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Joining the Game Against the Odds

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No one knows for certain who started golf. But everybody knows who plays it now ' everyone does.
 
From all walks of life, from every corner of the globe come men and women who play the game. From the six courses of Botswana and its 1,100 golfers to Japan with its 12 million to the U.S. with more than 1,000 courses and 25 million golfers, golf has arrived. The game is played by all ' Maoris of New Zealand, Hispanics of the Caribbean and Mexico, natives of Fiji, Hawaiians and Japanese and Koreans.
 
Nowhere has the game been played with more determination ' and under more imposing odds ' than with the African-American population in the United States. Blacks were assumed to caddie for their slavemasters in the South in the days of slavery, and they took up the game in large numbers in the early 1900s.
 
The golf tee, in fact, was invented by African-American George F. Grant in 1899. Grant was a dentist by trade and he took up golf after the Civil War. The patent office gave him a trademark on his invention of the tee, but he never marketed it. He shared some with friends and playing partners, but most he kept squirreled away in his home. He died in 1910 without accumulating much wealth from the invention, leaving those who followed him to amass the fortunes from the golf tee.
 
John J. Shippen, Jr., was an early golfing pioneer who played in the second U.S. Open. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was only 16 years old in 1896 when the Open was played at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. His father was sent by the church to minister to the Shinnecock Indians, and young Shippen met Scottish pro Willie Dunn when he was just 12 years old.
 
Shippen became quite a proficient player, rising to the position of assistant pro at Shinnecock Hills under Dunn. When the Open came to Shinnecock, he decided to enter after much prodding from members.
 
The field of 35 was almost entirely foreign-born. When they learned Shippen, who was a light-skinned black, was in the field, a boycott immediately was planned.
 
Two reports are given on the solution offered by Theodore Havemeyer, the president of the USGA. One is that Havemeyer claimed Shippen was half Shinnecock Indian, which made his race of less importance. Another is that Havemeyer told the golfers that, yes, Shippen was black, and if the competition included but one player and that was Shippen, it would go on.
 
Regardless of what was told to the field, the tournament did proceed and Shippen played. He was tied for first place at the end of Day 1, but on the second he struggled on the par-4 13th and took an 11. He eventually finished seven strokes behind winner James Foulis. He would, however, play in four more U.S. Opens.Another prominent early African-American was Joe Bartholomew, who grew up in New Orleans and entered the caddie ranks by the age of seven in 1887. He became an exceptional player, attended college in New York to study golf course architecture, and eventually returned home to ply his trade.
 
He designed several courses in New Orleans, but because Bartholomew was black, many members of the courses refused to let him play what he had designed.
 
John Brooks Dendy was very poor as a child in the 1920s, but he wanted to be a golfer. He collected several metal clubheads. He fashioned shafts out of broomhandles and played with the clubs for several years. He won the Southern Open at 18, then won it two more times ' in 1934 and 1936.
 
Racism and prejudice were still rampant over the country, of course, and in 1925 an organization for black golfers was founded ' the United Golfers Association. African-Americans were not even considered for play in white tournaments. That slowly began to change, however ' with Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes, and finally with Charlie Sifford.
 
Spiller was raised in the Tulsa, Okla., area after having been born in 1913. He went to college at Wiley in Texas, then moved to Southern California. An exceptional player, Spiller was repeatedly foiled in his attempts to play professionally. He developed friendships with many white pros, some of whom (Jimmy Demaret, Johnny Bulla) made valiant efforts to get him into tournaments where he could compete against the great pros of the era.
 
Solely because he was black, though, Spiller was omitted. And not just Spiller, but also Rhodes, another great golfer. The former heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, worked his way into the white establishment because of his fame, playing in several tournaments in the 1950s. He had begun to play in 1935 and lost to Max Schmeling in 1936, many believe, because he was focused too much on golf and not enough on boxing.
 
The PGA of America contained a clause which was written into the bylaws in 1943, stating, Professional golfers of the Caucasian race, over the age of eighteen years, residing in North or South America, and who have served at least five years in the profession (either in the capacity of a professional or in the employ of a professional as his assistant) shall be eligible for membership.
 
In 1948, rumblings began, rumblings which one day would strike the clause down. Only three tournaments allowed black players to compete ' the Canadian Open, the Tam OShanter All-American in Chicago and the Los Angeles Open. Tournaments which were heretofore known as Opens, meaning tournaments which supposedly were open to everyone, often changed their names to Invitationals to exclude black players.A provision in the PGA rules stated that anyone who finished in the top 60 was eligible to play the next week. Spiller and Rhodes did so in the 1948 L.A. Open and went on to Oakland, which was the next tour stop. They were incensed when they were not allowed to play and filed suit against the PGA.
 
Their attorney, Jonathan Rowell, was persuaded by the PGA that the situation was about to change and dropped the case. It didnt. But Demaret, Jackie Burke and Leland Gibson constantly campaigned for the black players to their fellow pros. And in 1961, the Caucasians-only rule finally came to a head.
 
By now, Spiller was reduced to caddying to earn money. One day in Los Angeles, a gentleman for whom he caddied asked Spiller why did not play. Spiller told the man, Harry Braverman, about the clause.
 
Braverman advised Spiller to write to the California Attorney General, Stanley Mosk. An incredulous Mosk told the PGA that they could no longer play an event on a public course in California, then wrote the attorneys general of most other States with the same information.
 
The PGA finally bowed to the waves of negative publicity in November of 1961, canceling the clause. Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Lee Elder and many others were free to tee it up in a tournament. They endured much abuse and were refused many public services in the towns where they played, but played on regardless.
 
Brown was the first African-American to win a tournament when he won the Waco Turner Open near Ardmore, Okla., 1964. Sifford won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 L.A. Open. Lee Elder in 1975 was the first black to play in the Masters.
 
Since then, others have blazed the trail. Calvin Peete, Jim Dent, Jim Thorpe and others have joined the PGA Tour. Walter Morgan and Bobby Stroble have joined the Senior Tour, among others.
 
One player, though, may be destined to become the greatest player of all, black or white. The mans name? Tiger Woods.