Chuck Walker’s greatest hope for the day was that he’d get a chance to drive the golf cart. Walker, a then 13-year-old living in Memphis, had an affinity for sports. He loved basketball, football (American and European) and, well, pretty much anything his parents would let him play. But golf? Not so much.
So, when his father first took him to a course, he was more interested in getting his turn at the wheel than in teeing off.
“I saw it as a chance to maybe have a little fun with my dad,” he says, reflecting on his first golf experience roughly 30 years later. “My dad was a salesman for GE back in their appliance days, and some guys told him, ‘You know, if you want to do more business, you should learn to play golf.’ So, he did.”
The more father and son visited the course, the more Walker warmed up to the game. That’s how he found himself back at that same course, at age 14, on the day that, in some ways, led to where he is now.
“I remember being on a driving range and a stranger coming up and talking with my dad,” he recalls. “He said, ‘Hey, that kid’s athletic, and he’s got a good swing. If he keeps at it, he could probably get pretty good.’” Then, before walking away, the stranger added, “And you know what? They have scholarships for golf these days.”
Walker still brims with joy recounting his “lightbulb moment,” a realization that “I probably wasn’t going to get a football or basketball scholarship, but with golf, I could control my own destiny.”
And he did. Walker attended Virginia’s Hampton University on a golf scholarship and is now the executive director of the I AM a Golfer Foundation (IAMGF), a nonprofit founded in 2018 by Class A PGA and lifelong golfer Ira Molayo. Its mission is to be a catalyst for individual and community renewal and transformation surrounding the historic Crest Golf Course in South Dallas.
“This course is a part of golf history,” Walker says. “A lot of people don’t know that it hosted a major championship [the PGA Championship in 1927]. It’s hosted national opens. There have been eight World Golf Hall of Famers who have left their mark at Cedar Crest.”
Plus, like its executive director, the foundation knows scholarships can change lives.
In addition to instructional programming and paid internships, IAMGF also provides higher education scholarships to students living in the neighborhood surrounding Cedar Crest. This life-changing impact inspired SMU Cox Assistant Dean for External Relations Kevin Knox to seek a partnership between the foundation and the Cox School of Business.
In addition to serving as a sponsor for IAMGF and Cedar Crest Golf Course’s top fundraiser, the Dallas Amateur Championship—wherein Cedar Crest hosts six qualifiers leading up to the championship tournament at Trinity Forest Golf Club—this year, SMU Cox will also be a sponsor for a new golfing competition. On Nov. 13-15, SMU Cox will sponsor the Southwest Airlines Showcase at Cedar Crest, the foundation’s first-of-its-kind fall tournament: a contest that will feature 42 golfers of color from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country.
“I’ve met so many gifted students through the foundation,” Knox says. “That’s the thing about the work they do: It all comes back to lifting up the students. That’s the kind of work SMU Cox wants to be a part of.”
The Power of Community
“It’s the people that make me love what I do,” says Knox, who also serves as executive director of the Cox School’s Alumni Association. “It’s all about how you can come together to create a lasting relationship that helps students, alumni, the community and SMU Cox.”
Because he keeps up with Cox alumni long after they’ve graduated, he often hears about their exciting philanthropic efforts. That’s how he first heard of the I AM a Golfer Foundation.
“SMU Cox alum Andrew Hunt, MSE ’09, a member of the IAMGF Advisory Board, has been a good friend since he was here at Cox,” Knox says. “And he’s the one who first introduced me to his longtime friend Chuck Walker.”
Knox and Hunt have a lot in common with Walker: They have a deep appreciation for sports and an even deeper love for the power of community.
Hunt’s career has intersected between sports, entertainment, technology and private equity. He has served in leadership roles of various golf and golf-related companies and investment opportunities and is the founder and CEO of HAPi Golf, a sports tech company that’s reimagining the game by developing team-themed golf entertainment facilities to transform stadiums and arenas into year-round entertainment destinations.
His love of golf dates back to his grandfather Stuart Hunt, who co-founded Preston Trail Golf Club in Dallas, where the Byron Nelson Golf Classic (PGA Tour) was held from 1968 to 1982. In fact, golfing legend Nelson gave 3-year-old Andrew Hunt his first golf lesson.
Hunt saw a potential link between the IAMGF and the mission of the Cox School.
“Golf is a great game that teaches important life skills like honesty, sportsmanship and integrity,” he says. It’s also the only sport where you call penalties on yourself, he notes.
“One of the conversations I had with a professor of mine at Cox that I’ll never forget was this: ‘that your purpose as a Cox alumnus—and a measure of success in your career—was not just how much money you make or how successful you are in business.’ The professor said that you should strive to ‘do well so you can do good.’”
That, he says, is exactly what the I AM a Golfer Foundation is trying to do, too.
“The foundation is part of a great movement that is making the game more accessible and inclusive and changing the stereotype that golf is an elitist sport,” Hunt says. “I love the Harvey Penick quote from his Little Red Book: ‘…and if you play golf, you’re my friend.’”
Dallas is the perfect location for the foundation’s work, as the PGA’s recent relocation to Frisco proves North Texas is now the beating heart of the golf world. It also helps that like-minded partners, such as the Cox School, are based nearby.
IAMGF chairman Dave Ridley, a Cox MBA ’81 alum and self-proclaimed “golf nut,” emphasizes the importance of forging such partnerships, not only for the realization of the two organizations’ goals but also for the benefit of the greater Dallas community.
“SMU is aligned with the city’s future,” Ridley says. “SMU’s pride in Dallas doesn’t stop at the Trinity River. Here is Cedar Crest Golf Course, sitting four miles south of downtown, with a history of world-class championships won on its grounds. And it’s now the home of a nonprofit foundation helping youth in the community. What a better way for North Dallas to connect with South Dallas.”
The thriving community of Dallas businesses and nonprofits has helped the foundation grow significantly in just five years of operation.
“In the beginning, our vision was quite simply, ‘bring more eyeballs south of the Trinity River and experience Cedar Crest,’” Walker says.
Their goal was to create 10 jobs a summer for local kids, and once they accomplished that goal, they set their sights on a new milestone: $10,000 in college scholarships. They reached that mark, too. In fact, the foundation has met or surpassed every goal it’s set, so it just keeps reaching higher (another similarity to Cox, Hunt points out.)
Since opening its doors, IAMGF has engaged over 650 local youth athletes through instructional programming. Molayo and Walker have also created and hosted 91 paid internship positions for students who live near Cedar Crest, and they have awarded $200,000 in college scholarships to date.
The foundation’s school, community, intern and scholarship programs have helped Walker meet hundreds of young athletes and neighborhood families. The annual amateur championship has become its hallmark program. Like Knox and his Cox friends, Walker makes sure to keep in touch with the students who ultimately enroll in college far beyond Dallas. While being interviewed for this story, he rattled off names of local kids like Rachel and Hector with the pride of a family friend watching the kid from a few doors down do great things.
“A lot of our interns or scholarship recipients are already doing great things in college,” he says. “They’re on the right path, setting up themselves and their families for future success. This is a community that has been historically underappreciated, so it means the world to us when we hear, ‘Hey, you guys are making a difference.’”
Coming Together to Do Good
The Cox School of Business is now a sponsor of two of the foundation’s key events: its amateur championship and the historic, HBCU-centric tournament taking place in November. Even better, the latter competition will be broadcast on the Golf Channel.
It’s just the start of what Knox believes will be a long-running relationship between the School of Business and I AM a Golfer. “This partnership has the opportunity to be an ongoing force of good in people’s lives, and in South Dallas in particular.”
Naturally, the man who first told Knox about this project is equally zealous about the foundation’s long-term potential. “We want this to keep growing and shaping lives over the next 10 to 20 years,” Hunt says. “This can be a legacy project.”
Meanwhile, Walker is already hearing the buzz that comes from simply having the SMU Cox name associated with events hosted by I AM a Golfer Foundation. “We’re already hearing our kids say, ‘Wow, SMU is here,’” he says. “‘You’re telling me I could possibly go to SMU?’”
In other words, he wants kids to “see what’s possible”—on and off the golf course—just as he once did. He has also been delighted by how Cox students have embraced the nonprofit’s work.
For instance, many students have recently interned with the foundation, learning the ins, outs and intricacies of nonprofit management while contributing to a little slice of Dallas history. You can’t forget about the history; Walker is careful to note: Cedar Crest has the ability to remind everyone who visits where golf has been, where it is, and where it can be one day.
That’s why the club is now home to a statue of Charlie Sifford, the first Black golfer to play on the PGA Tour. Well before he played the Tour, though, Sifford won the United Golf Association’s National Negro Open at Cedar Crest.
All this talk about golf takes Walker back to that fateful day on the driving range, the day he was told his swing might have something special to it. He still remembers the look in his father’s eye when they heard—from a stranger, no less—that Walker could earn a scholarship for this game they had picked up together.
After all, had a colleague never told Walker’s father that he should hit the links every now and then, maybe Walker wouldn’t be where he is today.
And if Walker hadn’t had an interest in driving a golf cart, that fateful stranger may not have eventually noticed the talent of a random 14-year-old on a driving range.
“That one moment changed my life,” he says. “I want to create those moments for as many kids as we can.”