Timeline of African-American achievements in golf

Lee Elder
Getty Images

Series: PGA

Published: Monday, February 04, 2019 | 9:33 a.m.

From John Shippen to Tiger Woods and Renee Powell to Charlie Sifford, African-Americans have played a significant role in the growth of golf, both on and off the course. Here is a timeline marking some of the many memorable moments in the history of African-Americans in golf.

From John Shippen to Charlie Sifford, Renee Powell and Tiger Woods, African-Americans have played a significant role in the growth of golf, both on and off the course. The following timeline marks some of the impactful moments in African-American golf history.

1896: John Shippen, 17, whose father was African-American and whose mother was Native American Shinnecock, plays in the second annual U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he worked as a caddie. Some of the professionals in the field threaten to boycott the event when they discover Shippen’s race, but back down when USGA President Theodore Havemeyer defends Shippen and another entrant, Shinnecock Native American Oscar Bunn. Shippen finished tied for sixth and wins $10. He goes on to play in five more U.S. Opens and remains America’s first native-born golf club professional.  
1899: Boston dentist Dr. George Grant invents and receives a patent for the modern wooden golf tee.
1922: Joseph Bartholomew begins his career as a golf course architect by creating a new layout at Metairie Golf Club near his native New Orleans. Because of the club’s segregation policy, however, he is never allowed to play the course or practice at the facility. Bartholomew goes on to create several public courses in the New Orleans area, but isn’t allowed to play them, either, for many years. 
1926: Robert Hawkins stages his first golf tournament for African-American players. He conducts another in 1927, and in 1928 creates the United Golf Association, which ultimately established a tour for players excluded from PGA events.
1937: The Wake-Robin Golf Club (April 27) of metropolitan Washington, D.C., and the Chicago Women’s Golf Club (June) are established the same year as the first two African-American women’s golf clubs.
1939: Clyde Martin is named head professional at the segregated Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C. He would go on to become boxing legend Joe Louis’ golf instructor.
1946: Returning home to East Canton, Ohio, after serving his country in World War II in the U.S. Air Force, William Powell is denied a G.I. loan for his plan to build a golf course. Powell secures funding from two African-American physicians while his brother takes out a second mortgage on his home. Powell builds Clearview Golf Club with his own hands. He remains the only African -American to build, own and operate a golf course. 
1948: William Powell’s Clearview Golf Club opens to the public as a nine-hole course.
1948: Bill Spiller is denied entry into the Richmond Open, and spends many years fighting the segregation policies in golf.
1948: Ted Rhodes becomes the second African-American to play in the U.S. Open.
1956: Ann Gregory, a dominant female player, becomes the first African-American player to enter the U.S. Women's Amateur.
1957: Charlie Sifford wins the Long Beach Open, an event co-sponsored by the PGA and with a field including many white players.

1959: Bill Wright, 23, birdies Hole Nos. 4 through 9 each day to become the first African-American golfer to win a USGA national championship — the U.S. Public Links — at Wellshire Golf Course in Denver, Colorado.

1961: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American player to earn a PGA Tour card. He wins the 1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, as well as the 1975 PGA Seniors' Championship and the 1980 Suntree Classic on what is now the PGA Tour Champions.
1961: The PGA of America removes its "Caucasian-only” membership clause from its bylaws, opening the door for players regardless of ethnic background to participate in professional golf tournaments.
1963: Tennis great Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American to compete on the LPGA Tour.
1964: Pete Brown becomes the first African-American player to win a PGA-sanctioned event, the Waco Turner Open. He also wins the 1970 Andy Williams San Diego Invitational.
1975: Lee Elder becomes the first African-American to play in the Masters. He misses the cut, but goes on to win four times on the PGA Tour and eight times on the PGA Tour Champions.
1978: William Powell expands Clearview Golf Club to 18 holes.
1979: Calvin Peete wins the 1979 Greater Milwaukee Open, the first of his 12 career PGA Tour victories. Peete was the most prolific African-American winner until Tiger Woods.
1979: Lee Elder becomes the first African-American to play in the Ryder Cup.
1986: Harold Dunovant, a Life Member of the PGA of America, establishes the National Black Golf Hall of Fame.
1986: The PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship is created to elevate the game of golf in minority colleges and universities by giving them a chance to compete in a championship because of being denied opportunities to compete in NCAA collegiate golf events.
1987: The first National Minority Collegiate Golf Championship is conducted at Highland Park Golf Course in Cleveland, Ohio. 
1990: Businessman Ron Townsend becomes the first African-American member of Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters.
1990: Two months before it would host the PGA Championship, Shoal Creek Country Club Founder Hall Thompson replies to a membership question by a reporter that, “We don’t discriminate in every other area except blacks.” The ensuring firestorm of controversy resulted in Shoal Creek accepting black businessman, Louis Willie Jr., as an honorary member. After the PGA Championship, the golf industry united to prohibit discriminating clubs from acting as hosts of their tournaments.
1991: Tom Woodard becomes the first African-American PGA Member to compete in the PGA Professional Championship.
1994: Tiger Woods wins the first of three consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships.
1996: Tiger Woods wins NCAA Division I individual title as a member of the Stanford golf team. A few months later, he turns professional and ties for 60th place in his debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open. He goes on to win two PGA Tour events and be named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
1996: Renee Powell is elected to PGA of America membership, becoming the first African-American woman member of the Association. 
1997: Tiger Woods becomes first African-American to win the Masters as well as the youngest winner, and his 12-stroke margin of victory also sets a new Masters record. He goes on to win the PGA Tour money title for the first time, and captures his first PGA of America Player of the Year Award and PGA Tour Player of the Year Award. He also ascends to the No. 1 spot in the world ranking for the first time, but stays there only a week.
1998: PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, becomes the host site for the National Minority Collegiate Golf Championship. In 2019, the Championship became the PGA Works Collegiate Championship.
1999: Bill Dickey receives the PGA Distinguished Service Award.
2000: Tiger Woods wins the U.S. Open and British Open to become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam. He goes on to win nine times on the PGA Tour in 2000.
2000: Joe Louis Barrow Jr., son of former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who became a diversity in golf advocate, becomes the chief executive officer of The First Tee. Barrow would serve for 18 years, retiring in 2017.
2000: Dr. Obie Bender, president of the Clearview Legacy Foundation, becomes the second African-American to serve on the PGA Board of Directors.
2001: Tiger Woods wins the Masters to complete the "Tiger Slam," giving him ownership of all four major championship trophies at the same time.
2001: William Powell's Clearview Golf Club is named to the National Register of Historic Places.
2003: Renee Powell is named the PGA's First Lady of Golf.
2004: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
2005: Tiger Woods reassumes the No. 1 spot in the world ranking, where he remained a record 281 weeks.
2006: Tiger Woods opens his Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, California.
2006: Charlie Sifford becomes the first African-American golfer to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
2007: Charlie Sifford receives the Old Tom Morris Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
2008: Renee Powell becomes the first female golfer to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
2008: Junior Bridgeman becomes the third African-American to serve on the PGA Board of Directors, following a former NBA standout career and becoming a respected restaurant entrepreneur.
2009: The Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles creates "the Charlie Sifford Exemption" for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
2009: The PGA of America honors William Powell with its Distinguished Service Award.
2009: The PGA of America bestows posthumous membership on John Shippen, Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes, and honorary membership on Joe Louis, the legendary former heavyweight boxing champion turned advocate for diversity in golf.
2010: The PGA and USGA partner to create a centralized repository for artifacts and documents related to the history of African-Americans in golf. The repository, in the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey, also sparked public exhibitions and programs around the country.
2011: Joseph Bramlett makes his debut on the PGA Tour after earning his playing privileges at Q-School in late 2010. The former Stanford star is the first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods.
2013: William Powell is posthumously inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame.
2014: Charlie Sifford receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
2015: Harold Varner III became the first African American golfer to earn his PGA Tour card by qualifying through the Web.com Tour.
2015: Renee Powell joins a seven-member historic first class of women Honorary Members (which include Princess Anne) of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews.
2017: Renee Powell was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame. Renee and her father, William, are the only father-daughter combination to receive the PGA's highest lifetime honor.
2018: Renee Powell becomes the first American in the 600-plus year history of the University of St. Andrews to be honored with a building in her name – Renee Powell Hall.
2018: Howie Pruitt of Bend, Oregon, 69, who made golf his fourth career, is elected secretary of the Pacific Northwest PGA Section - the first African-American to attain officer status.  
2019: The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America bestow the Old Tom Morris Award upon the William Powell family. Clearview Golf Club Superintendent Larry Powell and sister, Renee, are the honorees.