In 1896, John Shippen, a black man from Shinnecock Long Island, is widely recognized as America's first minority golf
professional. In 1896, he and Oscur Bunn, a fellow minority professional, stunned the nation when they qualified for the
U.S. Open. This was not easily accepted, as there were many objections and threats to boycott if Shippen and Bunn
were allowed to play. However, to the credit of Theodore Havemyer, the president of the U.S. Golf Association, it was
made very clear that the tournament would continue even if Shippen and Bunn were the only two participants. Needless
to say, there were no boycotts and Shippen finished in fifth place.
During this era, many blacks, like John Shippen, who had a shot at winning the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, had
learned golf as caddies. Working as a caddy was virtually the only way minorities were able to play on private and public
In 1899, On December 12, Dr. George Grant patented a golf tee which raised the golf ball (made of rubber at that
time) slightly off of the ground, enabling the player greater control with his wooden club and therefore of the direction
and speed of the drive. Grant, who was not only one of the first African-American golfers in post-Civil War America, he
was also one of two African American to first graduate from Harvard Dental school, where he later taught. His invention
was the blueprint for today's wooden and plastic tees. George Grant's small invention has become a standard piece of
equipment for all golfers.
In 1915, many black golfers began to assemble together to form clubs, even without courses, to be certain of their
overall strength in numbers. The Windy City Golf Club was active as early as 1915, in Chicago, organizing tournaments
and challenging the practices that banned any non-Caucasian golfer from memberships or competition against white
golfers. Similar clubs formed in New York, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. under the leadership of
prominent African-Americans who had already overcome severe adversities to become doctors, architects, and
businessmen and knew through experience that that when one door closes, another one opens.
In 1920's. Joseph M. Bartholomew was an African-American architect who specialized in golf courses. Early in 1922,
Bartholomew went to New York to obtain knowledge and experience in golf course architecture. After his return to New
Orleans, Joseph began to design and some of the most brilliant golf course designs the era has ever seen.
However, after months of physical labor and mental anguish to see the project to fruition, due to Bartholomew's race, he
was not allowed to hit one golf ball on those courses which he build with his own hands. Over the next decade
Bartholomew built a number of courses in Louisiana, including City Park No. 1, City Park No. 2 and Pontchartrain Park in
New Orleans. However, the public courses, like the City Park playgrounds, were segregated, and Joseph, could not even
play on the courses.
In 1925. In 1925, an eclectic group of African-Americans called together by Robert H. Hawkins, all met at the 12th
Street Branch of the Washington (D.C.) YMCA to join together in their struggle to unite all minority golfers and golf
associations into one collective and supportive body and they called it The United States Colored Golfers Association
In 1926. The very next year in 1926, on Labor Day weekend, the founding father's brought together professional
golfers from all over the country at the Mapledale Country Club in Stow, Massachusetts, to compete for the first officially
sanctioned National Championship. What was so special about this tournament is that it was the first to advocated
“open” status, meaning amateurs and professionals of all races were welcomed. It was a two-day, 72-hole tournament
that awarded cash prizes and trophies. However, for African-Americans it was more than winning prizes, cups and
medals. At long last, they had earned an identity in the game, which had not formerly welcomed them in this country.
The outcome was invaluable because nothing could have carried more pride for African Americans than to be seated
next to the formerly “untouchable” PGA pioneer's, such as Walter Hagen or Gene Sarazen.
The National, as it came to be known, quickly established itself as the major event for African-American golfers. The
tournament was consistently a proving ground for gifted minorities during an era when they typically were not allowed to
enter white tournaments. As previously mentioned, the National was far more than a golf tournament, but a place where
minority golfers could come together to demonstrate, unity, strength and solidarity, all of which were stepping stones for
a segregated America.
In 1929. The first three Nationals were held at Mapledale, but then in 1929 upon it's closing, it began to move to
different locations across the states. This same year the United States Colored Golfers Association changed its name to
the United Golfers Association. The organization was divided into districts to include various black golf clubs around the
country. Each district elected officers and conducted competitions. Every two years UGA members chose national
officers and voted on issues relevant to the organization. This black-run golf body was every bit as serious about growing
the game as the USGA and the PGA of America.
In 1939. Women were encouraged to participate in the UGA from its inception, but it wasn't until 1939 that an
organization for women sought affiliation with the UGA. That organization was the Chicago Women's Golf Club, which was
organized by Mrs. Anna Robinson. According to one social historian, there were an estimated 5,500 courses in the
United States in 1939, yet still fewer than 20 were open to minority players.
In the 1940's, the UGA had become the fundamental training grounds for top African-American golfing talent such as
Zeke Hartsfield, Bill Spiller, Teddy Rhodes, Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, as well as a sanctuary for a unique subculture.
Revenues generated during tournaments flourished throughout the local business communities from beauty salons to
restaurants to convenience stores. Many of the major corporations supported local events through sponsorships.
Tours attracted a range of celebrity athletes and entertainers, such as Joe Louis, who was a frequent attendee at UGA
events, and supported the organization's fight to attain to the more lucrative PGA Tour.
In 1943, a clause proposed and adopted by the PGA barred any non-Caucasian golfer from membership, meaning that
even the best black players could not compete in PGA-sanctioned events. This represented a very shameful mark in
professional golf. This amendment was known as the "Caucasian Clause," stating that professional golfers of the
Caucasian race, over the age of 18 years, residing in North or
South America, who can qualify under the terms and conditions hereinafter specified, shall be eligible for membership.
This clause remained effective until 1961.
At this time, there were few golf courses created by blacks in existence, however, there were exceptional black golfers
with love for the game and a desire to compete. Fortunately, the barriers of racism didn't and couldn't suppress the drive
or the great spirit of the game's best minority players. They were quite aware and familiar with the unlawful treatment long
before the white professionals proposed the Caucasian Clause.
In the 1950's, more courses opened to African-Americans and the number of talented players increased
exponentially. Some of the best players of this era arose, including Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, Bill Spiller, and
Charlie Sifford. These gentleman were icons who fostered rapid development within the UGA network, staging
tournaments all over the country.
With outside pressure to liberate the game of golf increasing, it began to weigh heavy on the PGA Tour in the late '50s.
The UGA offices put constant demands on PGA headquarters with letters, challenging tour officials to exercise their
influence on decision-makers at the Masters.
In 1970's, Lee Elder finally received the long-awaited Masters invitation in 1975. Lee was the first African American to
play in the Masters Tournament, then the first to participate in a multi-racial sports event in South Africa and
subsequently the first named to the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. He joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1964 and won eight times.
Then in 1976, the National celebrated its 50th anniversary at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Segregation had ended, but
tournament director Tim Thomas remembers arriving at Torrey Pines and being told that the tournament would have to
be cancelled because the course couldn't accommodate the number of players wanting to participate. Needless to say,
the tournament did go on; however, it was one of the last held by the UGA due to lack of funds to continue.
In 1980's, with UGA membership declining, the National became a thing of the past. Now that minority golfers were
granted access to courses and the PGA opened its tournaments, the need for the separate minority held events were no
Today, with the assent of Tiger Woods and his golf game comes an increased interest and participation from young
minorities in the game of golf. Tiger envisions this rise to impact the next ten years as they come of age and develop,
both mentally and physically.
|AFRICAN AMERICANS IN GOLF