A member of the next generation of golf industry employees, Chris Noble, 25, is a native of Niles, Michigan, and the Manager of the National High School Golf Association (NHSGA), a division of Nextgengolf, which was recently acquired by the PGA of America. Noble played on the men’s golf team at Holy Cross College at Notre Dame, where he kept secret that he was gay. Now based in Boston, Noble is working to ensure that other young LGBTQ athletes do not feel forced to hide their sexual orientation, and that the game is open and welcoming to everyone.
What initially drew you to golf as a child, and what about the game makes you want to continue to play it today?
I was introduced to the game of golf at the age of five by my grandparents. I loved that unlike other competitive sports, golf pitted me against the course and myself. Golf has been a consistent part of my life throughout high school, college, and now, in my professional career. I’ve always loved how it inspires me to be the best athlete I can be. In golf, you can feel like you have everything figured out one day, and the next, it’s like you’ve never touched a club before. The continued challenge of controlling my game and managing my emotions is one that I believe is well worth the effort—and one that is applicable to many parts of life.
What do you enjoy most about working with young athletes as the Manager of the National High School Golf Association?
The game of golf has provided me with so much from a personal and professional growth standpoint, and I am so grateful to be a part of the golf community, as a result. My goal is to give back to this game, by working with golf’s next generation and helping them apply the game’s lessons to become better human beings. I was fortunate to have great leaders and role models in the game around me when I was playing. I want to be the same for the next generation, and to encourage people of all backgrounds and experiences to play golf. I’m thrilled to be in a position where I can help create more opportunities for junior golfers.
Why was it important to let others know about your sexual orientation?
For so long, I felt like I was living two lives: knowing that I was gay deep down in my heart, while also working hard to hide who I was, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. That fear takes such an emotional toll. I finally came to the realization that if I am to live my real, true life, I had to come out to myself, my family and my friends.
Why is it important to have more openly gay golfers feel safe in the golf community?
Having more visible and out LGBTQ+ golfers in the game will help shape the golf culture that so many of us wish to see–one that includes and welcomes golfers of all ethnicities, races, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations. Golf belongs to everyone, and regardless of your background, there should be no barriers to play and enjoy this great game that we all love.
How do you think the landscape has shifted for young LGBTQ+ athletes?
I believe that as time goes on, acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community in both sport and society will continue to grow. Through organizations such as Athlete Ally, Outsports, and the You Can Play Project, younger athletes realize that they are not alone and can look up to other LGBTQ+ athletes who play the game. We still have a long way to go, but I believe through continued education, discussions and collaboration, we can help young golfers play the game they love, while being their true, authentic selves. My goal is to see the day where all golfers and fans are accepted for who they are from day one.
What do you say to young golfers who wonder if they can truly be themselves and still enjoy the sport they love?
Golf is a game that does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what your skin color, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, athletic ability or sexual orientation is. All that matters is the score after 18 holes. For a younger golfer who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I would advise them to be proud of who they are, as well as embrace their full self and their love of this amazing game. Golf is ultimately a competition against yourself and the course, and not against anyone else. The same can be said with learning to embrace who you are. Everyone’s path to accepting who they are is different and has a different timetable. At the end of the day, loving who you are and playing the game you love may not come easy, but both will be the greatest gifts in your life.
What can heterosexual golfers and fans do to make golf a more inclusive community?
We all know someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community — they just may have not come out yet. A key first step is realizing that we all have the ability to become allies and help make golf welcoming to all, and this starts with our words and actions.
Another important step to building inclusion is ending homophobic and transphobic jokes and slurs. What may be intended as a “joke” often has the impact of making people feel unsafe and unwelcome, especially those who are not yet out or comfortable with their sexuality. No one wants to be excluded or targeted.
Throughout Pride month, the PGA of America and Athlete Ally will be celebrating the diversity of the golf community through a content partnership that highlights LGBTQ golfers and professionals. Please stay tuned to our websites and social channels to read the full series of stories.