By Mark Bryant | Special To The OBSERVER
Elk Grove’s Alaythia Hinds won the third annual Mack Champ Invitational in April by shooting a 73 in round one, then a 71 in round two – capped by a 25-foot birdie – to force a playoff tied at par with Callia Ward, a sophomore from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Hinds, 17, who has just completed her junior year at Pleasant Grove High School, then won the playoff by making a birdie on the par-5 18th.
“A 25-foot birdie to win,” her father, Lamar, said in amazement.
For Hinds, winning was just a long drive on the road to golf stardom.
“It was just, ‘OK, I won, what’s next?’” said Hinds, an honors student with a 4.0 GPA and several advanced placement classes under her belt. “On to the next big thing. On to the next challenge.”
Hinds was the latest Black golf protege to take advantage of the mentorship and opportunities provided by PGA Tour player and native Sacramentan Cameron Champ, one of several generations of Champs who have brought golf to Black America. Champ organized the Mack Champ Invitational in Houston to identify promising golfers from diverse backgrounds.
Hinds’ win was the first by a Sacramento golfer in the three-year-old tournament.
For Champ and his father, Jeff, this is part of the bigger plan. Champ is one of the PGA Tour’s few Black golfers. He is working to create a pathway for other Black players to make it to pro golfing tours.
The Mack Champ Invitational is sponsored by the Cameron Champ Foundation and has become a premier tournament for junior golfers of color and diverse backgrounds.
It is named for the late Mack Champ, Jeff’s father and Cameron’s grandfather, who taught Cameron the game and inspired him to work to provide other Black players opportunities in the sport.
According to the National Golf Foundation, only 3% of recreational golfers are Black. In competitive golf, including youth players, that figure drops to 1.5%.
“I grew up in the North Highlands area,” Jeff said. “There were no other kids playing golf, and not many golfers, especially of color. We were always the only ones out there doing it. I knew there was a need to serve the underrepresented community.”
In time, Jeff took over the Foothill Golf Course in Citrus Heights, where Cameron started playing at age 5. Today, Jeff and the Champ family manage the course, as well as the Mack Champ Invitational event and the Cameron Champ Foundation in Sacramento. The course attracts local talent and hosts clinics and camps.
“Kids can play here for free,” Jeff said.
A Vessel For Opportunity
Daniel Bryant, vice president of strategic partnerships for the Cameron Champ Foundation, said accessibility is the key.
“Golf teaches life skills and life lessons,” Bryant said. “We use golf as a conduit to teach these skills and lessons at an early age. It’s a vehicle to teach education, STEM, career development, financial literacy. Cameron is giving back to the community where he came from. We want to invest in kids and their futures.”
Golf skills open other doors, Bryant added. “We can get kids into college this way. It’s all about the young kids. We want to put them in front of college coaches with an opportunity to go to college, and get them in school. We have a STEM program, and we encourage kids to use that as a career opportunity. Our goal is to grow the game organically at all levels across the world.”
Jeff applauded Hinds’ win. “This is the first time we’ve had a local winner from Sacramento in the tournament. This will help grow the game in Sacramento. There is growing talent in Sacramento, and we want to market it. The foundation has given her good exposure. This will help encourage kids to see golf as an alternative.”
Jeff also noted that the word of mouth has spread. “There are a lot of kids who understand the exposure and they want to get in, but because of the high level of competition and high standards, not everyone can get in.”
He said 50% of the youth in his program are on scholarships to pay fees and that he uses sliding scales in financial considerations for fees for youths.
“No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay,” Jeff said.
The Cameron Champ Foundation collaborates with many other nonprofits, holding events year-round, including a partnership with Sierra Health Foundation in which the foundation tours with a mobile golf simulator in gaming trailer. “We get to the kids in their own environment. We get kids’ attention through gaming,” Jeff said. “That’s where STEM comes in.”
Bryant pointed to previous longstanding discrimination by private golf clubs, such as Shoal Creek in Alabama, as motivation. Shoal Creek had a notorious reputation for excluding nonwhites from being members until the 1990s.
“Golf is a lifelong activity,” Bryant said. “There are a lot of conversations on a golf course [that] can lead to opportunities. Deals are made on the course. The idea is to get people exposed to those conversations. Access equals opportunity.”
Keep On Pushing
For Jeff, the goal is to keep going. And growing.
“What we’ve done in the short time we’ve been around is just amazing. It just gets better and better,” he said. We want to keep growing the foundation and the invitational, and keep taking it to the next level … with new partnerships and grow the number of kids that we can potentially impact.”
Hinds started playing at age 8. By 10, she was playing in tournaments. Her home course is in Rancho Murieta, where she has a junior membership.
She has participated in several junior organization tournaments, including American Junior Golf Association, Junior Tour of Northern California, Sacramento First Tee and Junior Golf Association of Northern California. She is also a member of the Pleasant Grove High School team, which this past year finished fourth in the state. Hinds finished seventh individually.
Her coach, Dan Levin, confirmed that her calm, detached manner is part of her constitution.
“Alaythia is accurate, methodical, and very technical in her approach. She has a very stoic personality,” Levin said. “She stays on an even keel as far as emotions go. Golf is extremely humbling, and there are significantly more failures than successes. She is very conscious of that and understands the importance of staying level. She works hard. Her dad and I have done everything we can do to move her in the right direction. Lamar has done a great job of being encouraging and supportive.”
Levin, who has coached professionally for 33 years, said Hinds’ foundation will be a boost as she moves up in the golf world.
“She is very controlled and deliberate in her manner, both on and off the course. In the long run, that will be a good thing,” Levin said.
For her father, Lamar, financing is a commitment, but also a labor of love. He noted that his job as a senior cost estimator for civil construction and his ability to work from home allow him to travel with his daughter.
“She will be in national tournaments all summer, which includes lodging, plane flights, rental cars, tournament entry fees, coaching fees. It all costs money,” said Lamar, who said he didn’t start golfing until he was 30.
He added that the Mack Champ Invitational win was big because it opened doors to other national tournaments that she will compete in this summer. These include the John Shippen National Invitational, IMG Academy Junior World Championship, Junior PGA Championship and the First Tee National Championship.
This is not lost on Alaythia, who plans to go to a Division I school on a golf scholarship.
“You have to be ranked really high to play in those tournaments. Thanks to the opportunity that the Mack Champ Invitational gave me, I am able to compete,” she said.