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|Introduction: Unrequited Love||1|
|1: When the Word Was Given||4|
|2: Five Trailblazers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth|
|3: Humpin' Bags--The Black Caddie||35|
|4: A Struggle for Self-Reliance||51|
|5: Between the Wars||68|
|6: World War II and Return to Peacetime||78|
|The Armed Forces and Black Golf||78|
|Theodore "Ted" Rhodes||84|
|Howard "Butch" Wheeler||91|
|7: The Struggle Within a Struggle||96|
|La Ree Pearl Sugg||119|
|8: From the Clubhouse to the Courthouse||121|
|William "Bill" Spiller||133|
|9: Benefactors, Boosters, and Businessmen||139|
|Unheralded Black Scribes||139|
|Joseph Louis Barrow||146|
|Moss H. Kendrix||155|
|Figures in the Shadows||160|
|Helping Hands Across the Racial Divide||161|
|10: Adding Up the Score||168|
|"Modern" Professional Golfers||168|
|Black Golf Halls of Fame||178|
|Black Golf Publications||179|
|Black Golf Organizations||180|
|11: Building the Pipeline: Youth and College Golf||184|
|A: Noted Black Caddies and Their Patrons||202|
|B: Black-Owned Golf Courses||203|
|C: Notable Dates in African American Golf History||204|
When the Word
It is most unlikely that we shall ever discover the identity of the first African American to swing a golf club on the North American mainland. Regarded by the ruling society as marginal at best, the first blacks to strike a golf ball mattered little to those who introduced the game on the shores of colonial America. They saw no reason to document who those black people were. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that the event probably occurred in the latter half of the eighteenth century on the South Carolina coast. By that time, the city of Charleston was a thriving commercial center with an unusual abundance of social and cultural activities. A large number of the merchant class were transplanted Scotsmen and Englishmen who brought their passion for golf with them when they crossed the Atlantic. By 1786, they were instrumental in establishing the South Carolina Golf Club in Charleston, acknowledged today by many authorities to be the first golf club in the United States.
Hunting was a popular pastime among slave owners during the colonial era and they frequently took their bonded servants with them on hunting trips. The slaves were given the laborious (and sometimes dangerous) task of flushing animals into the open, retrieving downed fowls, and skinning the game that had been killed.(1) In The Carolina Lowcountry Birthplace of American Golf, authors Charles Price and George C. Rogers, Jr. surmise that the slaves were similarly assigned the onerous duties associated with the game of golf. They speculate that slaves were used as caddies by members of the South Carolina Golf Club. Although there are no records to substantiate the authors' conjecture, from what is known of slave life, there is ample reason to support their assumption that African Americans were involved with the game of golf from its earliest beginnings on these shores.
Over the next few decades, golf enjoyed a fair degree of popularity in both South Carolina and Georgia. At Savannah Golf Club, founded in 1796, as well as at South Carolina GC, slaves probably were used for two main purposes. Since there were no greens as we know of them today, the slaves were used as "finders." In this role they were required to determine the position of the hole and mark it with a suitable object so that an upcoming player would know its location. The South Carolina Golf Club played the game on Harleston Green, a public park in the center of Charleston that was also used by other city inhabitants for horse races, cricket matches, picnicking, and strolling. The second important responsibility entrusted to the slaves was to yell "Fore" to alert other park users of an approaching shot. At the end of the game, these fore caddie/slaves undoubtedly were given the golf clubs to clean, polish, and store while the slave owner rested and enjoyed refreshments. It was an ideal, but probably perilous, opportunity for a slave to secretly test his master's golf equipment. Considering human nature, it would be naive to think otherwise.
For reasons not thoroughly understood, golf's popularity with the South Carolinians and Georgians began to wane by the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century. Some believe it was due to the War of 1812 and the resulting decline in shipping, both of which led many of the Scotsmen and Englishmen to return home. Others attribute the decrease in popularity around Charleston to an encroachment of new buildings into Harleston Green, thereby depriving the golfers of the space they needed to play. Whatever the reasons, golf virtually disappeared from the American sporting scene. It led one golf historian to observe, "From 1811 till a much disputed date in the middle eighties, America had practically no golf at all, at least there is no trace of any having been played, and these seventy-five years can truthfully be said to be the dark ages of the Scottish game in this country. What seed was planted in the eighteenth century never took deep root." (2)
Those 75 years may have been the "dark ages" of golf in the United States, but it was also the period during which African Americans were unshackled from bondage. From the slave's vantage point, even one who might have learned to enjoy the game, there was no question that the freedom ushered in by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a far more cherished commodity than playing golf.
While player participation in the United States was in a period of decline, other developments were taking place in the sport that would later have a significant impact on its popularity. The first of these events was the introduction in Scotland and England of the gutta-percha ball in 1848. Until then, golf balls were made of stitched leather that was stuffed with feathers. Referred to as "featheries," they tended to soften and/or unravel easily and often had to be replaced during the course of play. On the other hand, gutta-percha, the latex sap of the Malaysian sapodilla tree, could be molded into a hard sphere that retained its shape much longer than its predecessor. Moreover, the "guttie" could be manufactured cheaply, thereby permitting the game to become more accessible to the working class population.
In the 1890s, other events occurred which rekindled American interest in golf. By 1896, Albert G. Spalding had begun large-scale manufacturing and selling of golf clubs. About the same time, George Wright, an importer of golf equipment from England, started to promote the sport by petitioning the Boston Parks Commissioner for a permit giving him "... the privilege to play in Franklin Park the game of golf."(3) A year earlier, Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, the nation's first public golf facility, opened in the Riverdale section of New York City's borough of The Bronx. Thomas Bendelow, the Scottish-born architect who designed the course, was a former employee of the Spalding Company. In the fourth year after the course opened, 1,892 permits were issued for golfers to line up on the first tee.(4) It was evident that golf was regaining its appeal and was now coming into its own as a popular American sport--one that African Americans would also begin to play in gradually increasing numbers.