PGA built system for whites only

Published July 17, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

When the PGA of America was founded in 1916, according to Al Barlow in The History of the PGA Tour, its constitution required that all members be white. Twenty years earlier, though, at the second U.S. Open, at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York, the color line already had been broken by John Shippen.

Other U.S. Open entrants said they would not play if Shippen did. United States Golf Association president Theodore Havemeyer said the tournament could go on without them, that Shippen would play. Shippen did (so did everyone else), and he tied for fifth.

In 1928, the United Golf Association, a black golfers' organization, was formed _ 26 men's clubs that played at public courses open to blacks. A black tour was begun; whites were permitted to compete on it. But until the 1940s the only white-dominated tournaments open to blacks were the U.S. Open and Western Open. Then the Tam O'Shanter and Los Angeles Open tournaments began welcoming blacks.

In 1948, black golfers Bill Spillner and Ted Rhodes finished in the top 60 in the L.A. Open. Under existing rules, that automatically qualified them for the next event, in this case the Richmond Open outside Oakland, Calif. But Richmond barred them.

They sued the PGA and the Richmond Country Club. Before the case got to trial, though, the PGA agreed to stop discriminating against blacks if the suit were dropped. It was _ at which point, Spillner recalled, "the PGA and the sponsors started calling their tournaments "invitationals' instead of "opens,' so blacks could be kept out." Which they were.

In 1953 Spillner and Rhodes were invited to the San Diego Open, which because it was a charity affair, was not under PGA control. They qualified. Then the PGA told them they couldn't play because they didn't have PGA cards. Another threatened lawsuit brought an amendment to the PGA constitution allowing for "approved entries," black or white, who could play in tournaments if invited by the sponsors.

By the mid-1950s, Charlie Sifford was playing a considerable number of PGA Tour events, and in 1960 he became the PGA's first black member. By then, the PGA's contract with sponsors required acceptance of all qualified entrants regardless of race. And in November 1961 the whites-only clause was officially stricken from the PGA constitution. This year there are two black golfers _ Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe _ among the 350 players on the regular PGA Tour.