JIMMIE DEVOE, PGA
An unheralded pioneer in the growth of the game of golf, James R. “Jimmie” DeVoe was among the generations of African-Americans who were denied equal opportunity in all aspects of social life, not to mention civil rights. His career exemplified the fundamentals of growing the game more than 80 years before The PGA of America promoted its Golf 2.0 initiative.
DeVoe was the first African-American to gain PGA of America membership after the rescinding of the “Caucasian clause” in 1962. He was 74, which according to PGA membership records, made him the oldest to be elected to the Association.
Born James R. DeVoe on March 24, 1888, in Dowagiac, Mich., DeVoe was influenced by Jerry Travers, Ernest Jones and John Duncan Dunn, the latter two among the most influential golf instructors of the first half of the 20th century. In the 1930s, DeVoe partnered with John Shippen, the first African-American golf club professional in the U.S., and together they operated and sponsored numerous events. DeVoe went on to operate a golf school in a pharmaceutical store in Harlem and later operated a golf and tennis shop in Blumstein’s department store.
DeVoe traveled between New York and Los Angeles, and by the early 1940s became a fixture in Southern California golf as a player and teacher. Among his students were William “Bill” Spiller and Althea Gibson, who first made her fame in tennis and would become the first African-American woman to compete on the LPGA Tour. In 1944, DeVoe became the first African-American to compete in the Los Angeles Open. He developed the reputation as golf instructor to the stars, with a glittering list of students that included Jackie Robinson, Mayor Tom Bradley, former Congresswoman Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Mrs. Nat King Cole and the Mills Brothers. He also drew praise for instructing underprivileged youth, along with students of all races, ages, gender, and class. In 1953, DeVoe finished fifth in the United Golf Association Championship. DeVoe was 65.
DeVoe passed away March 19, 1979; five days shy of his 91st birthday. He still had lessons on the books.