Black History Month and Golf

Boxer paves the way With Black History Month kicking off today I thought I’d shed some light on two incredibly important moments in golf; one that occurred some 70 years ago, and one that just took place this past Sunday.

Many people think Charlie Sifford was the first African-American to play in a PGA Tour event. While Sifford played an extraordinary role in being the first black PGA Tour member, professional boxer Joe Louis was actually the first African-American to play in a PGA Tour sanctioned event.

Louis picked up golf in the late 30’s and became a pretty good player. In 1952, he was invited as a sponsor’s exemption to play as an amateur in the San Diego Open. At the time, however, the PGA Tour had a Caucasian only clause. The tour was reluctant to let him participate and denied his participation at first. Louis’ celebrity status, as well as pressure from the sponsor, forced the tour’s hand and they made an exception to let him play.

The “whites only” bylaw was still enforced until its amendment in 1961. To give back and grow the game among the black population even more, Joe Louis financially supported some of the early players such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, and Charlie Sifford. Louis’ positive presence didn’t remain at the pro level however. He was instrumental in starting the First Tee Program which initially helped inner city youth get off the streets and into the classroom and onto the golf course. Joe Louis Barrow Jr, his son, currently oversees the organization. In 2009, the PGA of America granted an honorary membership to Joe Louis. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1982.

APGA takes center-stage at Torrey Pines For the first time in the tour’s young history, the Advocates Professional Golf Association was televised live as the Golf Channel aired the final round from the Torrey Pines South Course on Sunday. The tour, founded in 2010, was established as a non-profit to prepare minorities to compete and win at the highest level of golf.

The APGA tour, while predominantly African-American, but not limited to, as the event’s winner Patrick Newcomb, is Caucasian. The tour certainly provides a lot of opportunity for players looking to get to the game’s greatest stage, regardless of race or creed. The 31-year old from Murray State made a 7-footer for birdie on the iconic 18th hole to beat 2020 champion, and mini tour legend, Tim O’Neal by a shot. The victory also gets Newcomb into the Korn Ferry Tour’s Simmons Bank Open in May.

The APGA Tour has an open application process. Players are required to fill out a playing resume’ including finishes in state opens, PGA section events, and other high level tournaments with an accomplished status. The tour next tees it up at Harding Park in San Francisco on February 14 – 15. And that’s just one of the top quality courses the tour will compete on this year. They have events at TPC Sawgrass, Valhalla, and TPC Scottsdale to name a few.

Enjoy the game and each other,

Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional

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