Traveling exhibition showcases black contributions to golf
Tiger Woods will tee it up July 18 at The Open Championship in Northern Ireland.
Woods remains one of the few black golfers on the PGA Tour, and though more black people are hitting the links, his transcendent performances have not translated into more blacks competing on the men’s and women’s professional tours.
The other African-American males on the tour are Harold Varner III and Cameron Champ.
This column wants to give you some insight into the fact that black people have long been involved in professional and amateur golfing.
Here’s a nugget: A black man, John Shippen Jr., played in the second U.S. Open in 1896. He tied for fifth place and won $10, making him the first American-born golf professional, and the first black, to win a money prize.
Here’s another fact: At one time, all caddies at the prestigious Master’s – professional men’s golf’s first major golf tournament – were black. The first Master’s was in 1934. The first time there weren’t any black caddies at the Masters was in 1983.
In an article by Rickey Hampton, editor and founder of the African-American Athlete website, he wrote black caddies once held an estimated 70 to 80 percent of PGA Tour jobs. If you watch any PGA event now, you would be hard pressed to find a black caddy.
And the golf tee? Yes, you guessed it. George Franklin Grant, who died in 1910, invented the wooden golf tee. He received his patent for the tee in 1899. He was also the first African-American professor at Harvard and the second black graduate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He was a Boston dentist.
These and other facts about blacks in golf and the impact they have had on the game will soon be available in the first-ever African-American Golf History Museum on Wheels.
It is the brainchild of Ramona Harriet, author and research history of African-American golf, and founder of Epochs of Courage African American Golf Exhibitions.
I interviewed her recently about the exhibitions, set to travel the East and West coasts in 2020.
“This has been a passion and a dream of mine for quite a while,” she said. “I always wanted to know the whys and things of that nature, especially when it came to blacks being involved in golf.”
Harriet started a traveling exhibit of information and material she has collected about the roles of blacks in the sport in 1999 in Washington, D.C. This is the 20th anniversary of the exhibition, and first time it will be launched as a mobile tour exhibition.
She shared an anecdote as an example of why the exhibition is needed.
“One student at one of the exhibitions said he thought Tiger was the first black on tour,” Harriet said.
The young student had never heard of these black men who have played on the PGA Tour – Jim Dent, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford (the first black tour member), Jim Thorpe, Lee Elder and Pete Brown, the first black to win a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
Harriet said it takes about six months to build and construct the 53-foot, double expandable mobile trucks with about 1,000 square feet of exhibit space. The fundraising goal is $3 million for the two trucks.
“There is such a rich and unknown history about our people in golf, and [the exhibitions] will inspire kids and young adults to pursue their dreams,” said Harriet, who grew up in the midst of racial segregation.
The Negro Leagues were created to allow black men the chance to play baseball because the color barrier prevented talented athletes from playing with whites in Major League Baseball.
You will not find this surprising, but blacks were once prohibited from being members of The PGA of America and playing on the PGA Tour. The PGA of America had a “Caucasians only” clause that was finally repealed in the 1960s.
The United Golf Association was created in the 1920s to allow black men and women to play the game they loved. African American Golfer's Digest points out there was a 2009 documentary called “Uneven Fairways: The Story of the Negro Leagues in Golf,” that outlines the black golfers who overcame racial barriers in the game.
Go to website https://www.africanamericangolfersdigest.com to find the documentary, or Google it. I found it on YouTube.
Harriet told the digest, “Stories of struggles for equal access to golf courses and equal playing rights will have a profound positive impact to encourage youth, and adults, to rise above circumstances and excel beyond their wildest expectations.”
She confirmed that one of the first stops the East Coast traveling exhibit will make will be at Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, one of the few black-owned golf clubs in America.
Bill Powell purchased the land for the course in 1946, worked it diligently, and opened it for play in 1948.
I had the privilege of playing that course about five years ago.
Clearview remains in the Powell family. His daughter, Renee Powell, and her brother, Lawrence, now operate the club. In 1967, Renee became the second African-American member of the LPGA Tour. The first: tennis great Althea Gibson, who played on tour in 1963.
Renee and Dent are honorary co-chairmen of the Epochs of Courage project, and Elder will be the spokesman.
And what about black women playing on the LPGA Tour?
Today, according to African American Golfer's Digest, there are five either playing on tour or its developmental tour, the Symetra: Cheyenne Woods (yes, Tiger’s niece), Mariah Stackhouse, Sierra Sums, Alexis Helton and Lakareber Abe.
Harriet said there is a GoFund me page set up and contributions are tax-deductible. It is www.gofundme.com/African-American-golf.
To find out more about the rich history of blacks in golf, get Harriet’s book “A Missing Link in History: The Journey of African Americans in Golf.” You can order it at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.