PGA bestows membership on African-American pioneers

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PGA bestows membership on African-American pioneers

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Nov. 14, 2009

NEW ORLEANS -- The PGA of America bestowed posthumous membership upon three African American golf pioneers -- Ted Rhodes, John Shippen and Bill Spiller -- who were denied the opportunity to become PGA members during their professional careers. The PGA also has granted posthumous honorary membership to Joe Louis Barrow Sr. -- better known as Joe Louis -- the legendary world heavyweight boxing champion who became an advocate for diversity in golf.

The four were honored today at the 93rd PGA Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Earlier this summer, the PGA of America Board of Directors voted unanimously to recognize Rhodes, Shippen, Spiller and Louis, each of whom was represented by a family member in New Orleans.

From 1934 to 1961, The PGA of America's "Caucasian-only clause" was a part of the Association's by-laws and prevented non-whites from membership. The clause was removed at the 1961 PGA Annual Meeting.

"The PGA of America believes these men, but for the color of their skin, would have been PGA members who play the game, teach the game and promote the game," said PGA of America President Jim Remy. "The PGA of America recognizes the importance of honoring these gentlemen with their rightful place in golf history.

"We are pleased that the descendants of these four great Americans have accepted and embraced our Association's sincere efforts to recognize Ted Rhodes, John Shippen and Bill Spiller as PGA members, and Joe Louis as an Honorary Member."

The new PGA of America members at closer glance:

JOHN MATTHEW SHIPPEN JR. was believed to be the first American-born golf professional. He trained for his profession at Shinnecock Hills in Long Island, N.Y., and became an accomplished player, finishing fifth in the second U.S. Open, conducted in 1896 at Shinnecock Hills.

Born Dec. 5, 1879, in Washington, D.C., Shippen was the fourth of nine children of John Sr. and Eliza Spotswood Shippen. John Shippen Jr. became both a fine caddie and an accomplished golfer under the tutelage of Shinnecock Hills' first home professional, Scotsman Willie Dunn.

At the age of 16, Shippen earned an assistant professional post where he began giving lessons to some of the club members. With the 1896 U.S. Open to be contested at Shinnecock Hills, Shippen entered the championship over the protests from several of the English and Scottish professionals in the field.

USGA President Theodore Havemeyer stepped in to allow Shippen and his friend, Shinnecock Indian Oscar Bunn, to compete. Shippen demonstrated his skill by carding a 78 in the first round, leaving him in a tie for the lead before finishing fifth.

In 1900, Shippen was named a greenskeeper at the Marine and Field Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., and competed that year in the U.S. Open, finishing tied for 25th. He served as a golf professional at several clubs, including the famed Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., with his last stop at the Shady Rest Golf Course in Scotch Plains, N.J., in 1924. He remained there until his retirement in 1960.

Shippen competed in six U. S. Opens, the last in 1913. Shippen died in 1968 at age 89. He is survived by his grandson, Hanno Shippen Smith, who resides in Silver Spring, Md.

"This is a very important honor and my only disappointment is that my grandfather's six children, who include my mom, Clara, could not have lived to see it," said Hanno Shippen Smith, 74. "My grandfather taught my mother how to play golf and she transferred the love of the game to us.

"It is with a great deal of pride that I learned about my grandfather, the first American-born golf professional. I listened to those who knew him well, and they spoke of the miracles he could do with a golf ball."

THEODORE "TED" RHODES was born to Frank and Della Anderson Rhodes in Nashville on Nov. 9, 1913, and is the first African-American touring professional golfer.

As a teenager, Rhodes worked as a caddie at Nashville's Belle Meade Country Club. The young man, nicknamed "Rags" because of his "neat and flashy dress style," began playing the game as a teenager. After World War II and a stint in the Navy, Rhodes was befriended by entertainer Billy Eckstein and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. With Louis as his sponsor, Rhodes worked on his game under the guidance of Ray Mangrum, brother of past Ryder Cup Team member and 1946 U.S. Open Champion Lloyd Mangrum.

Between 1946 and 1947, Rhodes won six consecutive tournaments sponsored by the United States Colored Golf Association (later known as the United Golf Association, UGA). The following year, Rhodes enjoyed another outstanding season, winning the first of three consecutive titles in the Negro National Open (1949, 1950, 1951 and 1957), the UGA's biggest championship.

He was invited to compete in the Phoenix Open in 1950 and made the cut. But it was his challenge to The PGA's refusal to let him and fellow African American professional Bill Spiller compete in the Richmond Open in 1948 which began a series of legal and social challenges which ultimately led to the dismissal of the exclusionary clause of The PGA.

Rhodes, who died in 1969, is survived by two daughters, Debbie Rhodes of Las Vegas and Peggy Rhodes-White of Chicago.

"It has been said that to everything there is a time, a place or season. I'm extremely moved and elated that this is now the time for my Dad," said Peggy Rhodes-White, who oversees the Ted Rhodes Foundation, which was founded in 1970. "Words cannot adequately convey my feelings about a dream long held finally coming to pass.

"Ted Rhodes played and lived as though he knew one day this honor would take place. Let me with sincerely felt gratefulness thank The PGA and all those involved."

Debbie Rhodes added that her father was "one of the greatest shotmakers who ever stepped on a golf course," and was able to witness her father's skills in competitions around the country.

"I was fortunate to have traveled with my father from city to city and saw such great respect that he had for others, particularly strangers that he was willing to befriend on the practice range," said Rhodes, who also is the goddaughter of Joe Louis. "There were many Caucasian players who were not opposed to my father competing on the Tour. Somebody had to pave the way to be a trailblazer. He and the other African-American pioneers made a difference.

"My father weathered the storm, taking verbal abuse and threats. It never affected his game or character. He never became sardonic. Gary Player once said that whenever you saw Ted Rhodes he had a great smile on his face and that to him that was the sign of a great man."

BILL SPILLER was born in 1913 in Tishomingo, Okla. He didn't seriously take up the game of golf until he was in his 30s, but quickly became one of the top golfers in Southern California.

By the mid-1940s, Spiller had won several black amateur tournaments in Southern California. He competed against the best African-American players in the Joe Louis Invitational at Rackham Golf Club in Detroit and the nation's best professionals in the Los Angeles Open and Tam O'Shanter in Chicago, two PGA events open to blacks.

In 1947, Spiller turned professional and toured the United Golf Association with Louis, among others. Seeking to play the PGA circuit, Spiller competed in the1948 Los Angeles Open, one of two PGA events open to African Americans. He finished in the top 60, making him eligible for the next PGA tournament, the Richmond Open, outside Oakland. Spiller, along with Rhodes, was turned away by PGA officials at the Richmond Open. He subsequently joined Rhodes in an effort to overturn the PGA's "Caucasian-only" requirement.

Spiller played infrequently in PGA events, with his best finish 14th place in the Labatt Open in Canada. He also gave golf lessons and caddied at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.

Spiller died in 1988, at age 75. He is survived by a son, William Spiller Jr., an attorney who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif.; and a daughter, Pamela Stewart of Cedar Park, Texas.

"As a member of the family, we are very happy to have our father receive this [membership] and recognition," said William Spiller Jr. "We are, of course, saddened that he did not live to see this. I am the oldest child, and I had first-hand knowledge of my father's career. I thought that had he had the opportunity to make a living [competing on the Tour], he would have been successful. To say that he would have been the No. 1 player, I can't say that. All I can say is that it would have been nice to see had he been given the opportunity."

The new PGA of America honorary member at closer glance:

JOE LOUIS (Barrow Sr.) Nicknamed "The Brown Bomber," Joe Louis Barrow was born May 13, 1914, in Detroit, Mich., and is considered one of the greatest boxing champions in history. Competing under the name Joe Louis, he held the world heavyweight title for over 11 years, recording 25 successful title defenses.

Louis became a major supporter of the United Golf Association, the black organization that conducted tournaments across the country. He competed in UGA events as an amateur, and in 1941, at Rackham, a public course in Detroit, he sponsored his own tournament, the Joe Louis Open. He donated the $1,000 purse, and also paid the entry fees and transportation costs for golfers who otherwise might not have been able to play.

Louis became an accomplished amateur player, going on to win the amateur division of the National, or "Negro National," the centerpiece of the UGA schedule, in 1951.

In 1952, Louis was invited by sponsors to play in the San Diego Open, a PGA event, but was denied entry. The PGA eventually permitted Louis to play in the San Diego Open as an exempt amateur.

Louis leveraged his celebrity to raise awareness of the racial inequities of professional golf and quietly provided financial and moral support for Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes and other African-American professionals. The attention that the cause received led to the eventual removal in 1961 of the "Caucasian-only" clause.

Louis, who died in 1981, is survived by his son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., the chief executive officer of The First Tee, along with Barrow's daughter, Jacqueline, and adopted children John, Joyce and Janet Barrow.

"I think that my dad would have been extremely honored, as we as a family are extremely proud of what he did to integrate the game of golf," said Joe Louis Barrow Jr. "He helped so many close friends to try to play on the larger stage -- the PGA Tour. I think beyond his personal honor, he would have been very pleased to see the recognition that The PGA of America bestowed upon John Shippen, Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller.

"My dad was especially close to Ted Rhodes, whom I called 'Uncle Ted,' and I know that my dad enjoyed the game of golf so much and because of that love of the game he inspired me. I felt the responsibility to give back to golf, a game I love.

"I remember that my father first got into the game in 1935, and was given a book about golf from Ed Sullivan. Some said that he was concentrating more on golf than in preparing to fight Max Schmeling, and that is why he lost the 1936 fight. But, he did come back, of course, and won in 1938!"