Lou Stone: Against the Odds

Every glance was more piercing than the last. Every mumble was another shot straight at the heart of his confidence. Every class, every seminar, he sat alone, though the loneliness didn’t bother him as much as the reason why the loneliness continued.

Lewis Stone Jr. is black.

Life for Lou has always been an uphill battle because of the color of his skin. Every step he has taken has been judged and every decision he has made has been second-guessed.  Growing up in Willow Grove, Pa., a town with a population that is nearly 90-percent white, was far from easy.

“Among the black community, you learn to toughen up quickly,” the 51-year-old Lou said.

It took until his senior year at Abington High School for Lou to realize that his skin color is not what defines him. He learned it on the football field, playing quarterback and cornerback for the school. After winning only one game as a junior, the team felt split by an invisible line of racial tension. When Lou was a senior in 1983, the team dynamics shifted and so too did the results on the field.

“We all sat together, ate together, went out together, and protected each other,” Lou said of the team. “Then, just like Remember the Titans, we won the championship.”

Lou had always been a man ready to take on any challenge that came his way, but winning the league championship showed him that when skin color was forgotten, any challenge could be overcome.

His real challenges had not yet begun, though. After studying horticulture at Eastern Montgomery County Technical School, Lou was in search of a full-time job. He turned to the golf industry for an opportunity, any opportunity he could get. All he needed was acceptance from one golf course and then he could show the industry was he can do.

Opportunity came knocking at the door of Snipes Golf Farm in Morrisville, Pa. The family golf complex opened in 1966 and features a pitch and putt course, driving range, and mini golf. The late owner of Snipes Farm, Bradshaw Snipes, or “Big Brad” as they called him, not only opened Lou up to the golf industry, but he mentored him too.  Lou’s first piece of advice from Snipes? Get out on the course and observe.

“I did that and I still do that,” Lou said. “The color of the grass, the texture of the grass, just watch the changes. You get an eye for certain things. Diseases, insects, fungus, damage, stress. The grass on the putting greens, the grass in the areas surrounding the greens. I did that.”

If anything, Lou is a ferocious learner. He craves any piece of information that can help him better the course and expand his knowledge by reading, studying, reaching out to superintendents from local golf courses.  Some of the superintendents would never return his calls, but there are over a dozen in the area that he still speaks to regularly. These are men that have upwards of 30 years of experience in the industry, and Lou tries to tap into their deep reservoirs of knowledge.

His constant appetite for knowledge is what led him to the turf management classes at Penn State University and the golf industry seminars and conventions for superintendents or those aspiring to be. In turn, the classes and the seminars led him to the piercing glances, the mumbles to a neighbor, the loneliness.

“I was the only black guy in my [turf management] classes at Penn State,” Lou said. “People [were] looking at me all funny, you know.”

“I went to this seminar down at the Valley Forge Convention Center every year, and it was a three day expo with all these big superintendents,” Lou continued. “I walked in, and I sat by myself. They just looked at [me] like ‘Oh, who’s this guy? He must be dumping trash over here or something, must be the janitor.’”

Lou brushed it all off the best he could. He was there to learn, after all; networking wasn’t his main concern. He knew he always had the dozen or so superintendents that were willing to help him out back home. Lou also knew that the only way he would be able to get people in the industry to overlook the color of his skin was on the golf course, where he could show his off his skill and work ethic.

Going to these classes and attending seminars hurt. It hurt Lou to know that there were still areas and industries in America that could not overcome the racial tension. Too many places like his one-win high school football team were decimated by white versus black tension and not enough places ignored the differences to come together in a championship winning way. Golf is notoriously slow to adapt to social evolution. Take Augusta National, for instance, the historic course that was forced to accept its first black member in 1990.

For Lou, working in the golf industry led to a harsh realization: “I’m a black guy in a white profession,” he said.

This realization meant that he was back to square one, back to recalling the lessons that he learned as a child about remaining tough in the face of adversity. Of course, remaining tough meant turning a blind eye to constant cold shoulders and double takes due to his skin color not just from customers, but from coworkers too.

This happened at a different golf course, one where Lou served as an assistant under the superintendent. Lou had left Snipes Golf Farm and had moved up to a full-size, public course. The step forward career-wise, though, did not come without consequences, including a severe lack of trust.

“I knew what needed to be done if there was a disease or spotting a little brown patch,” Lou said. “Guys still wouldn’t even speak to me. The rangers, the older guys, they would look at me like ‘Who is this guy?’ They would see me driving the spray tractor and watch me, never saying hello to me. Just watching. They were looking at my work ethic.”

Day by day, Lou proved himself, never uttering one complaint. He learned at a young age that complaining about his situation would never get him anywhere. Lou doesn’t even waste time thinking about it, “I brush that stuff off. You have to have thick skin. Some things get to you a little more than others.”

Jim Bogan, the head golf pro at the course, said that he never heard a word out of Lou regarding any of the racism that he faced. Still, Bogan knew what Lou would be facing regardless of what he was ever told. He mentored Lou and told him to stay focused. Bogan saw great things from Lou and said with conviction, “I would recommend him to go anywhere.”

“Keep coming in and doing your thing,” Lou recalls Bogan always saying to him. “You don’t have to watch them, you just go.”

That’s just what Lou did; he put his head down and he went. Lou kept studying, kept working hard, and kept impressing the people in front of him. When the township took over the golf course where he worked, he knew exactly where to turn for a job as head superintendent.

Snipes Golf Farm had been sold to two long-time employees, Mike Moser and Ed McClure, in 2007 and was renamed Double Eagle Golf at Snipes Farm. The duo was in search of a true head superintendent, something that the course had desperately lacked since Bill Anderson, the designer of the complex and man-in-charge, died in the early 2000s. Lou had worked with Moser and McClure during his original stint with the course in the late 1990s, and they knew the kind of work that he was capable of. The fit was perfect.

“I don’t think there is any situation that he couldn’t handle,” McClure said. “There has never been a situation that I have seen where he hasn’t handled it with professionalism.  He is top notch.”

Moser and McClure hired Lou back full-time in 2008, and the course has seen nothing but improvements since. According to Moser, in the time under Lou, the course has never looked better.

“Just through the 22 years that I’ve been here,” Moser said. “The course has never been in better shape when he was with us. The course always struggled with a lot of disease, a lot of fungus out there. Whenever he was here, we have never had any issues.”

The decision to hire Lou was a simple one for Moser and McClure. It had nothing to do with the color of his skin, both of the owners agreed. The golf industry is a results-based industry. Since returning to Double Eagle Golf, Lou’s work has shown up everywhere, including the all-important bottom-line.

“You hire people because they know how to do a job,” McClure said. “That should go on all over the country. He has done a great job getting the course back in order. Compared to seven years ago, it looks [like] night and day out there. You can tell his impact by the numbers. Look at the place at night, it’s jam-packed out there.”

As long the golf course is green – if the golf course is green, the people will keep coming – it doesn’t matter that his skin is black. Throughout Lou’s journey through the golf industry, though, the color of his skin has mattered every step of the way. As a black man working in a “white man’s profession,” as he put it, he has always faced challenges. The odds were always stacked high against him.

Lou knew that once people dropped their racial biases towards him, the potential for greatness was limitless, just like when his high school football team came together to win the league championship. Now, after facing racism at every point in his life, Lewis Stone Jr. has finally found an identity in the golf industry with Double Eagle Golf.

“It wouldn’t bother me if [he was] green, purple, blue, orange,” McClure said. “It really doesn’t matter what the color of his skin is as long as the golf course is green.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s