Featured photo: Julius Reese, Winston Lake’s general manager and golf professional of 15 years (photo by Jerry Cooper)

They almost seem like they don’t go together.

That’s what the board at Authoring Action thought when Audra Byers, the marketing and development director for the organization, brought up the idea of a golf fundraiser to support their youth programs.

Authoring Action, founded in 2003, started off as a program for “at-risk” youth and has evolved over the years into a creative nonprofit that seeks to empower the community through writing, arts and filmmaking. The idea of a stuffy golf fundraiser seemed a bit off-brand. 

“Our mission at Authoring Action is about equity and justice and lifting up voices,” Byers says. “And golf is like this hoity-toity thing and you think of mostly white people. Tiger Woods is an anomaly.”

That is until Executive Director Lynn Rhoades suggested they host it at Winston Lake Golf Course.

Those who know anything about golf in the area call it one of the hardest courses around. It’s also on the east side of town, and was founded in 1956 as the city’s first Black course.

Winston Lake Golf Course (photo by Jerry Cooper)

“The difference in the course across town and Winston Lake is like night and day,” says Jerry Cooper, a photographer for TCB and a local golfer. Cooper is on the committee that helped put together the upcoming fundraiser for Authoring Action, which will take place this Saturday. “The location itself is challenging. Reynolds Park is flat, wide open with some hills. But Winston Lake is an extremely difficult course.”

The reason why?

“They allotted the land somewhere it was not pleasurable for a casual golfer,” Cooper explains. “There’s lots of turns and lots of trees. I love it, but it’s one of the most advanced courses I’ve played on, especially as far as public courses go.”

This weekend, dozens of golfers will take to the green at Winston Lake with the hopes of conquering the hostile terrain. All of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go to Authoring Action’s Just Us program which helps court-involved teens through participation in the arts.

The point, Byers says, is  to raise awareness for the organization, of course, but also to shed light on the historical golf course at the same time.

“The other idea was to get as many Black people out in the same place playing golf,” Byers says.

Corey Matthews playing at the Winston Lake Golf Course (photo by Jerry Cooper)

Since Winston Lake was established in 1956, it’s been a safe haven for Black golfers, not just in Winston-Salem but across the country.

“There used to be this thing called the ‘Chitlin Circuit,’” explains Julius Reese, Winston Lake’s general manager and golf professional of 15 years. “It consisted of minority golf courses up and down the East Coast, and Winston Lake was on that circuit.”

Officially known as the United Golfers Association, the circuit was a group of Black golfers who operated a series of professional tournaments during the years of segregation.

Julius Reese

“It was the only place for minorities to play golf at,” Reese says.

According to Winston Lake’s website, the first nine holes were installed on the course in 1956. It wasn’t until eight years later, in 1964, that the other half of the course was constructed.

These days, the clientele is still majority Black but diversity has increased.

“I welcome everybody,” Reese says. “I don’t want to say it’s predominantly a Black golf course.”

Cooper, who still plays holes at Winston Lake regularly, says that when they closed Reynolds Park for a time, the attendance at Winston Lake shot up. 

“Now, people love the course,” he says.

And that’s despite the difficulty of play itself.

“I’ve been going there my whole life so I’m very comfortable there,” Cooper says. “And anyone who has ever played there is like, ‘This is awesome, the vibe is awesome.’ It’s a more welcoming environment, and that’s maybe historically because people weren’t welcome anywhere else. But instead of being bitter about it, they would welcome people who came there.”

Navian Sims and Avery Burch at Winston Lake Golf Course (photo by Jerry Cooper)

Part of being a welcoming course includes teaching kids how to play golf from a young age. Reese, who used to play football, says that getting involved in sports, especially a nontraditional one like golf, can drastically impact a young Black child’s life.

“If we can teach a kid to play golf, that’s a quick ticket to college,” he says. “Especially being minorities in a low-income area that we are located in.”

And that comes from the other kinds of soft skills that are taught through sports, Reese says.

“We don’t only teach them to play golf,” he says. “You use that athletic platform to be a good human, be able to deal with people, to learn perseverance.”

What Winston Lake does through clubs and green, Authoring Action does through pen and paper.

“Adolescence is such a pivotal point in development and it can go one way or another,” Byers says of why Authoring Action works with youth. “It’s looking at the power of words. Not just teaching how to write, but helping people to write with their voices, tell their stories.”

So, they do, in fact, go together.

Learn more and register for Authoring Action’s Winston Lake golf fundraiser here.

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