Tiana Jones and Demarkis Cooper came to the game of golf at different stages of their lives.
Jones was born to play the sport, the daughter of a golf instructor in Ohio whose wife, a licensed practical nurse, won their club's championship 21 straight years. Cooper didn't start playing until he was 13 when he was on a family vacation and the resort where they were staying offered lessons.
Having recently finished their first year at UMES, Jones and Cooper are helping to bring notice to the school's Professional Golf Management program. It is one of 19 accredited by the PGA of America and the only one at a historically black university.
Jones and Cooper hope to go in different directions once they graduate.
After graduating in 2014 from South Carolina State with a degree in criminal justice, Jones is working on her second bachelor's degree with hopes of becoming a PGA teaching pro. Cooper, who grew up in Clinton, initially thought of doing the same thing until taking his first few courses in golf management.
"I had a mindset going in that I wanted coming out being a head pro somewhere," Cooper, 19, said Thursday. "Being in this program one year, I have learned there are so many things you can do with a degree in golf course management."
Since the PGM program is part of UMES' School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Cooper said that "when I graduate, I am going to have the credentials to run a golf course, a hotel or a restaurant."
He is currently interning at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills.
Cooper was the first recipient of a full 4 ½-year scholarship endowed by the Caves Valley Golf Foundation, a non-profit that was started by club members to help grow the game for minorities and women. A second scholarship has already been awarded to Josephina Oh, a senior at Archbishop Spalding, starting this fall.
Gary Attman, the foundation's chairman, said that "the goal is to invest in golf-related organizations that can help young people … we wanted to help the community."
Attman added that the internship is part of the foundation's commitment "not just to get them an education, but also to put it into practice."
The foundation had previously made similar financial commitments to provide college scholarships to the club's regular caddies as well as to The First Tee, a national organization which tries to help make the game accessible to minorities. The foundation is on the brink of breaking ground for a First Tee learning center and improved facilities at Forest Park Golf Course.
As a member of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, Attman said that he was "intrigued" when he learned of the golf management program at UMES.
"It seemed like nobody was paying any attention to them," Attman said. "When we all looked a little further, we saw that there are only 19 of these PGA training programs anywhere in the country and there's only [one] at a historically black university. There's so much talk about bringing diversity to the game of golf, we thought, 'what a perfect fit.'"
The UMES program, which started in 2008, recently picked up its first corporate sponsor. Lexus announced that it will give $100,000 in scholarship money to the UMES golf management program. A more formal ceremony will take place at the school's annual Art Shell golf tournament on Wednesday.
This comes on the heels of Tiger Woods and the PGA Tour each donating $10,000 earlier this year to start a scholarship in honor of the late Charlie Sifford, the first African-American to become a member of the PGA Tour. Toyota — the company that makes Lexus cars — was Sifford's longtime sponsor.
Chris Prosser, the deputy director of the UMES golf management program since its inception, said that "as a university, we're excited with our growth, especially within the African-American student population."
According to Prosser, UMES has more African-American males than the other 18 accredited golf management programs combined.
"We may be one of the smaller programs, but we definitely have a niche that we're trying to fill," said Prosser, a former teaching professional. "We have approximately the same student population as Clemson University and Florida State University."
UMES executive vice-president Kim Dumpson, who grew up on the Eastern Shore, has been instrumental in raising the funds needed to keep the golf management program viable. A Towson graduate who also has her law degree, Dumpson said the program is trying to expand its horizon beyond the campus.
"We're putting programs into place in the surrounding area from our school and to other areas outside," Dumpson said. "We're trying to educate and get people into the game of golf, hold clinics at the school, just swinging the golf club. We want a fun-filled environment that we can come together as a school and as a family and educate people about the game of golf."
The 23-year-old Jones, who is spending the summer as an intern at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado, knows all about spreading the gospel of golf.
Jones said that she started playing golf at age 3. Her father, Paul Jr., was a longtime golf instructor in and around Alliance, Ohio.
"My father had done so much introducing the game to minorities, I wanted to do that too," Tiana Jones said. "It opened up so many doors for me alone, and a lot of people have noticed that, so they're trying to get their kids and grandkids into golf. When I grew up, I didn't have many African-American kids — or any kids — around me playing golf."
As Jones was about to graduate from South Carolina State last year, she began trying to figure out what she wanted to do with the game. Though she had twice played in the PGA Collegiate Minority Championship and had been a state high school girls champion in Ohio, Jones knew that playing the game for a living would be tough.
Following in her father's footsteps, Jones would like to teach others the game someday. With the help of those she met playing collegiately, Jones learned of the program at UMES, which, ironically, doesn't have a women's team.
Though Jones had exhausted her NCAA eligibility at South Carolina State, she brought attention to UMES and its golf management program by winning the PGA Minority Championship for a third time last month.
Cooper, the No. 2 player on the UMES men's team, said Jones has "nerves of steel."
Cooper said he admires what Jones is doing in getting a second bachelor's degree in a field they are both passionate about.
"She's a genius," Cooper said. "She has a degree in criminal justice and now getting a full grant to go back and do it again and focus your attention on golf, which you love. All you have to do is go play and learn about golf and now you're an adult. And she gets to keep playing in the [PGA] Minority Championship and keep winning it. She might have a chance to do something that no one else will ever do again."