Catana Starks made her own history in golf at Tennessee State

written by Olivia Pennybaker

Dr. Catana Starks was born in Mobile, Alabama on December 30, 1944 and would become a trailblazer for black women in golf. Graduating from Tennessee State University, she earned her doctorate in 1989 from the school. She began her coaching career in the 1970’s where she coached high school basketball and swimming. In 1980 Starks became the swimming and diving coach at Tennessee State where she worked as the head of the Human Performance and Sports Science Department. In 1986 Starks became the first woman to coach a Division I men’s college golf team when Tennessee State added a golf program. Since the team was so new, Starks had to start from scratch. The budget was limited and she was tasked with recruiting golfers to her team. In her position, Starks had to face constant racist and sexist comments that she, a fairly soft spoken person, had to stand up to. Her love of teaching and coaching drove her to never give up. Her tenacity was never unnoticed. She drove her team to tournaments herself, arranged hotel rooms for her players, and carried a full time teaching load. Her persistence to guide her team to success overcame the roadblocks. Starks led her team to victory at the National Minority Golf Championship and even coached Sean Foley, a swing coach of Tiger Woods, and Sam Puryear, the first black men’s head golf coach for a major Division I school, Michigan State. In 2014 she was inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame for her coaching achievements. Starks passed away recently on September 6, 2020 at age 75 but she will always be remembered for breaking down barriers in a mostly white and male dominated sport, making the game welcoming to all.