The 2018 Masters Tournament has a new champion, and his name isn’t Tiger Woods.
But young black golfers, like the participants in Detroit’s Midnight Golf Program, are still excited about the game and their place in the sport.
The Midnight Golf Program, affectionately known as “MGP,” is a selective, golf-centered program that was founded by Reneé Fluker. The program is based in Detroit, and only high school seniors in the area are eligible for the prestigious program. Those granted a spot in MGP have an opportunity to gain mentorships and learn life skills, etiquette and more, all while learning the game of golf. They are supplied with a set of golf clubs and Midnight Golf paraphernalia, such as polo shirts, hats and golf gloves.
The group’s name is a bit misleading. They do not play golf at midnight.
“Playing golf at night is impossible unless someone shines a light. The program uses the game of golf to give young people a brighter vision of their future,” said Fluker, who also is president.
Established in 2001, the program started with 17 students. That number has blossomed into roughly 200 students each year. This year’s program has 263. Participants attend biweekly sessions for seven months. Each session is three hours long — students receive golf lessons and life lessons such as financial literacy, interview skills and speech writing — with dinner. The program doesn’t cost participants anything, thanks to funding from sponsorships and donations from businesses, community donors, mentors and program alumni. Nearly 60 mentors and PGA professionals contribute their time and expertise.
“Young people in Detroit are full of promise. What they need is direction because school is such a small aspect of what’s necessary for success. I hope that message spreads,” said David Gamlin, vice president and program director of the Midnight Golf Program.
MGP caters to underserved young men and women in Detroit and surrounding suburbs, and mentorship is one of the most essential parts of the program.
“Midnight Golf has impacted my life by helping me see that my future is important and that I can do anything I put my mind to,” said Asia Branham, 20, a sophomore at Harris-Stowe State University. “They helped me see that I don’t have to settle for less and that there is more out there in the world than just Detroit neighborhoods.”
MGP aims to provide mentoring and professional development in a familial atmosphere for its students and mentors. Students receive one-on-one mentoring with three to five students paired with an individual mentor. Mentors take students under their wing, staying in communication with them even after they go to college. The program’s motto is “College. Career. Beyond.” According to MGP, more than 98 percent of MGP students matriculate to institutions of higher education.
“I’ve seen young people with no intention of going to college or who didn’t believe they were ‘college material’ go on to be valedictorians and graduate summa cum laude,” said Winston Coffee, 34, who is in his seventh year of mentoring with the program.
The program relies heavily on its mentors, who must be able to volunteer twice a week and be at least 25 years old with no criminal background. They represent a diverse range of professions, from pilots to accountants to nurses and more.
Midnight Golf students and mentors primarily work together in Detroit. Since 2005, they have also traveled to colleges, universities and golf courses around the country. This portion of the program is called the Road Trip For Success (RTFS).
“The first time I visited my college, Philander Smith, was on the RTFS. I saw it and fell in love. I applied and was accepted with scholarship,” said Tiffany Phillips-Peters, a 2017 graduate of Philander Smith College. “Beyond the road trip, Ms. Reneé and another mentor, Mr. Ambrose, saw to it that I made it to and through college successfully. Mr. Ambrose and another mentor even attended my graduation.”
This year, the trip includes six cities. Six charter buses have transported students to North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, Winston-Salem State University, Duke University Golf Club, Birkdale Golf Club and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Although they were unable to ride to Augusta, Georgia, for the 2018 Masters, that didn’t keep them from following the tournament — especially since Woods was playing.
“Tiger has been a strong inspiration for many new to the game, but golf needs no PR,” said Gamlin. “It is a sport that has no equal and will be viable for the individual throughout time. Can’t digitize it. Can’t shrink it. We can speed it up, but golf will always be a great asset for those who play.”
Although Woods was not a top finisher at the Masters and has been out of the sport for most of the past four years, that has not affected the students’ enthusiasm for the game. They credit MGP.
“Golf is not just a sport, but it teaches life principles and fundamentals for success,” said Tiffany Moore, 25, an alum of the program who is a current MBA student at Northwood University. “Many business transactions are held over the game of golf. I have been able to gain a business network from speaking on my experiences through the program and have encouraged a previous employer to invest in the program.”
Once students complete the 30-week program, they are eligible to receive awards, scholarships for college, a graduation cord and the title of MGP alum. Many also walk away with a desire to give back and help uplift others.
“The biggest lesson I took away from my experience as a Midnight Golf Program participant is that as you advance in your career and life overall, it is your duty to reach back and pull as many people up with you as possible,” said Jenise Williams, 21, a current senior at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Gaining alumni status in MGP is something that students don’t take likely.
“MGP made it known that we are not who we are merely off our own hard work. For that, we should pay forward the love and devotion others have poured into us, no matter how big or small.”