If you told Charles Dillahunt ’17 five years ago that he would work today to promote diversity, equity and inclusion with the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America, he wouldn’t wouldn’t have believed.
For one thing, the philosophy major from Terre Haute, Indiana, grew up playing soccer and basketball, and never thought of buying a golf club until she started playing at age adult with his stepfather. The only exposure he had to the game as a kid was limited to the professional tour highlights he saw on TV – most of which featured professionals who didn’t look like him.
Second, it wasn’t until he got an internship after graduation that he learned what diversity, equity and inclusion really means and that “DCI is so much more than a buzzword”. DEI was a fairly new term when it was in college, Dillahunt said, and not as stressed or talked about as it is today.
“It’s crazy to think that five years ago I was sitting in my dorm at Wabash saying my career was over,” Dillahunt said. “I didn’t know, it was just getting started.”
Dillahunt is the Strategic Assistant to the General Managers of the PGA of America. In this role, he is responsible for developing and activating relationships, partnerships and programming to help embed diversity, equity and inclusion across the PGA – of people playing the game. to the association’s workforce and businesses.
He referred to a recent email he received from a young man who participated in PGA JobMatch, a program in which Dillahunt is involved which invites talent from underrepresented backgrounds to be considered for a job. wide variety of positions that support major PGA Championships.
“I remember giving her my number and saying, ‘I was right where you are. I remember how it feels to be so hungry. Please let me help you, I I think so,” Dillahunt said. “We’ve stayed in touch over the past year and he just accepted a job at our South Florida PGA Chapter. He emailed me saying: “Hey, I just moved to West Palm Beach and I’m loving it. I’m already thriving in this role. It’s what I dreamed of. Thank you!”
“That’s why I do it,” the former Wabash student explained. “I do this to show diverse groups of people – women, veterans, people of color, people from the LGBTQ+ community – that they belong and that golf has a place for you. Golf is a place where we want diverse talents. Golf is a place where you can be happy and thrive.
Getting to the PGA
As a first-generation student, Dillahunt admits he wasn’t as involved on campus as he should have been. He played football his first year and was part of the philosophy club, but his goal was to be ready for his career.
During his junior and senior years, Dillahunt commuted to Indianapolis daily to work for the Indy Eleven professional football team, as a corporate partnership intern.
When Dillahunt was a month away from graduating, he learned that the organization would not be able to offer full-time employment and that he would have to find other opportunities.
Dillahunt turned to Steven Jones ’87, director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and dean for professional development, for help. Jones introduced him to the Community Health Network in Indianapolis, who offered him a job as a diversity and inclusion intern.
“Being a former athlete and having experience with Indy Eleven, I really wanted a job in the sport, but it just wasn’t happening at the time,” Dillahunt said. “I gave the Community Health Network a chance, even though I had no idea what diversity and inclusion was. I needed a job.
Jones recalled Dillahunt having a “quiet demeanor but a huge personality” as a student. Although he seemed laid back, Jones explained, once you started interacting with him, you knew he was going somewhere.
“I realized with Charles that the tenacity and courage I had at 21 was not comparable to his,” Jones recalled. “He always seemed to be thinking and planning his next move.”
Jones was right, Dillahunt was always thinking ahead. Towards the end of his six-week internship with Community Health Network, he saw a television commercial that would change his career path.
“I see a woman named Sandy Cross with the PGA of America, and she was their senior director of diversity and inclusion. She talked about how golf wants to diversify, and there are internship programs where you can do it,” Dillahunt said. “I was like, ‘Man, I really don’t want to do another internship, but I’m going to try golf.'”
He had two internship interviews and was told he was overqualified for the position and was instead encouraged to apply for a coordinator position. He then interviewed with Cross and was hired in 2019 as the PGA of America’s Inclusion and Diversity Engagement Coordinator.
Since then, Dillahunt has risen through the ranks and implemented several initiatives aimed at introducing the opportunities of golf and the golf industry to more people, including Make Golf Your Thing, a collaboration of PGA of America, PGA Tour, LPGA and USGA to “invite more people from all walks of life into the sport to enjoy the game of their lives – their way,” according to the project’s website.
“A lot of people don’t understand the meaning of true diversity and inclusion. It means everyone,” he said. “Being diverse and inclusive means involving everyone.”
Putting Wabash Education to Work
Dillahunt said he felt like a ‘diamond in the rough’ as a student at Wabash, but credits philosophy professors Cheryl Hughes and Adriel Trott for honing in, adding pressure and making him a Wabash man ready to enter the job market.
“These women were my beacons,” Dillahunt said.
“They instilled confidence in me that it was okay not to know how to navigate the world right now, but you’re going to figure it out,” he said. “I didn’t always believe in myself, but they did. They believed and showed me that I can be successful in anything I want to do. As long as I work, I will get it.
Trott said she’s thrilled to see Dillahunt take leadership on issues of diversity and accessibility in golf, and that he’s using what he learned in philosophy classes about race and gender to make sport fairer.
“Charles was always excited about how philosophy allowed him to both analyze the world and change it,” Trott said. “He’s clearly putting that background to work.”
Although his path to the PGA was a bumpy one and took a lot of perseverance and courage, Dillahunt said he was grateful for it.
“I always tell students and young professionals who felt lost like I did my senior year to trust the process,” Dillahunt said. “It works. It always has. It always will. Trust him. That’s why I am where I am today, reporting directly to the CEO of the PGA of America and doing the work necessary to build a better golf culture.