LOS ANGELES, March 27 (Reuters) - African American professional golfer Mariah Stackhouse on Tuesday said the high cost of playing the game remained the primary reason for the lack of diversity in the sport.
Speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports conference ahead of the first women's major of the year at Rancho Mirage this week, Stackhouse said the cost of travel alone makes it hard for people from low-income backgrounds to turn pro.
"Quite frankly golf is a very expensive sport to participate in," said the 24-year-old Stackhouse, who is just the eighth African American woman to play on the LPGA tour.
"If you want to compete at high junior levels, high amateur levels, you are travelling well outside your state and you have to have the funds to do so.
"We have to make golf more accessible to people in communities that just don't have the resources," said Stackhouse, who urged cities to open driving ranges to expose the game to a wider audience.
Stackhouse said mentorship from fellow Stanford alumni and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had helped her make the leap from college, where she was a four-time All-American, to the professional ranks.
Before that she benefited from a foundation set up by baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who was one of the first African Americans to play in Major League Baseball.
Support from the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation starting allowed Stackhouse to compete in junior tournaments around the country, where she won 97 times and became an inspiration to aspiring female African American golfers.
Many thought the tide toward greater diversity in golf had turned decisively when 14-time major winner Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in the mid-1990s.
But it seems that Woods, who was born to an African American father and Thai mother, was an outlier rather than the new normal.
Among professional golfers, 75 percent are male and 86 percent are white, according to a 2015 Golf Diversity and Inclusion Report.
Golf industry workers, from caddies to greenskeepers, are 90 percent male and 88 percent white, the report found. (Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney)