Clemmie Perry was at a crossroads in 2013. She had lost her job at aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin. But that didn’t stop the 1979 Florida A&M University (FAMU) graduate from thinking big and making an impact.
In 2014, Perry used her severance package to launch two nonprofits, Women of Color Golf and Girls on the Green Tee. The Tampa-based organizations are designed to increase and promote minority participation in golf for women and girls.
Q: How did Women of Color and Girls on the Green Tee come about?
A: I was initially a corporate executive for Lockheed Martin, and I had always wanted to play (golf), but I never had time and, unfortunately, I ended up getting laid off. When I got laid off, my brother found an old set of golf clubs on a trash pile and my other brother bought me lessons. I looked around and saw there were not many women and girls who look like myself. I realized I had to change it. That’s really kind of how it started.
Q: When you were on the golf course, nobody looked like you. Talk about diversity and how important it is for a sport that’s predominantly white?
A: Once I discovered the game of golf, I worked with a friend, Dr. Michael Cooper, who had been engaged in golf for almost 30 years and served on the golf Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. He did a research report, which showed there was about 30 million people who played golf, but only four million of those were minorities and less than 1 percent were a woman of color.
You win in every aspect of your life when you’re able to play golf and I took a leap of faith to try to make an effort to change it. I’m certainly not an LPGA or a PGA professional. We contract LPGA and PGA professionals to work with us to do the teaching, but I brought my background from corporate America. I created my own workbook with a PGA professional. We customize our book to show representation of people who look like myself.
Q: You mentioned how you stepped out on a leap of faith, was it scary when you first started this journey?
A: It was scary. I mean because you have to remember, I didn’t grow up as a golfer. I’d always been in sports. I played basketball and swam, and also was a professional NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. My dad was a coach. Sports was always in my DNA. I never thought, maybe I could hit a little white ball. But when I picked up a set of clubs, right away I immediately fell in love with the game and started playing. I realized my true gift was in program development, project management and training design, so I had to look at why we weren’t in the game, what were the fears and why we aren’t coming.
Q: Over the summer, we had the George Floyd protests, how did that affect some of the change in terms of promoting minority golfers?
A: What we are seeing is that the golf industry, both the LPGA and the PGA, is working toward a more aggressive outreach for those minority golf organizations. You are seeing them reach out more to the LPGA players who are minorities and to the PGA tour players who are minorities and I’m starting to see them more on advertisements, on social media and radio blogs. I would definitely say there has been awareness in a shift in the visibility that we are in this space and we do belong in this space.
Q: What was it like to be honored at the White House?
A: I always say that was my biggest accomplishment because, of course, Barack Obama was President at the time, and it was just really an honor to be recognized for the work we’re doing at a grassroots level. To show you that anything is possible, I always say my biggest honor from that was that my mother, who is 93, actually got to see me go to the White House and get an award and she watched it on her mobile phone. So, it was like every element of honor and joy to know that the work that she and my grandmother had done and championing social justice and civil rights, it just felt like this golf movement was just the next step in that generation of work that they had been doing just in those spaces.
Q: How do you get more women to play and more women of color to play golf?
A: I think the name resonates with them very clearly that this is for you. I truly believe it’s been the visibility of seeing someone like yourself doing it so honestly, a lot of the awareness and the social media and the visible pictures we have. It was about seeing others like yourself doing it and then what I believe in, is in our teaching and training environment, we create a safe space. It’s about creating a safe environment and a safe space in that golf landscape.
Q: Talk about how great it is to be in Tampa right now and that you are able to promote Women of Color Golf and Girls on the Green Tee?
A: It has really been a great opportunity. We’ve had a great opportunity to partner with the NFL Alumni Tampa Bay Chapter and ran the first-ever women’s golf tournament for the Super Bowl of Golf 2021. It’s been an exciting time for our city and exciting time for Women of Color Golf because what it did gave us a lot of visibility and credibility that we were a really true golf organization. We are a 501 C 3 nonprofit organization. We’ve trained over 300 minority women and girls in almost a six-year period and we’ve got very little grants. But it has been something that we’re still working towards in securing those corporate partnerships, philanthropic dollars. To be in Tampa at this time, we literally have been embraced by the city.