Concept of Sports By Mark Hollis

BREAKING DOWN GOLF’S COLOR BARRIER

The game of golf recently lost two of its iconic African American pioneers this year, Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete. Before there was Tiger Woods, these two men competed in an era where golf was predominately white and set the game on its ear. In the early 1960’s, the big names of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tony Lema, and Billy Casper dominated the Professional Golfers Association Tour (PGA). The PGA had a clause in its bylaws at that time which stated the tour was “for Caucasian members only”. While there were many black golfers that had the ability to compete on the PGA tour, they were relegated to the United Golf Association Tour, also known as the Negro League of Golf. The racist bylaw was repealed in the early 1960’s which open the door for the likes of Charlie and Calvin.

Charlie Sifford began competing professionally at the age of twenty six, winning six United Golf Association Championships. Using an invitation to compete in the 1952 Phoenix Open, given to him by the great, Heavy Weight boxing Champion, Joe Louis, Charlie was barraged with racist remarks and threats. Cigar chomping, Charlie Sifford became the first African American to turn professional on the PGA Tour in 1961. He won two tour events: the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. The golfing legend Lee Trevino referred to Charlie as the “Jackie Robinson of Golf”. Tiger Woods commented that Charlie Sifford was the grandfather he never had and went on to say,” without him there would be no me”. Charlie Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Charlie passed away on February 3rd, after suffering a stroke. He was ninety- two years old.

Calvin Peete was the most successful African American golfer on the PGA tour prior to Woods. Born in Detroit Michigan, he didn’t start playing golf until he was in his twenties. Calvin turned pro on the PGA tour in 1975 and accumulated twelve wins. He participated in two Ryder Cup events which is a team competition where the best players of the United States compete against the best players of Europe. Calvin also led the tour in driving accuracy for ten years and was inducted into the African American Ethnic Hall of Fame in 2002. Calvin Peete passed away on April 29th, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was seventy-one years old.

As we celebrate the game of golf, let us not forget that all players of color on the PGA tour stand on the shoulders of these two great contributors who broke down the color barrier playing the sport they loved so passionately.