Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
For Tari Cash, golf isn’t just a game. It’s a leg up the corporate ladder.
That really hit home for her when she was a planning executive at Under Armour nearly a decade ago—well before she had the gumption to found CitySwing—a thriving Washington, D.C., golf studio—while in her 40s. She could be in a room with one or more male peers and be totally overlooked. But if she brought up her recent trip to the driving range, suddenly, she was forging bonds with “people who otherwise didn’t really want to talk to me, to put it bluntly,” says the Boston native. “So lightbulb No. 1 goes off. Golf made it easier for me to connect with white men that I actually had nothing in common with.”
They’d talk a good game. But when it came to actually playing, the guys still kept Cash at arm’s length even though she was a decent shot thanks to her sticking with the game after her father taught her as a teen. She thought if they could see that skill and her obvious love for the game maybe, just maybe, they’d let her in the club. But they never invited her. That’s when the second lightbulb went off. “You know how when you don’t get something you want it provides so much more clarity?” she asks. “As soon as that happened, it demonstrated to me how important this game is for building relationships. I knew instantly that wasn’t going to be a job where I’d be successful.”
So in 2017 she quit that job and started working on an idea she had had for years for an indoor golf spot. Her facility would be similar to the ones in Asian cities that allow players to spray balls into VR projector screens that simulate real-life courses. Seizing on a market void in D.C., she trialed a proof of concept in ’18. And the success of that pop-up shop ultimately motivated her to find a permanent home for CitySwing—not just D.C.’s only golf studio, but still a national pioneer. Her business model charges based on time, not the number of people, making it really cost-effective for groups to play. (A foursome that hacks away for an hour could split the $80 fee.)
What’s more, Cash opened her studio downtown, near D.C. Metro access, expressly to make the game convenient to people who wouldn’t otherwise play. More Black women than ever are holding down corporate jobs these days. And yet the glass ceiling for them remains lower for them than for their other female peers. Through CitySwing, which offers instruction, too, Cash can potentially give them an edge. “I spent the first half of my career thinking if I put my head down and did my work really well, that that was all it was going to take for me to succeed,” Cash says. “I learned the hard way that that’s not true. You can be an incredible performer, but you still need people advocating for you. You need people telling you when this deal or that deal is gonna happen. That only happens through relationships.”
Mind you, this is coming from someone with all the right credentials: a Harvard MBA with managerial experience at Citigroup, Penske Automotive and Tesla. But it isn’t just her own experience climbing the corporate ladder that drives her to help women who look like her. When five Black women had the police called on them for playing too slowly at a Pennsylvania club in 2018, Cash was “sick to my stomach for weeks,” she says. “I was already in the process of creating the business, and it absolutely lit a fire under me to know that what’s so phenomenal about what we’ve done is we’ve learned that by designing with a particular group in mind, even though we are not exclusively a business for Black women, we have created a place where white men feel even more comfortable.”
Cash, who has funded a not-insignificant chunk of CitySwing on her own, nearly didn’t have a space for CitySwing at all. She was days away from signing a lease on another space when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, the paradigm flipped. The same happy hour hackers who flocked to CitySwing after work had to find outdoor spaces to play when Cash’s facility was forced to temporarily close. But rather than stew over losing her convenience advantage, she found another way. She worked with INI innovations to construct a custom 40-foot trailer with two simulators on either side, which allowed her to introduce the game to Black boys and girls who had never picked up a club. That outreach is now a full-blown partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington; this summer, they’ve caravanned to low-income communities in D.C. to hold weeks-long golf camps.
Watching these kids take to the game as Cash did warms her heart. “It just proves to me that we’re not [not] playing golf because we don’t like the game,” says Cash, referring to women and people of color. “We’re not playing [because] the industry hasn’t invited us in. We haven’t had an easily accessible, affordable way into the game. When you put these golf clubs in these young people’s hands who have never been thinking about golf, they love it. They’re naturals. We just need to keep doing more.”
Along those lines, Cash also started The CitySwing Foundation, a nonprofit with a signature program called Backing Birdies, which allows anyone to buy golf studio sessions for kids in exchange for a thank you video. The mutual goodwill makes Cash even more excited about the future of CitySwing, and she hopes to take both the studio and golf trucks national. “We’re just getting started, you know?” Cash says. And given her considerable drive and determination, don’t be surprised if she clubs that glass ceiling until it shatters.
Andrew Lawrence is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.