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Golf Australia Express : October 2013 - United Colours of Golf
Names such as John Shippen, Charlie Sifford, Ann Gregory and Lee Elder live on mostly in the minds of golf history buffs and African-American folklore, rather than as fabled figures whose achievements are as impressive as any major winner. And golf fans are all the worse for it. But let’s start from the beginning. The PGA Tour, which for years now has hinged its ratings, TV rights deals and sponsorships on the exploits of one Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods, is the same PGA Tour that for decades operated under a “Caucasian only” policy. But believe it or not, the men running the sport in the 1800s were somewhat more progressive than many of those who have followed. When 17-year-old black caddie Shippen qualified for the 1896 US Open, there was an outcry amongst the other players, who threatened to boycott the event, until USGA president Theodore Havemeyer defended his right to play. Shippen duly shoved it right up all those who opposed his admittance, finishing in a tie for sixth and taking home the princely sum of $10. He went on to play in another five Opens. But for the next three decades, chances for African-American players to tee it up alongside their respected and often famous Caucasian counterparts were few and far between. What’s that old saying? If you can’t beat them, create your own tour? Close enough, anyway. In 1925, a group of African-Americans met in Washington in an attempt to bring together all minority golfers under the one umbrella. They called themselves the United States Coloured Golfers Association (later renamed the United Golfers Association) and held their first tournament the following year at Mapledale Country Club in Massachusetts.