This century, the name Tiger Woods is a recognizable as the president of the United States and rightfully so. He is today’s main man of golf worldwide and he’s #Black. Yet nearly 150 years ago, in the late 1800’s after the Civil War, Black golfers played the game and played it very well. Under the racist policy of America’s lynching, financial oppression, and other acts of hatred, Black men carried their golf game on. Some like Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder went on to stellar careers and became well known. But many others such as Teddy Rhodes, James Black, Bill Spiller, Nathaniel Starks, and Joe Roach never got that opportunity.
In those days, the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) fought hard and until 1961, successfully maintained its all-white status. Black golfers (then) created their own organization of touring professionals even if it meant playing in less than comparable settings. Tampa, Florida was one stop on their tour; Miami was another. The Miami competition, called the North-South Tournament, was played in Miami Springs and was considered one of the best organized on the circuit.
Golf history also shows that Dr. George F. Grant of Boston invented the wooden golf tee in 1899 and had the good sense to take out a patent on it. Grant never marketed his invention and never earned a penny from his intellect. The basic model of his golf tee is still used today.
John M. Shippen Jr., an African-American laborer who helped in the construction of New York’s Shinnecock Hills course, managed in 1896 to enter and play in the Second U.S. Open Championship, which was held at Shinnecock Hills. Shippen finished in fifth place, seven strokes off the winning pace.
African Americans’ involvement in golf has included some who held administrative positions and others, like John Bartholomew of New Orleans, who built courses themselves. Bartholomew’s white friends were so impressed with his skills as a greens keeper that they sponsored him in architect school in New York, yet the New Orleans society refused to allow Bartholomew to play on the very course that he designed.
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