Byram — A quick glance at the top of the PGA’s world rankings quickly reveals the changing face — and color — of the game of golf today. Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh are clear indications that golf is increasingly diverse.
However, Mississippians can now look much closer to home to see this evolution. On October 20, local golf professional Bob Ford and his wife, the former Joycelyn Turnbo, became part-owners of Brookwood Country Club located in Hinds County. According to the Fords, they are the first African Americans to hold ownership of a country club/golf course not only in Mississippi, but the entire Southeast. In fact, they said they are aware of only two other such facilities with African American ownership in the nation, both located in the Midwest.
“I know of one in Illinois, and one in Ohio,” Bob said. “I think the reason so few African Americans are involved in the game of golf is opportunity. There are so many different opportunities to get involved in golf — golf course management, food and beverage, etc. I just don’t think kids know of these opportunities.”
Bob is talking from experience. A native of Jackson, he attended Provine High School where he excelled at baseball. He went on to Jackson State University, where he studied drafting and design, on a baseball scholarship. (His brother, Curt Ford, was a standout Major League baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals.)
After his collegiate career, Bob followed his brother to St. Louis, where he would stay for 16 years. He was managing a health club, making a good salary and was 26 years old when he teed up a golf ball for the first time. From that original drive, Bob was hooked on the sport.
“Golf is all about hitting that one great shot. You just can’t get over it,” he said. “No one ever masters the game. That is the challenge.”
With the backing of Joycelyn, a Chicago native and Missouri Baptist College alumna, Bob left his comfortable management office for a golf job paying $5.25 an hour. While Joycelyn was supportive, others doubted Bob’s “club selection.” A novice at golf, and a minority to boot, many advised Bob to rethink. But Bob said that only inspired him, fueling his determination to make golf a full and rewarding career.
In 1997, he made another courageous decision — to return home. “Many said I would never make it in the South because of my color,” Bob said. “That motivated me.”
But make it, he did. He worked at Lefleur’s Bluff Golf Course in Jackson for eight months before moving to Castlewoods Golf Club, where he served as head teacher, as well as golf coach at Northwest Rankin High School and Belhaven College. In 2002, he was named PGA Apprentice of the Year. (Bob would go on to be named the first African American president of the Mississippi chapter of the PGA apprenticeship program.)
Bob also has worked diligently to open the game up to others so they wouldn’t have to wait as long as he did to be introduced to the game. He has been involved as a volunteer with the Tiger Woods Foundation, and has established the Bob Ford Christian Golf Foundation Inc., which is dedicated to using golf to uplift and unite people of all backgrounds.
Interestingly, Bob and Jocelyn, as well as their partner-owners at Brookwood, Howard and Barbara Whitlock, maintain Bob’s knowledge and reputation, not his skin color, was the primary factor in striking the deal.
“A lot of African Americans are moving into the area,” Bob said. “My involvement at Brookwood hopefully will bring more minorities in. But I’ve done it all at golf courses, from carrying bags to manicuring and everything in between. That’s why I was offered this opportunity, and that’s why I took it.”
In a written statement, the Whitlocks agreed, saying the Fords are “just what the club needed. They both bring a great deal of expertise to the table. The members are excited about the joint ownership and look forward to great things.”
The Fords are also excited about Brookwood’s future. The couple had never played Brookwood before ownership talks began, and were absolutely stunned at the property’s amenities. From the club house to the tennis courts to the pool to the golf course, which includes the par-three, 157-yard 10th hole that sports an island green, the Fords said Brookwood easily stacks up to and surpasses many of the golf courses in much larger markets.
The Fords said their mission is to improve on what Brookwood, which was developed in 1954, has to offer. The couple has already put in long hours, and Bob said he believes that others saw their dedication when they were seen running buffers across the floors and manicuring the course. They are usually the first ones there and the last to leave, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.