When Jasmin Cunningham was 10 years old, she didn’t understand why her dad wanted her to play golf. None of her friends played, and there was no one in her community that she could look up to on the golf course.
“I asked my dad, ‘Why would you put me in this sport? There’s no other girls that look like me,’” Cunningham said.
Cunningham’s father was optimistic about her future, and despite her initial hesitation, he continued to bring her to the range throughout high school and encouraged her to aim for a college scholarship. As she played more often, Cunningham found herself falling in love with the sport and was eager to continue to play.
“Golf teaches you about your true character and who you are as a person,” Cunningham said. “It teaches you things that you don’t even know about yourself.”
When her mentor, PGA professional Daryl Batey, introduced her to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she immediately fell in love with the school and its academic and athletic opportunities. At UMES, Cunningham had the chance to minor in hospitality —a lifelong passion— major in professional golf management, and play golf for the university.
“Attending UMES and majoring in professional golf management was pretty unique,” she said. “Having this program at a historically Black university gives other students a different perspective on golf.”
Cunningham attended UMES and received full tuition through the Renee Powell Scholarship — a golf pioneer who Cunningham had looked up to as a role model for years.
“Renee has inspired me so much and she is such a phenomenal woman. She reminds me why I need to keep doing what I’m doing for those behind me.” Cunningham said. “The golf industry is not for the weak. Renee’s strength encouraged me to develop thicker skin, and I hope to continue to be just as strong and resilient as she is.”
While in college, Cunningham was introduced to other African-American golfers, something that was rare to see as she grew up in the game.
“Being around other African-American men and women that share the same passion that you do, I don’t think it gets any better than that,” Cunningham said. “I’ve got lifelong friends and I’m able to have a different connection with each person that was in the program than most people do in college.”
Among her teammates from UMES is one of her closest friends, Tiana Jones, who is now the PGA Director of Instruction for Topgolf Cleveland and a fellow PGA professional. By surrounding herself with hard working, competitive peers like Jones, Cunningham was able to become the eighth Black woman to earn a PGA membership.
“It’s rewarding for me. It means that all of my hard work has paid off, but we’re not finished. We have a lot of work to do, and I am determined to get more African American women to obtain PGA membership,” Cunningham said.
After graduating from UMES, Cunningham continued her golf journey and drive to increase diversity in the game at Titleist, where she works as an account representative and is a member of their internal Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Council. She applauds the company for its intentional and careful steps towards creating a lasting foundation for increasing diversity within Titleist and the sport of golf itself.
“There are a lot of companies that want to say they’re a part of diversity, but they’re not taking the necessary steps behind the scenes to make that happen. Titleist is definitely doing it right, and I’m happy to be a part of a company that embraces diversity,” she said.
The love Cunningham has for the sport has propelled her through a sometimes challenging journey to where she is today, but the obstacles she faced in the golf industry have only inspired her to stay in the game for those behind her.
“I want people behind me to see a Black woman in a leadership role within a company and say, ‘Wow, I’m able to do what she’s doing,’” Cunningham said.
Cunningham’s athletic and business experiences, including managing the PGA WORKS collegiate championships, have propelled her to urge more Black women who have an interest in the sport to get involved.
“I encourage any Black woman to be in the golf industry, because a lot of deals are made on the golf course and in the boardroom as well. A lot of boardrooms do not have people of color, so it’s very difficult for change to be made from the top down,” Cunningham said. “I think that our voices need to be heard, and I think that should be enough encouragement. It’s definitely not easy, but I think that’s the most rewarding part because you get to be one of the few Black women in the golf industry and spark change.”
The opportunities to get involved in golf, from business positions and athletic achievements, such as Cunningham’s role at Titleist and her PGA membership, to simply going out and playing the game make an enormous difference in increasing diversity within the golf industry.
“I hope that for the future generations of golf for Black women that we continue to uplift each other, we continue to go out and volunteer and have our faces seen,” Cunningham stated. “I think volunteering is super important because it allows young girls to see themselves through you. Even as an adult, you can pick up golf now and a little girl will see you playing and quickly become inspired. So I think being out on the golf course and just involving yourself with the golf community is more than enough to encourage those behind you.”