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Golf's Black Eye


I keep hearing how the face of golf is changing--how Tiger Woods
is bringing people of all colors to the game, and how programs
like First Tee are making golf accessible to black kids. When I
hear that stuff, I can only shake my head, because I don't see
much future for black golf.

In 1965 nine black players were on the PGA Tour, including me.
Today there are two: 49-year-old Jim Thorpe, who ranked 225th on
the money list last year, and Tiger, a great player who
correctly says he is multiethnic, not exactly black. And I doubt
we'll see many more blacks on the Tour anytime soon because so
much is working against them. Caddying used to give black kids a
way into the game, but now golf carts have taken over. There
used to be affordable, accessible public courses, but today's
public courses are crowded and expensive. There was a black
tour, the United Golf Association, that was the proving ground
for players like Lee Elder and me, but the UGA is gone. Things
are going backward, and it disappoints the hell out of me.

I'm not saying the old days were so great. I faced blatant and
vicious prejudice. I have reached into a cup for my ball and
touched human excrement--a reminder of what some white golfers
in my day thought of me. When I think of that moment and then
think of the millions of golfers who see Tiger Woods as a hero,
I know there's been progress. But I still can't help noticing
that out of 75 kids in the junior program at my home course, not
one is black. It makes me wonder whether the game has failed men
like Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller, who founded the UGA in the
'40s, and Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, who supported them. It
makes me wonder whether the greatest game in the world has room
for a few more faces like mine.

Charlie Sifford broke the PGA's color barrier in 1961.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK WRONG WAY Sifford sees black golfers losing ground. [Charlie Sifford]