One of the most exclusive and prestigious golf clubs in America is coming to French Lick, Indiana for their annual member meeting this week. The Nomads Golf Club, a group of 70 African American men from different walks of life across the country, come together once a year to play golf, share stories, and bond over what brings them together: a love for the game.

“For 51 weeks of the year, you can do whatever you like, but that 52nd week, the last week of July, that’s Nomad week,” said club president Walt Bowers.

The Nomads originated in Chicago in 1950, when Chicago-based lawyer Eugene Wood gathered a group of affluent African American men for regular meetings at Chicago’s Wayside Golf Course. This is the same Wayside Golf Course where Joe Louis lost $10,000 to a buddy in a single round (as told by  John H. Kennedy in his book, “A Course of Their Own). According to the Nomads, they began traveling from course to course, playing at the best clubs that would let them in, after the Wayside clubhouse burnt down. One of their earliest member meetings was at the Keller Golf Club in Minneapolis, home of the 1954 PGA Championship and the 1958 Nomads Golf Club Member Tournament. 

Among the Nomads in their first tournament were the likes of former NFL linebacker and Hall of Famer Judge Frederick “Duke” Slater and olympic gold medalist, Congressman, and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus Ralph Metcalfe. Such accolades are par for the course with the Nomads, which is still known as one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the United States. 

Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman attended their award ceremony that week, but it wasn’t lost on that first cohort that the members were playing golf in a city that was carved from redlining and racial covenants, many of which were still in place, if legally null. That, and the sentiments that drove those racist policies were still alive and well across the United States. 

Private golf courses have always been allowed to create their own standards for limiting membership. Generally speaking, policies fall along lines of income, community influence, or other points of character. In the not-so-distant past, race also played a huge factor in club memberships. Augusta National, for example, didn’t admit its first Black member until 1990. Today, 9 of its 300 members are Black, while according to the 2020 census, 57% of the surrounding county identifies as Black or African American. There are a variety of factors at play for golf in the race conversation, but there is no denying that race is a point of conversation in the game. 

The Nomads Golf Club was founded over 70 years ago, when most clubs wouldn’t admit African American men as members, no matter their social standing. The group’s name is a symbol of that history; a group of affluent golfers without a clubhouse that would take them in because of the color of their skin. Today, the group keeps its nomadic nature, and embraces it as a reason to travel and play some of America’s greatest courses for their annual member tournament. 

This week, they’re carrying on that tradition on French Lick’s Donald Ross and Pete Dye Courses. These two world-class golf courses are nestled in the rolling hills of Southern Indiana. The Dye course, which sits on top of what its creator called the “tallest mountain in Indiana,” was originally sketched out on a paper napkin, which French Lake Resort & Casino still has on display. 

The Ross Course was originally known as the Hill Course when it opened in 1917, and the curve between 8 and 9 would reveal exactly why that is. Its slopes and bunkers are coated in what golf journalist Mike Hembree describes as “devil grass”, providing for a world-class challenge along its fairways. 

Though the Nomads keep their membership limited to 70, they do sometimes allow for guests to join their ranks for parts of their annual meeting. Nasser Sutherland from title sponsor OnCore Golf has witnessed some of the play first hand. 

“I think from an internal perspective, and for clubs that are trying to kind of emulate them, that premise of being character based, is hugely important.”

OnCore Golf became a sponsor for the Nomads four years ago, when the Nomads were seeking someone in the golf industry that suited their values. 

“We’re proud to be their first sponsor. We play in their practice rounds each year.” Sutherland said, “I think in any industry, it’s important. But especially in golf. Golf is one of those things where you’re not playing in huge crowds. We’re picking the three guys we want to play with if that. So it’s intimate, right? And golfers are intimate.”

“Getting to know the nomads and other groups like them, really put a face on Black men in golf. And I can touch history.” Sutherland said, “To know a group of African American men that are very successful in their personal life, and they golf, it really brought everything full circle. For me, it was like, whoa, okay, this isn’t just a history blurb that I need to know about. It didn’t disappear.”

Though OnCore’s business model focuses on high-quality personalized golf equipment, their company’s core values have always included the foundations of DEI. 

“It’s in our DNA. Steve and Brett didn’t have to bring me in from the jump, but they did. And I think that speaks volumes,” Sutherland said, “A lot of times in diversity and inclusion, there’s the token aspect of things, where you’ll find one person of color and they feel ostracized or like they have to assimilate. It’s the exact opposite at OnCore.”

“Even if you never become a Nomad, the fact that you know that the Nomads exist, the fact that the world knows that the Nomads exist and are welcome will help the next golfer of color.”

Sutherland and OnCore co-founder Steve Coulton will be joining the Nomads again this year in French Lick. The club activities run through Thursday, when a champion is announced and board positions for the next year are decided.