Throughout a long history of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States, African Americans have continued to struggle for equality in this nation of plenty. It was not until 1961, that the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) removed the “Caucasian Only” clause from its bylaws. This clause, which resolutely excluded African Americans from participating in PGA sanctioned tournaments, shut out some of the best black golfers in our country from playing on that professional tour.
No matter that the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) struck down segregation in public schools and gave impetus to court actions on segregation at community owned and tax-supported golf courses. No matter that the civil rights movement surged to prominence in the 1950s, boldly attacking Jim Crow restrictions throughout the South. No matter that Jackie Robinson’s dramatic entry into major league baseball broke the color line in the national game. Dodging and weaving, the PGA leadership remained obdurate to change until, finally, it could no longer escape the nation’s new legal and social reality.
Following Tiger Woods’s stunning success as a professional golfer and his pointed reminders about the tough times African American golfers endured before him, sportswriters and historians have spotlighted the fight these golfers waged against the PGA’s racial restrictions in the 1940s and 1950s.
The stories of neglected heroes such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford, as well as those who supported them, notably boxer Joe Louis and Los Angeles civil rights activist Maggie Hathaway, are now well told. Yet, others who played important roles in ending segregation on the PGA tour have not yet had their due. Minneapolis golf professional Solomon Hughes, a top player on the United Golfers’ Association (UGA) tour, did battle with the PGA when he attempted to enter the 1948 St. Paul Open tournament.3 Hughes’s story reflects the bitter experiences of Spiller and Rhodes at California’s
The stories of neglected heroes such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford, as well as those who supported them, notably boxer Joe Louis and Los Angeles civil rights activist Maggie Hathaway, are now well told. Yet, others who played important roles in ending segregation on the PGA tour have not yet had their due. Minneapolis golf professional Solomon Hughes, a top player on the United Golfers’ Association (UGA) tour, did battle with the PGA when he attempted to enter the 1948 St. Paul Open tournament. Hughes’s story reflects the bitter experiences of Spiller and Rhodes at California’s Richmond Open earlier that same year and expands the story of the PGA’s discriminatory policies during the postwar era.
Below is a list of black golfers who were finally granted an opportunity to play on the PGA Tour, along with some detail of their exceptional lives, lest we forget the struggle they endured to get there.
Henry Carl Baraben * Born November 18, 1933 in Jenerette, La,; turned pro in April 1958; worked in West Chester, Calif.; belonged to Southern Cal section of PGA; became member of PGA in 1968.
James W. Black * Born May 26, 1942 in Charlotte, N.C.; turned pro in 1962; joined PGA Tour in 1965 and played in 14 events, earning less than $12,000 before losing his sponsorship and dropping off the tour.
Rafe Botts * Born March 31, 1937 in Washington, D.C.; turned pro in 1960; joined PGA Tour in 1961.
Cliff Brown * Born August 10, 1929 in Birmingham, Ala.; turned pro in February 1962; member of PGA of America in 1970; played in 92 PGA Tour events from 1964-69.
Howard (Lefty) Brown * Born July 17, 1936 in Saginaw, Mich.; turned pro in 1960; joined the PGA Tour in 1969.
Pete Brown * Born February 2, 1935 in Port Gibson, Miss.; received Approved Tournament Player’s card in 1963; won 1964 Waco Turner Open; had best year on PGA Tour in 1970, with $56,069 in official earnings (35th on the money list).
Lee Carter * Born January 14, 1954 in Dallas, Texas; attended the University of New Mexico; turned pro in 1974; graduated from PGA Tour Q-school in 1979.
Gordon Chavis * Born June 29, 1938 in Bishopsville, S.C.; turned pro in 1961; joined PGA Tour in 1962.
James Lacey (Jim) Dent * Born May 9, 1939 in Augusta, Ga.; turned pro in 1966; joined PGA Tour in 1970, earning a career-best $48,486 in 1974; through 1999 had won 12 Senior PGA Tour titles.
Lee Elder * Born July 14, 1934 in Dallas, Texas; turned pro in 1959 and joined PGA Tour in 1967; won the 1974 Monsanto Open to become the first African American to qualify for the Masters; won $1,020,514 in official PGA Tour earnings.
Al Green * Born August 26, 1939 in Annapolis, Md.; turned pro in 1967; joined PGA Tour in 1973; teamed with Lee Elder to win the Walt Disney Team title in 1975.
George Johnson * Born December 8, 1938 in Columbus, Ga.; turned pro in 1964; qualified for PGA Tour in 1968; won 1971 Azalea Open and had four second-place finishes in 10-year career.
Al Morton * Joined PGA Tour in 1981; played in seven events in 1982, 11 total over his career.
Charlie Owens * Born February 22, 1937 in Winter Haven, Fla.; turned pro in 1967; qualified for the PGA Tour in 1970; won the 1971 Kemper Asheville Open; finished eighth on Senior PGA Tour money list in 1986; won 1987 Ben Hogan Award.
Calvin Peete * Born July 18, 1943 in Detroit, Mich.; turned pro in 1971; qualified for the PGA Tour in 1975; won 12 titles on the PGA Tour, including 11 in the 1980s, a total surpassed only by Tom Kite; led the tour in driving accuracy 10 straight years; earned $2,302,363 on PGA Tour.
Charlie Sifford * Born June 2, 1922 in Charlotte, N.C.; turned pro in 1948; joined PGA Tour in 1960; won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open; among the top 60 winners on tour from 1960-69; joined Senior PGA Tour in 1980.
Curtis Sifford * Born May 6, 1942 in Charlotte, N.C.; turned pro in 1967; joined PGA Tour in 1969; earned career-best $21,751 in 1973.
Nathaniel Starks * Born June 20, 1940 in Brownwood, Ga.; joined PGA Tour in 1973; won $14,277 in 1974.
Adrian Anthony Stills * Born November 29, 1957 in Pensacola, Fla.; graduated South Carolina State University in 1979; turned pro in 1979.
Bobby Stroble * Born December 4, 1944 in Albany, Ga.; turned pro in 1967; joined PGA Tour in 1976; joined Senior PGA Tour in 1995 and earned $1,404,098 through 1999.
Ron Terry * Born July 21, 1949 in Aberdeen, Md.; graduated from Northwest Texas State University in 1971; turned pro in 1972; joined PGA Tour in 1976.
Chuck Thorpe * Born January 22, 1947 in Roxboro, N.C.; turned pro in 1967; joined PGA Tour in 1972; tied for 10th in 1973 Houston Open.
Jimmy Lee (Jim) Thorpe * Born February 1, 1949 in Roxboro, N.C.; turned pro in 1972; joined PGA Tour in 1976; earned $1,935,566 on PGA Tour; joined Senior PGA Tour in 1999.
James (Junior) Walker Jr. * Born November 26; 1938 in Rocky Mountain, N.C.; joined PGA Tour in 1965; regained tour card at 1968 qualifying tournament.
Tom Woodard * Born December 2, 1955 in Midland, Texas; turned pro in 1978; joined PGA Tour in 1981; regained tour card at 1984 qualifying tournament.
William (Bill) Wright * Born April 4, 1936 in Kansas City, Me.; won the 1959 National Public Links Championship and 1960 NAIA individual crown; joined PGA Tour in 1964.
Tiger Woods is on the list of African Americans who have played on the PGA Tour. Pete Brown and Charlie Sifford have said Willie Brown of Houston and Dick Thomas of Baltimore also had tour cards, but neither could be confirmed.
Harold Varner III becomes first African American to earn PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour money list.