Making a Future in Golf a Reality: Skylar Graham and the Pathways Internship
Cinderella story out of nowhere, a kid from Compton is about to become …well, most anything she wants, perhaps short of Masters champion. Talk about a movie script.
If the name Sklyar Graham rings a bell, good. The now college junior has graced the pages of FORE in the past, and deservedly so. If you missed that, the story goes something like this: A 6-year-old is ushered off to the local First Tee chapter by her mother to get her away from the one-eyed monster known as television. She takes a liking to the game, shows dedication and aptitude and makes her way to SCGA Junior, partaking in Youth on Course, Player & Youth Development and College Prep programs over the years, and through it all going from eager learner to eager mentor. Education remains front and center as she excelled at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School before landing at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Oh, and she was also at the U.S. Open last summer, at the The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., one of 25 young adults nationwide to earn a Lee Elder Internship.
Expanding the Field
“SCGA Junior has been a very important part of my golf and academic career,” she says. “SCGA Junior was a cornerstone of my life, and it continues to be an important part of my network and my golf family. I’ve gained so many wonderful relationships and connections, people who continue to support me on the course and outside in my career aspirations. I’m just lucky to have had SCGA Junior to uplift me and encourage me in all my endeavors.”
A big part of that uplift was earning the Elder opportunity, which in 2023 and going forward has been rebranded as the USGA Pathways Internship Program.
Whether at Brookline or starting this year at the U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club, this opportunity affords students from underrepresented communities — rising college sophomores through those in graduate programs — the opportunity to see behind the scenes of one of the world’s most important sporting events; to job-shadow and take advantage of content-focused classroom time; to partake in professional development panels; to network with leaders, sponsors and vendors in golf, sports and industry.
It’s easy to forget that only a fraction of “golf jobs” are held by paid-to-compete professionals, club pros and instructors. From hospitality, technology, media and community relations, to charitable endeavors, finance and fundraising, marketing and youth outreach, the industry employs a lot more people who will never have their names stitched into a big leather bag than have.
Opening doors and increasing diversity and inclusivity is a cornerstone of the program, which is why Elder’s name is attached to the inaugural program and the qualification criteria dedicated to equity. As the USGA points out, there are some two million jobs in the $80+ billion golf industry, with an acute employment shortfall within underrepresented communities.
“Pathways is designed for and targeted to students from diverse and underrepresented communities — that is the aim and mission of the program,” explains Kamille Ramos, the USGA’s assistant director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “As an organization we have a really big focus on inclusion as a hiring practice. We know it’s good for the game, so by offering different intentional career programs, we are creating a broader funnel of diverse leaders, and we know we need that internally and across the industry. We see [Pathways] as another vehicle to help us achieve that.”
A Better Tomorrow
Twenty students will be chosen this year, and half will be Angelenos and Southlanders, a local-orientation change from 2022’s anywhere-in-the-nation recruitment. The 10-day program — which overlaps with June’s playing of the U.S. Open — comes with a small stipend, and expenses are covered. According to Ramos, there are five focus fields: communications, media, merchandising and licensing, operations and one field that is yet to be determined. A link to the application web portal follows this story.
“What makes this unique and what makes this a highlight,” Ramos adds, “are those behind-the-scenes, on-the-job, working-experience opportunities. You hear ‘internship,’ and by nature you think it will be work the entire time. This internship does a really great job of marrying the classroom, the educational, the observational and the tactical, getting out there shadowing [and] working alongside the USGA staff member or vendor to gain work experience relative to the area of interest.”
Successful applicants also get to see some fine golf up close, even though they need not (yet) be hard-wired for golf. Indeed, no golf skill or knowledge is required. An interest in sports and sports organizations as a potential career is all that is asked. And, of course, aptitude, attitude and desire. What the intern will receive in return is immeasurable.
“To be at the U.S. Open, to be surrounded by USGA executives and industry leaders by the energy of the event, it was incredible. It was both a professional experience and a personal experience, because I have committed so much time and love to golf,” Graham said. “The Lee Elder Internship inspired me to want to work in the sports industry. I’m committed to encouraging and lifting up the next generation of golfers, as students and leaders, and I believe in the power of sports to do that. The internship experience allowed me to see a future for myself in an industry that has not always been representative of women, women of color, people of color, and now it is.”
Golf is a vehicle. It can carry us, all of us, together, as one, from where we are to where we need to be. From yesterday to a better tomorrow.
Application deadline for the 2023 Pathways Internship is Feb. 10. To learn more and to apply, please go to: USGA.org/pathways