Black History Month: The Women Making the Game Their Own

Golf isn’t historically known for its inclusion and diversity. The sport’s history of restricting people of color from its courses and clubhouses still hangs over the game. It wasn’t until 1961 that the PGA officially removed the Caucasian-only clause from their charter so segregation in membership and access was common for many.

Joseph Bartholomew, a course architect for Metairie Golf Club and several public courses in New Orleans could not play on the same courses he designed. Althea Gibson, the first African American player on the LPGA tour, was not allowed to compete on many courses and when she could play, she was often barred from entering the clubhouse.

In years since, golf has seen more men and women of color join the sport, and the LPGA has issued a long-term commitment to “make the game more welcoming to under-represented girls and women and to become a more racially diverse association”. Yet since 1950, just eight Black players have held full-time membership on the LPGA Tour.

In celebration of Black History Month, we want to honor some of the women who have shaped the game and whose contributions inspire the next generation of girls of color to pick up a golf club.

The first African American player to play in the U.S. Women’s Open and enter the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1956. While playing golf with her husband, Ann was frustrated that Black golfers were relegated to only play nine holes. In spite of rude comments, threats, and segregation that kept her from dining with fellow contestants during a USGA dinner, she went on to win hundreds of golf tournaments. She was barred from clubhouses and humbly noted that she realized “the money I paid to enter the tournament didn’t buy stock in the clubhouse. I’ll eat a hamburger and be just as happy as a lark, waiting on tee number one. I just wanted to play golf.” Quote Source

A tennis great who became the first African American to compete on the LPGA Tour in 1963. She came to the sport of golf after a successful tennis career, winning Wimbledon and the US Tennis Open. But in a sport that’s historically been heavily segregated with selective memberships, Althea was often barred from competing. Sometimes she wasn’t allowed in clubhouses and had to change clothes in her car before performing on the fairway. While tennis remained her first love, Althea’s impact on the golf world has a lasting legacy. She lived an amazing life in the face of discrimination and opened the door for the next and future generations of black female golfers.

The second African American to play in the LPGA tour, Renee’s love for the game was steeped in a family that modeled achievement in spite of adversity. Her father built Clearview Golf Club in East Clanton, Ohio, as a place where people of all colors would be welcome. It remains the only African American designed, built, owned and operated course in America. Renee was elected the first African American woman PGA Member and continues to show her commitment to developing the next generation of Black golfers.

The LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program established a Renee Powell grant to provide access, instruction, and equipment for youth organizations serving Black girls. Powell’s influence in the sport comes from her first-hand experience: “As a youngster, my parents fought to get me into tournaments when I was not welcomed because of the color of my skin, which instilled in me how important it is to get young people into the game to help build their self-confidence.” Quote Source

Avis started golfing at age 7 with her father and won her first Junior Golf Championship at age 8. Though encountering segregation at courses and pro shops, she couldn’t be stopped. Avis won the Junior World Golf Championship in 1974 and became the first and only African American woman to win the San Diego Women’s City Amateur Championship eight years later. Professional golfer, wife, mother, mentor, cancer survivor, and author, Avis has always been a champion. She continues to serve her community and inspire young girls and women. “I just love being able to introduce the game and let the kids know there is another sport out there, and it’s called golf.”

Currently, the only Black LPGA tour player with full status. Growing up on Atlanta’s southside, Mariah’s father ensured that she was surrounded by fellow Black golfers so she was never able to feel ‘othered’. Instead she found inspiration from other women in the game and continues to support and raise up girls of color in golf as a tour ambassador for Girls Golf.

These women clearly take a nod from the modern wooden golf tee, created by a Black man, George Grant - they are durable and unbending in the face of adversity and challenge. There are many more Black women and men who have challenged the barriers of the sport and continue to inspire the new generation of golfers. We highly recommend the PGA’s Timeline of African American History in Golf as a springboard to explore the contributions of the Black golf course architects, instructors, and players who have interwoven black history into golf history.

In a sport that has been so willing to close doors, segregate courses, and hold firm to Caucasian-only bylaws, the stories of these men and women are those of a fight for inclusion. We are proud to honor their work and sacrifice. Every step on their journey builds a more beautifully diverse game and ensures that girls of color see themselves represented on the course.

“I think it’s incredibly important that all spaces represent the world that we live in. If you’re in a space like golf, that is synonymous with affluence and wealth, and you only see people that look like you, something’s wrong,” -Mariah Stackhouse