A smiling young man named Bradford joined us at an LA barbershop. Here he's seen sat down in the barber chair
“Golf, I love you, but you fail to see me.”Image by: Keiron Berndt
A smiling young man named Bradford joined us at an LA barbershop. Here he's seen sat down in the barber chair
11 July 2023

Bradford Wilson’s story: Finding therapy in golf

Bradford Wilson
5 minutes read time

Starting the conversation on representation in golf

During the pandemic, when I was out on the streets, protesting and educating friends and family on what it means to actually see your Black friends, to consider them -- it was a lot for me, emotionally, to do that work. The way that I would decompress from all of that was watching golf videos on YouTube -- just to unplug my brain for a little bit and not think about it.

The more I looked and the more that I searched for people that looked like me on the other side of the screen, the less I found. I saw a void.

I wasn't seeing the kind of content that spoke to me. So, I started a video series called Dear Golf, which was an open letter to the golf community telling them, “Golf, I love you. You've given me so much, but you've also taken from me. You fail to see me.”

My first experience with golf, however, was totally different. I hadn’t always felt this way.

Growing up and playing golf in a Black community…

I started playing golf when I was 12 years old, in Wilingboro, New Jersey. Willingboro was and continues to be very special to me – my parents still live there! It’s unique, because it’s a predominantly Black township. So, the patrons of the golf course were predominantly Black growing up.

12-year-old me would peer over the golf course fence to watch. For that younger version of myself, growing up in Willingboro, and seeing people that looked like me play this game, opened doors for me in my mind -- telling me that golf could be an avenue of opportunity.

Golf immediately became an obsession. Skipping out on soccer practice to go to the driving range. Begging my grandmother to help me get clubs. Hopping the fence to the golf club across the street from my house just to go shag a couple of balls. In high school, me and my little crew would drive around, hacking up every golf course in South Jersey and playing on golf courses we had no business playing. It was fun. It was summertime and it was youth.

…to being the only Black golfer on the college team

Fast forward 2 years, and I’m trying out for my college golf team. The coach was blown away by not only my enthusiasm, but how I didn’t give up. I had bad shots – left and right – but I kept attacking. I kept coming back.

Now, when I think about that moment, it's bittersweet, because my college golf experience was not happy. It was not the warm and inviting space that I was led to believe it was.

As a kid watching golf in my community, I saw people that looked like me. But, when I got to college, it was the complete opposite. I was the only Black player on my team. I was the only Black player in our conference. I was the only Black player in our region. I stuck out everywhere I went. My team mates were bullies and that coach who had once encouraged me, was now no different than the rest. It was a bait and switch.

I felt isolated. I felt small. I felt invisible. When I graduated from college, I told myself I was done playing golf. These people didn’t have the right to make me feel that way, but when I saw my golf clubs, I was put into that place. So, I stopped playing. I put my clubs in my parents’ garage and I never looked back. Until I moved to Southern California.

Getting back into the swing of things

I was teaching in SoCal, and had accepted an offer to coach a school golf program (after much arm-twisting). That experience changed the way that I interacted with golf. It completely changed the way I felt on the golf course, just being around that kind of innocence and curiosity was everything to me. It healed me in a lot of ways. Also, the Southern California Golf Association, empowered individuals, welcoming folks from all walks of life to come together.

The importance of culture, community and connection

Eventually, I left teaching to pursue a path to entertainment. It was at that time that I started therapy. I had a lot of uncertainty in my life. I’ve found that men talking about their mental health is often frowned upon. And in the Black community, a community that's been heavily marginalized and disrespected, looked over and dismissed for generations, we have our guard up most of the time. There wasn’t much room or space held to have these meaningful conversations. At home, I don't think we had the language to speak to my experiences. While I was looking for validation that my feelings weren't unnatural, I was fed Scripture. Now, I know how important having conversations are. Not just to feel accepted, seen and heard, but to connect with people around you.

Community and connection is as important as drinking water, as breathing clean air, as moving your body. For me, the community around me and my closest friends are mostly Black men. They’ve taught me the multitudes of what Black men contain. In opposition to the way pop culture might portray us, Black men can be soft and feminine, wise and strong, good listeners and appreciative. They’ve taught me that doors open and connections happen when you aren’t afraid to be vulnerable or ask for help.

Today, I have a podcast called Group Golf Therapy -- a mental health podcast disguised as a golf podcast. We talk about how golf makes you feel versus what equipment you use or what your handicap is, which is common in most golf conversations. I like to say that golf is just the excuse that men use to go on a walk with each other and have a conversation. On the podcast, we go on that walk together in every episode.