By Bob Denney, PGA Historian
From John Shippen to Tiger Woods and Renee Powell to Charlie Sifford, African-Americans have played a significant role in the growth of golf, both on and off the course. Here is a timeline marking some of the many memorable moments in the history of African-Americans in golf.
1896: John Shippen, whose father was African-American and whose mother was Shinnecock Indian, plays in the second U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he worked as a caddie, at the age of 17. Some of the professional players threaten to boycott the event when they discover his race, but back down when USGA President Theodore Havemayer defends Shippen and another entrant, Shinnecock Indian Oscar Bunn. Shippen ties for sixth and wins $10. He goes on to play in five more U.S. Opens.
1899: George Grant, a dentist in Boston, invents the modern wooden golf tee.
1922: Joseph Bartholomew begins his career as a golf course architect by creating a new course at Metairie Golf Club in his native New Orleans. Because of the club’s segregation policy, however, he is never allowed to play the course or even practice there. He goes on to create several public courses in the New Orleans area, but isn’t allowed to play them, either, for many years.
1926: Robert Hawkins stages his first tournament for African-American players. He stages another in 1927, and in 1928 creates the United Golf Associations, which ultimately established a tour for players excluded from PGA events.
1939: Clyde Martin is named head professional at the segregated Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C. He would go on to become Joe Louis’ golf instructor.
1946: Returning home to East Canton, Ohio, after serving in the U.S. Air Force, William Powell is denied a G.I. loan for his plan to build a golf course. Powell secures funding from two African-American physicians while his brother takes out a second mortgage on his home, and builds Clearview Golf Club with his own hands. He becomes the only African-American to build, own and operate a golf course.
1948: William Powell’s Clearview Golf Club opens to the public as a nine-hole course.
1948: Bill Spiller is denied entry into the Richmond Open, and spends many years fighting the segregation policies in golf.
1948: Ted Rhodes becomes second African-American to play in the U.S. Open.
1956: Ann Gregory, a dominant female player, becomes the first African-American player to enter the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
1957: Charlie Sifford wins the Long Beach Open, an event co-sponsored by the PGA and with a field including many white players.
1961: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American player to earn a PGA Tour card. He wins the 1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, as well as the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship and the 1980 Suntree Classic on what is now the Champions Tour.
1961: The PGA of America removes its “Caucasian-only clause” from its Bylaws and opens the door for all players to participate in professional golf tournaments.
1963: Tennis great Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American to compete on the LPGA Tour.
1964: Pete Brown becomes the first African-American player to win a PGA-sanctioned event, the Waco Turner Open. He also wins the 1970 Andy Williams San Diego Invitational.
1975: Lee Elder becomes the first African-American to play in the Masters. He misses the cut, but goes on to win four times on the PGA Tour and eight times on the Champions Tour.
1978: William Powell expands Clearview Golf Club to 18 holes.
1979: Calvin Peete wins the 1979 Greater Milwaukee Open, the first of his 12 career PGA Tour victories. Peete was the most prolific African-American winner until Tiger Woods came along.
1979: Lee Elder becomes the first African-American to play in the Ryder Cup.
1986: Harold Dunovant, a Life Member of The PGA of America, establishes the National Black Golf Hall of Fame.
1986: The PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship is created to elevate the game of golf in minority colleges and universities by giving them a chance to compete in a championship because of being denied opportunities to compete in NCAA collegiate golf events.
1987: The first PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship is conducted at Highland Park Golf Course in Cleveland, Ohio.
1990: Businessman Ron Townsend becomes the first African-American member of Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters.
1994: Tiger Woods wins the first of his three straight U.S. Amateur titles.
1996: Tiger Woods wins NCAA Division 1-A individual title as a member of the Stanford golf team. A few months later, he turns professional and ties for 60th place in his debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open. He goes on to win two PGA Tour events and be named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
1996: Renee Powell, of East Canton, Ohio, is elected the first African American woman PGA Member.
1997: Tiger Woods becomes first African-American to win the Masters as well as the youngest winner, and his 12-stroke margin of victory also sets a new Masters record. He goes on to win the PGA Tour money title for the first time, and captures his first PGA of America Player of the Year Award and PGA Tour Player of the Year Award. He also ascends to the No. 1 spot in the world ranking for the first time, but stays there only a week.
1999: Bill Dickey is honored as the PGA Distinguished Service Award winner.
2000: Tiger Woods wins the U.S. Open and British Open to become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam. He goes on to win nine times on the PGA Tour in 2000 alone.
2000: Dr. Obie Bender, president of the Clearview Legacy Foundation, becomes the second African-American to serve on the PGA Board of Directors.
2001: Tiger Woods wins the Masters to complete the “Tiger Slam,” giving him all four major championship trophies at the same time.
2001: Clearview Golf Club of East Canton, Ohio, is named to the National Register of Historic Places.
2003: Renee Powell is named The PGA’s First Lady of Golf.
2004: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
2005: Tiger Woods reassumes the No. 1 spot in the world ranking, and has yet to fall out of that spot, a total of 245 straight weeks.
2006: Tiger Woods opens his Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.
2006: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American golfer to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
2007: Charlie Sifford receives the Old Tom Morris Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
2008: Renee Powell becomes the first female African-American golfer to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
2008: Junior Bridgeman becomes the third African-American to serve on the PGA Board of Directors, following a former NBA standout career and becoming a respected restaurant entrepreneur.
2009: The Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles creates “the Charlie Sifford Exemption” for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
2009: The PGA of America honors Wiliam Powell with its Distinguished Service Award.
2009: The PGA of America bestows posthumous membership on Bill Spiller, John Shippen and Ted Rhodes, and honorary membership on former world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis Barrow Sr., an advocate for diversity in golf.
2010: The PGA and USGA join together to create a centralized repository for artifacts and documents related to the history of African-Americans in golf. The repository will be located at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., but also will create public exhibitions and programs for diverse audiences at the PGA Historical Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and at spectator events conducted by the USGA and The PGA.
2011: Joseph Bramlett makes his debut on the PGA Tour after earning his playing privileges at Q-School in late 2010. The former Stanford star is the first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods.
2013: William Powell was posthumously inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame.
2015: Harold Varner III became the first African American golfer to earn his PGA Tour card by qualifying through the Web.com Tour.
2015: Renee Powell was named a member of the historic first class of women Honorary Members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews.
2017: Renee Powell was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame. Renee and her father, William, are the only father-daughter combination to receive the PGA’s highest lifetime honor.
2018: Renee Powell becomes the first American to have a residence hall named in her honor by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
2018: Cameron Champ becomes the first African American player to win on the Web.com Tour with his victory at the Utah Championship and solidifies his first PGA TOUR card.
2018: Cameron Champ becomes the seventh African American player to win on the PGA TOUR, behind Pete Brown, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe and Tiger Woods, with his victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
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