Before Tiger Woods, there was Charlie Sifford, Lee Wright, Bill Spiller and Lee Elder. Africans Americans have never been fully embraced by the sport of golf, which makes the history all the more interesting.
Just in time for Black History Month, a company called Negro Golf League Clothing has written a press release with some interesting tidbits on African American golf history.
Columbia, MD (PRWEB) February 10, 2006—The Negro Golf League clothing line, a subsidiary of NICH Enterprises, LLC, presents five vignettes from Black Golf History in honor of Black History Month, 2006. Pete McDaniel’s “Uneven Lies” and Dr. Calvin Sinnette’s “Forbidden Fairways” are the sources of the stories that follow. Each book chronicles the rich history of Black America’s involvement with the game of golf. This history is another chapter in the courageous saga of a special people, full of triumph as well as, tragedies. The five stories that follow are only a few of the ones found in these two books.
Afrrican-American’s connection to the game of golf goes back to the late 1800’s with John Shippen and George Grant, through the 1910’s and 20’s with Walter Speedy and Robert Hawkins, through the 1930’s and 40’s with Ted Rhodes and Howard “ Butch” Wheeler, through the 1950’s and 60’s with Charlie Sifford and Ann Gregory, through the 1970’s and 80’s with Lee Elder, Renee Powell and Jim Thorpe and through the 1990’s and ‘00’s with the meteoric career of Tiger Woods. The saga of African-Americans in the game of golf is one of perseverance and persistence. Clearly, it is a triumph of an undeniable will.
So, here’s a few things America ought to know, but “DidJa Know?”
A History of Blacks in Golf series presented by the Negro Golf League
#1. The creation of The Langston Golf Course, Benning Road, NE, Washington, DC. Things have changed significantly for Black golfers since the night of August 6, 1936, when the Wake Robin Golf Club of Washington, D.C., held its first meeting. At 79 R Street NW, the home of Helen Webb Harris, a teacher and wife of a prominent Washington physician, 13 women met to form a golf club. Each was married to a member of Washington’s all-black, all-male Royal Golf Club, and they were tired of staying home on weekends while their husbands played golf.
At the time, all but one of the District’s public courses, the Lincoln Memorial, were off limits to black golfers of either sex. In 1938, the Wake Robin Club pushed the process of desegregating the District of Columbia’s public courses. The group worked with the Royal Golf Club to draft a petition, which was sent to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. To pacify the petitioners, Ickes approved the construction of a nine-hole course on the site of an abandoned trash dump. Thus was born Langston Golf Course, built in the shadow of Spingarn High School in NE Washington, DC.
#2. Dr George Grant, inventor of the wooden golf tee
“George Franklin Grant was born in Oswego, New York in 1847, the son of former slaves. George Grant distinguished himself at an early age when he graduated from Harvard Dental School, one of the first two African Americans to graduate from the School, where he later taught.
Dr. Grant was an avid golfer though not a highly skilled one.
However, Dr. Grant found the prevailing method of teeing up a ball by pinching damp sand into a launching pad, both inconsistent and tiresome. Using his knowledge of science, he decided to improve the game of golf by creating a tool that would allow the golfer an easier way to drive their golf ball from the tee box on to the fairway. The tapered golf tee Dr. Grant invented received U.S. patent No. 638,920 on December 12, 1899. Dr. Grant’s invention was the world’s first patent for a golf tee. However, he never pursued any capital gain from his invention.
#3.The United States Colored Golfers Association, creator of the first and only national black pro golf tour. “The United Golfers Association was started during the summer of 1925 at a meeting held in the 12th ST YMCA off U St., NW in Washington, DC. Under the leadership of Walter Speedy, a prominent professional golfer and activist from Chicago, Illinois and Robert Hawkins, a businessman from the Boston, Massachusetts area, the UGA was formed to address the needs and concerns of the African-American golfing community.
On Labor Day weekend, 1926, the United States Colored Golf Association sponsored a new golf tournament. It was proudly billed as the first Negro National Open. Professional Black golfers from all over the country gathered at the Mapledale Country Club in Stow, Massachusetts, to compete for a national title. For the first time, black golf professionals could compete for an officially sanctioned national championship at a time when they were not allowed to compete in white tournaments. The Negro National Open was played every year until 1976.”
The United Golfers Association, the group who formed the National Black Pro Golf Tour in 1926. For the record, the National Black Pro Golf tour lasted until 1976.
#4. Joseph Bartholomew, New Orleans-based Golf Club and Golf Course Designer
Joseph Manuel Bartholomew, Sr. was born in August, 1885. Starting out as a caddie, he taught himself the game. Later, he played against golfing greats Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and defeated Scotsman Freddie McLeod, winner of the 1908 US Open, after Freddie became the club pro at the Audubon Golf Club. McLeod hired Joe as his assistant at the club.
While working for McLeod, Joe learned the art of golf club making, greens keeping, landscaping and golf course maintenance. As a result, Joe was hired to design and build the Metarie Golf Course, the New Orleans City Park #2 and the Pontchartrain Park Golf Course, now called the Joseph Bartholomew G.C. in New Orleans. In his day, Joe Bartholomew was one of the wealthiest black men in the city of New Orleans.
Unfortunately, due to the segregation prevalent of the time, Joe Bartholomew was never able to play golf on any of the courses he designed
#5. Renee Powell, one of only three African-Americans to play on the LPGA tour.
In 1967, Renee Powell became the second black female to qualify for the Ladies Professional Golf Association or LPGA Tour. Renee began playing at the age of three with two clubs, a putter and a driver her father had cut down for her use. During her teenage years, she won a number of United Golfers Association events. While attending Ohio State University, she became the first African-American to captain the golf team of a major academic institution. After joining the LPGA in 1967, Renee played full time for twelve years until sustaining an arm injury in 1979.
For seven years, Renee was the head golf professional at the Seneca Golf Course in Broadview Heights, Ohio. When her father, Bill Powell, retired as head professional at the family-owned, Clearview Golf Course in East Canton, Ohio, she resigned from Seneca to take assume the head golf pro role at Clearview.