the purpose of the buying spree.

From the WSJ:

In the last 20 years, the club has spent around $200 million to buy more than 100 pieces of land totaling no fewer than 270 acres, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of property and tax assessor records and interviews with people familiar with the transactions.

To further insulate one of the most hallowed grounds in American sports from the outside world, Augusta National has bought and demolished entire residential blocks and commercial strips. It has purchased properties more than a mile from its iconic clubhouse. And it is hardly slowing down.

Seemingly beyond the reach of the club’s cash grab is Paine College, the 151-year historically black institution which continues to face an uphill climb to increase awareness of its accreditation status and to redefine its value in the rapidly changing city of Augusta.

Maybe the club reached out to an unwilling seller in Paine’s board of trustees, or maybe it didn’t. But there is a possibility for Paine to reinvigorate its academic and civic usefulness in partnership with Augusta National’s expansion plans.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is the lone HBCU in the nation with a degree program in golf management — Paine College should be the second and the nation’s best.

With its less than four-mile proximity to Augusta National, desire for new and innovative academic programs that can instantly attract a sizable pool of prospective students and a glaring need for cash, there is an opportunity for the college, the club and the Professional Golfer’s Association of America to partner in the name of building diversity within a sport historically and exclusively accessible to white men, but popularized worldwide by a Black man during the early years of the 21st century in Tiger Woods — a benefactor of UMES’ golf program.

Somewhere between the $84 billion that pro golf grossed in 2019, the $200 million Augusta National has spent in real estate wheeling and dealing in the last decade, and Paine’s financial woes, there is a happy medium for the three entities to develop a historically black liberal arts program that centers its students around career opportunities in hospitality and professional sports management.

The PGA has for years invested into professional and athletic development opportunities for HBCU students, last year committing $2.9 million to its PGA WORKS program which specifically serves a diversity outreach arm of the organization.

“We recognize that in order to fulfill the PGA of America’s mission of serving our PGA Members and growing participation in the sport of golf, we must expand the dimensions of diversity represented in the industry’s workforce,” said PGA of America Chief People Officer Sandy Cross. “It is critical for people to see others from similar backgrounds and experiences working in the sport, if they’re going to consider the game as either a leisure activity or a career.”

Last month, the Toledo Blade profiled golf’s complicated history with race and access and specifically highlighted efforts within Augusta National to pioneer a more inclusive environment within the sport.

Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, which didn’t have a black member until 1990 and a female member until 2012, has become a prominent voice in growing the game among women and minorities, organizing the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur, Latin American Amateur Championship, and helping to found the Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship.

Paine currently offers degrees in 16 areas of emphasis at a tuition schedule totaling between $16,000 and $23,000 per year. Those are difficult numbers in comparison to the state’s Great White Hope at attracting Black students in Georgia State University, which this fall will offer a greater complement of degrees for an in-state tuition and fee price tag of $5,538 and an out-of-state cost of $15,057.

Paine will not survive charging Black families more money for fewer degrees, less than modern facilities, and life in Augusta when it is at least $1,000 cheaper for more career pathways and life in downtown Atlanta. Paine will thrive in partnership with the PGA and Augusta National as a premier training ground for Black entrepreneurs and professionals in the golf industry — a sport that is among least likely to be impacted by life during and after COVID-19.

There is a choice between life and death for Paine College, and the antidote for its demise is a partnership with an association that has donated more than $3 billion to charitable causes, a golf club working hard to erase a racially difficult past, and a sport that needs more black athletes, patrons, and professionals.

All Paine has to do is convince its board and its supporters to see beyond what has always been, and to imagine what is possible and necessary to save a deserving institution.

Correction - this article previously cited a link on the Paine website which listed the school as offering three degree programs. The college reorganized in 2011 to offer 16 degree programs. The HBCU Digest regrets the error.