The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, February 13, 2020
Black History Month in golf — Interview with Renee Powell — Must-click links in women's golf
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Celebrating Black History Month in Golf
February is Black History Month, so this week, I’m going to highlight some women who have blazed the path for African American women in golf. The first is PGA Member Renee Powell — who became just the second African American to play on the LPGA Tour. She penned a powerful letter for LPGA.com yesterday. In her own words, she takes us through what it was like to grow up in the 1960s where our society was rife with racism and why she continued to press on.
“I’m asked often, ‘Renee, how did you keep from becoming bitter given how you were treated?’ Quite frankly, it never occurred to me because of the way I was raised. My family didn’t tolerate such things. When I look back on what my parents had gone through, in times that were far more difficult, I realize what positive examples they set.”
Powell talks about how golf was her father’s passion, despite being rejected or not welcome at many places he tried to play. Her father took matters into his own hand and had the idea to build a golf course where ALL people were accepted. This didn’t come without racial discrimination either. After being denied a loan to build the course, he teamed up with a couple black doctors who leant him money to get it done.
“Golf was his passion, though. The game seemed to him like the perfect meritocracy. The golf ball didn’t know the color of your skin and the scorecard didn’t handicap you based on race. There were little boxes, just big enough for numbers, and the lowest score won. In the optimism of his youth, Dad thought that life should be more like golf.”
Following in her father’s footsteps, and definitely creating her own legacy in golf today, Renee Powell now works at the golf course her dad built — Clearview Golf Course in East Canton. Clearview is also on the National Registry of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Ohio Historical Register because of what her father overcame and achieved for African Americans and golf as a whole.
In 1996, Powell was the first woman of color elected to PGA Membership. In 2015, she became one of the first female members to join the R&A when it announced it was opening its membership to women. Today, she has a residence hall named after her at the University of St. Andrews. This week, she will be honored by the Cleveland Cavaliers for her achievements in golf and having a positive impact on society. And in 2019, Powell also became the first at-large director of the PGA of America Board of Directors. While her list of accomplishments are long and impressive, her impact in golf today and for years to come will stretch even further.
Another woman of immense impact in golf is Althea Gibson. While she was a trailblazer in tennis, what she did for golf was equally as important. In 1958, after she retired from tennis, she picked up another historically white-dominant, country club sport: golf. She eventually became the first (Powell the second) African American golfer on the LPGA, shattering barriers for black golfers far and wide.
Although Gibson’s career in golf isn’t as well-documented as tennis, there is still a lot to cover when it comes to her accomplishments. She played in 171 LPGA events and never won an event—but what she did for golf can’t be measured by wins and performance. To no surprise, Renee Powell credits Gibson for opening doors for her. Like all black golfers during the 60s and 70s and likely beyond that, life was not easy— from not being able to play certain golf courses, from being taunted by fans, or even being denied entry into the clubhouse or hotels at events—but Gibson didn’t let any of these barriers stop her.
“She was hardened to things,” said Renee Powell, a close friend of Gibson’s and the second African-American to qualify for the LPGA in 1967. “Because of the fact that she was in tennis and broke color barriers in tennis, when she went to golf, things didn’t bother her. She was focused on playing the game. She wasn’t trying to open doors, she was just trying to play [the] game and make a living.” (via ESPN)
Like Gibson and Powell, the fearless attitude and the desire to be somebody propelled Ann Gregory into shattering barriers for African American golfers, too. Gregory is known for being the first African American woman to compete on the national golf scene and the effect she’s had on golf is still felt to this day.
“In 1943, when she was in her early 30s, Gregory first picked up a set of clubs. Within three years, she was good enough to win the all-black Chicago Women’s Golf Association Championship. And less than 10 years after that, in 1956, she became the first African-American player to compete on the national stage, at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, in Indiana. African-American men had, by this point, been competing nationally, though infrequently, since 1896.”
She was born in 1912 and experienced many of the same obstacles Gibson and Powell did when it came to overall acceptance in the industry. The “only for Caucasian race” bylaw instituted by the PGA in 1934 wasn’t lifted until 1961 but even after that, entry into golf for African Americans was not easy. Gregory continued to compete and fight for her rights. It’s a perfect touch that in 1989, a year before her death, she won gold at the U.S. Senior Olympics.
As we recognize these tremendous women for their contributions to golf, we can’t leave out the institution of the Wake-Robin Golf Club, which is the oldest African-American woman’s golf club in the country. These women endured “racial slurs, rocks, eggs or golf balls at them” on white-only golf courses during the Jim Crowe era. These women have become revered throughout the country, and are still being credited for the rise in participation of African American women in golf.
“That didn’t stop us,” said Winnie Stanford, 94, a board member who is listed as a female legend in a United Golfers Association commemorative book. “If you make up your mind that you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it. Black women have always been strong anyway.” (via ESPN)
Fast forward to 2020 and there’s no denying that the work of Renee Powell, Althea Gibson, Ann Gregory and the group of women who started Wake-Robin Golf Club has made a difference many, many years later. While I will admit we have a long ways to go to making golf even more inclusive and welcoming for people of all different genders, race and backgrounds, I’m thankful for the progress we’ve made.
There are five African American women who are competing on the LPGA today or who have competed on the LPGA. Among these women are Ginger Howard, Mariah Stackhouse, Cheyenne Woods, Sadena Parks and Shasta Averyhardt. We all want this number to be bigger, but wow, this representation is so important and so powerful for all the eyes watching.
It’s an experience in itself just reading about how African Americans were treated not that long ago; I can’t imagine how it felt. I’m sad that women have had to live through such treatment, but hopeful of the work that’s been done and it’s ability to carry us forward to even bigger and better strides. I have all the confidence in the world these players will move mountains in their own unique ways and continue to forge the path for African American golfers far and wide.
This Week in Women’s Golf
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Leona Maguire might not be the flashiest rookie, but she could be the best.
At only 23, Sue Oh is playing in her 12th (!!) Australian Open this week.
Two more LPGA events canceled due to coronavirus.
Hee Young Park wins event one of two on the Australia swing in Melbourne.
Will Nelly Korda repeat as Australian Open Champion and become World No. 1?
Jess Korda breaks down her practice routine for Golf.com.
Five top amateurs invited to ANA Inspiration field in April.
Golf Majors seek boost in female coverage, Front Office Sports reports.
PGA Tour judge asks for the Hank Haney lawsuit to be dropped.
Speak on it, Irish Times – it’s time for women’s golf to step out of the shade.
The sum of mixed golf is worth more than its separate parts.
Here’s an in-depth summary to get you up to speed on all-things college golf.
Again in 2020, players unfortunately have to choose either ANWA or ANA.
Still love this LPGA insight from the Power Plays newsletter. A must-read!
New episode on the pod with Golf Channel’s Chantel McCabe!
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Renee Powell
Renee Powell’s story and being one of the biggest movers and shakers in golf is inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to imagine growing up in the era that she did and even more admirable is that she walked away from her less-than-favorable experiences not the least bit hardened or afraid of what else she might encounter. She’s obviously garnered a lot of attention and received many awards for what she’s done, so I wanted to highlight five of her best quotes over the years. I hope Renee serves as an inspiration to all of us—that we should never be satisfied and always push for more.
I. “That was the character of the family that raised me. There was never any anger or bitterness, which eats you up inside, only determination. I’ve always wanted to do likewise, to set an example to others and not let the narrow-minded people define me as a person.” (via LPGA.com)
II. “My life has been one that I never dreamed of…I look back on my life, when I was 8 years old and discovered racism in school, from teachers and kids in my little community … now I have a building named after me in St. Andrews. It’s all because of golf.” (via the Akron Beacon Journal)
III. “In a game with decreasing numbers, we have to look at areas where there’s a lot of potential. Young people may be the long-range goal, but short-range goals are adults who have never played or are now getting back into the game…Remember: Golf is the game you can play for a lifetime.” (via LINKS Magazine)
IV. “I’ve played, taught, written articles, designed golf clothes and mowed greens. But if we want the game to continue, it becomes a responsibility to pass things on to others. There are always those people who push and pull you along, and I think it’s our responsibility to give back. Hopefully, I can inspire the younger players.” (via SymetraTour.com)
V. “But the honor is really for the sacrifices my family made, for those who came before me, men and women who fought the fight with good hearts and great devotion. What I do now is for them. And for those who will follow.” (via LPGA.com)