African Diaspora in Sports

Essay by kcp0825College, UndergraduateA, November 2014

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Name: Kevin C. Pfeffer

Lecturer: Herbert Ruffin

Course: AAS/HST 510

Date: December 13th, 2013

African Diaspora in Sports: Sport of Golf


People engage in sports for a myriad of reasons. One may participate in a sport to stay in shape, to find amusement, or to thrive in a competitive atmosphere. On the flip side, people engage in sports as way to earn a free education and hopefully a job. Sports were once considered a recreational activity but the sector has transformed itself into multibillion-dollar industry, and golf is no exception. According to McGrath, McCormick and Garrity (p.5-6) golf is described as a precision club and ball sport where the competing players make use of several kinds of clubs to hit a ball into a series of holes on a golf course utilizing the fewest number of strokes.

Although there are still debates on its origin, the modern game of golf most accurately originated from Scotland in the 15 century.

The first written record of golf was the banning of its activity in 1457, as the Scots Parliament of James II thought it was an unwelcome distraction to the learning society and it interfered with military training. The sport was also first played on Musselburgh Links, Scotland on March 1672, which is considered as the oldest golf course to date (Cochrane, p.3-4). The major championships include: The Open Championship, The U.S. Open, The Masters, and lastly, the PGA Championship (McGrath, McCormick and Garrity 12-14). This paper is going to discuss how the African diaspora in the sport of Golf with major reference to notable figures such as Tiger Woods, Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford, and Renee Powell among others, with their contribution to golf as well as Tiger Woods comparison to Michael Jordan.


Over the past century we have seen thousands of African Americans to grace the world of sports at elite levels. These athletes are referred Africans in diaspora because they descended from the historic movement of populace from Africa, predominantly to United States and Europe. With reference to golf, the most notable figure of African American origin in golf is Tiger Woods. Woods has had a significant impact in the sport both on and off the course. This chain can be traced all the way back to Lee Elder who was the first African American to play in the Masters. Moreover, he was also the first American of African origin to participate in the Ryder Cup. From John Shippen, Renee Powell, Charlie Sifford, to Tiger Woods, African Americans have played a very considerable role in the growth and development of golf, both on and off the course.

The emergence of Tiger propelled golf to the next level as he has been dominating the game up to date. Eldrick Tont 'Tiger' Woods was born on 30th December 1975 in Cypress, California. As his mother, Kutilda Woods, has an ancestry that consists of Thai, Chinese and Dutch, Tiger receives his African American heritage from his father, Earl Woods. Earl should be credited as the sole reason Tiger started to pursue golf. At the time Tiger turned two years old, Earl had already brainwashed Tiger into playing golf and became Tigers solitary coach up until he was five at which point Tiger had become a child prodigy and perhaps the most precocious young golfer in history. Today, Tiger Woods is one of the most recognizable athletes of all time and has become the face of golf and the face of a myriad of companies. Woods' impact on the sport was immediate and permanent. Each year we witness Tiger continuing to set new records across the history books of this prestigious game.

It began when Woods turned professional in 1996 and, immediately, by 1997 he had already bagged his first major trophy, the 1997 Masters in a record-breaking performance of only 12 strokes. He proceeded and attained the number one position in the world's rankings by June 1997. All through the 2000's, Tiger Woods was a very dominant figure in the golf. He spent 542 weeks as the world number one. Besides, the rankings Tiger has won unprecedented 14 major golf championships, the second highest after Jack Nicklaus who has won 18. He has also capitalized on 79 PGA tour victories making him second all time after Sam Snead (The Independent).

Conversely, many other African American golfers have not attained the status of Woods up to date, with no person of African-American descent participating or wining on the PGA Tour presently. However, in 2011 we saw the entry of Joseph Bramlet, a former Stanford star make his debut in the PGA Tour. He is still yet to be victorious. Being the superstar that he is, it's hard for anyone to live up to Tiger's standards, let alone African Americans. Off the golf course, people like Bill Neal another African American directly promoted golf, as he is the sole owner and general manager of Woodridge Golf Club since it was handed back to the locals again. Neal has initiated plans to grow the club's value while attracting rounds from all walks of life. Another African American, Jim Thorpe, who turned pro in 1972, and is a three time PGA Tour winner, recently was in Montego Bay, Jamaica where he spent a lot of time teaching youths the benefits of golf at a clinic. He also organized the LIME Jamaica Open tournament, which attracted 120 players from America, including Lee Elder, and has grown to be a major attraction.

Aside from Tiger Woods there are several other memorable individuals of African American descent have propelled golf to the next level by creating diversity to a sport that was once considered as a white man's sport. From the 1800's, we saw the entrance of John Shippen who was ultimately restricted to working as a caddie, until the age of 17. Discrimination was so engrossed in golf that some professional players threatened to boycott the event when they discovered Shippen's race was not Indian. However, the then US Golf Association president defended Shippen as well as another entrant, Oscar Bunn. Shippen went ahead and played in five more US Opens. Later in 1922, Joseph Bartholomew commenced his career as a golf architect through creation of a new golf course at Metairie Golf Club, New Orleans. This is a perfect example of the color discrimination in golf because in spite of creating various public courses, he was not allowed to play in them. In 1926, the world witnessed the first African-American golf tournament which was staged by Robert Hawkins. He also went on to establish the next events in 1927, and in 1928 he created a tour for players who were excluded from PGA events. In 1946, William Powell built Clearview Golf Club, as he was to become the first American of African decent to build, own and operate a golf course. During that time, segregation was so pronounced in the golfing arena that culminated in Bill Spiller, a very successful African American golfer, being denied entry into the Richmond Open. In that same year, Ted Rhodes became the second African to play in the US Open after Shippen. Charlie Sifford was another golf sensation of African-American decent who went on to win the Long Beach Open in 1957, and later went on and became the first African-American player to earn a PGA Tour card. Due to his remarkable talent, he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational together with the Los Angeles Open in 1969, the PGA seniors championship in 1975, and lastly, the 1980 Suntree Classic what is now referred to as the Champions Tour (Sounes 13-18). Considering the fact that most golf clubs did not admit female athletes, Ann Gregory rose to the occasion to become a very dominant figure in women's golf in 1956, as she became the first African-American player to enter the U.S Women's Amateur.

After the abolition of the "Caucasian-only clause" in the American PGA, it opened doors for all other players to participate in professional golf tournaments. Pete Brown became the first athlete of African descent to win a PGA sanctioned event, and followed that by also winning the 1970, Andy Williams San Diego Invitational. Calvin Peete won the 1979, Greater Milwauke Open. He became the most prolific African-American golfer with 12 PGA wins until the emergence of Tiger Woods in 1994 (David 23-38).

In spite of the 'Tiger effect,' appeal to the public and hype that has been injected in the golfing sport by the non-white golfers, the American golf history is one of the sports that has been dominated by the white man for too long. This is one of the America's history greater tragedy and irony that may engulf golf. The sport today is still predominately suffocated by white golfers. In the past Jew, blacks, and colored persons were not allowed to join most golf clubs. Although that perception has really transformed in today's world, where one is judged according to the skills and prowess he/she possess rather than the color of the skin. To show how golf has transformed, in 2006, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland awarded Charlie Sifford Honorary Doctorate of laws to become the first African-American golfer to receive such an award, and Renee Powell was the first female African-American to receive the same award. Sifford was also awarded the Old Tom Morris Award, the highest honor that is bestowed by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. As golf is now viewed as a sport for anyone to play and manage, in 2008, Junior Bridgeman became the third American of African descent to serve on the PGA Board of Directors, following a standout performance in his National Basketball Association career and becoming a respected entrepreneur.

More Americans are giving up on the sport of golf for various reasons some of whom cited discrimination. Discrimination can be traced nearly a century ago in 1916, when PGA was founded. The rules of the Caucasians kept aloof the minority outside the organization for a period of almost fifty years (Vitello 32).

As noted by David (17), although there are many golf clubs throughout the country that continue to admit women and minorities, there are still some areas in the sport of golf that lack diversity. First, is the business side, as reported by the World Golf Foundation, Caucasians held 80 % of the industry jobs, and a paltry one-third is held by females. Furthermore, Stirk (12-16) notes that less than 90 PGA professionals out of the many 28,000 are African American. In that sense, there are only 263 Hispanic members and 196 Asian members. Currently, there is only one woman, Christine Garrity, an executive employee of PGA America who serves as a managing director and the general counsel. In 2009, the Nothern Trust Open in Los Angeles created the 'Charlie Sifford Exemption' in respect to players who represented the advancement of diversity in the sport of golf.

Unlike the short races in athletics that has been dominated by blacks with likes of Justin Gatlin, Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell, Maurice Green, and Tyson Gay, Tiger Woods has dominated a sport mainly associated with white people and has brought in a lot of diversity. Much of the disparity in golf emanates from the fact that the sport is pretty expensive in terms of equipment and the course fees required. Millions of athletes who think to pursue golf are limited to sports that are more affordable because of the expenses that coexist with golf. Besides, the disparity also originates from lack of financial support for the aspiring golfers. It has been shown that certain golf levels are out of reach to an average American, and this is where the majority of the blacks and other minority population fall. Consequently, according to a view shared by The Diversity Journal (2) asserts that since golf derived its origin from Scotland, it has since been a popular pastime activity in America and the rest of the English-speaking nations for many years. Thus, the perception of a white man's game.

The sport's original structural framework not only barred women from engaging in the sport, but also banned blacks only allowing them to be caddies. The slow progression of diversity that has characterized golf is similar to another white male-dominated area: corporate America. And as it evident in the corporate world, diversity can only be attained and fully implemented without the passionate support of the white males. This is why the entry of Tiger Woods and Steve Mona, the CEO of the World Golf Foundation, although not African American, has created diversity in golf.

In spite of the low number of African Americans engaging in golf, Woods and others have managed to cut a niche in the lips of golf lovers. Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Charles Sifford, Renee Powell, and Tiger Woods have inspired a lot of the minority African-American population. The notable figure of Tiger Woods has dominated golf for almost two decades. He is an inspiration to black, Asian, Native Americans, whites, and Cablinasian kids. The inspiration brought about by Woods in golf can be compared to the influence brought about by Michael Jordan in basketball. Both athletes are regarded as the best of all time and are of African American Origin. Both are viewed as sports icons in their respective sports due to their rise from humble backgrounds to being world class players. They are both sources of inspiration to both whites and blacks. Both athletes have collected a host accolades during their playing careers and are considered by the public as the greatest athletes of all time. Both popularized their respective sports in the 1990s with Tiger extending his reign up to date. As noted by (Porter, 2009) Jordan holds the record of the highest career regular season scoring and the highest career play off scoring average. He was acknowledged by ESPN as the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century. On the other hand, as noted by Roberts (23-45) Woods has an extremely high possibility to hold the record of having more career PGA tours and career major wins compared to any other golfer. He is also the youngest player to win the career Grand Slam and the fastest and youngest athlete to win fifty tournaments on tour. These athletes are highly regarded by the present generation. Although golf is dominated by whites, basketball is dominated by the black minority. This is somehow linked to where one grew up from. A place like the Orange County is the third most populous city in the state of California. The county is made of a cosmopolitan population with the majority of the inhabitants being whites. The whites account 44 % of the total 1,830, 758 people with the African Americans accounting for 1.7 % and the rest are Latinos (Arellano, 2011). From this statistics it quite clear blacks are the minority population. The tremendous growth in golf in this county is due to the majority whites who are associated with this sport. On the other hand, Birch and Wachter (p.313) observed that the black community originally occupied Compton and it is mainly a working class city with lower-level neighborhoods. Compton was, and still is today, popularized by numerous rappers, hip hop groups and gangs, no place for a prodigy of golf to grow up. This genre of music is mainly associated with the "stereotypical African-American". Numerous professional athletes and rappers of African-American origin have come from Compton. Just like Brooklyn, which produced Jordan (although raised in North Carolina), is more acclimated with playing the core four American sports rather than playing the "white mans game", golf. These types of cities across the country show how the black population is not interested or unavailable to peruse golf. As a result, people like Michael Jordan, unlike Tiger Woods, has the greater impact in his respective sport due his stature, accolades and most importantly, his swagger.

In 2009, Tiger Woods was hit by an infidelity scandal that rocked his career. In November of 2009, a supermarket tabloid in National Enquirer wrote an article claiming that he had an extramarital affair with a New York City nightclub manager, Rachek Uchitel. This progressed to a numerous amounts of women allegedly claiming that they had affairs with Woods. He admitted of his unfaithfulness and apologized, and as a consequence, he announced that he would be taking a break from professional golf. Not only did this effect the ratings for golf , but resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in some companies. Due to these infidelity scandals, several companies re-evaluated their endorsements and sponsorships to Tiger Woods. Companies like General Motors, Gatorade, and Accenture completely terminated their sponsorship deals. Contrarily, Gillette suspended any advertisements that featured Tiger Woods. The TAG Heur barred Woods from advertising in December 2009 and later terminated their deal. It was estimated that the net loss due to Tigers absence was about $12 billion dollars. In spite of all this suspensions and termination of deals, Nike and Electronic Arts continued to support Tiger Woods, which today seems like they made an incredible investment (Goldiner 13-14).

After a long awaited period of dominant force, Tiger Woods finally won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 2013, where he recaptured his world number one slot once again and unfortunately, the only current African American winner. As noted by Bamberger, nearly after 20 years golf is still struggling to attract minorities. In the development of American golf, the death of African-Americans at golf's elite levels, amateur and professional is strange and unwelcomed, considering the fact that America's black population has shot to 39 million. This is evident in most golf clubs where you cannot tell the difference between the loppers and the players, where the caddies are as competent as their bosses. However, one thing stands out; there is an impressive collection of white men. This is evident in the emergence of Rory McIlory who was considered to be the new face of golf during Tigers absence. When the two are compared at similar points of their careers, although Rory's record looks impressive at his age, 23, Woods was still dominating the PGA Tour at that age. The biggest difference between Rory McIlory and Tiger Woods is, Tigers' swagger and his impact by popularizing the game the way he had. Tiger seems to have a "Tiger effect," where many fans claim, "if Tiger is playing I'm watching." This is where Rory seems to lack Tigers fame and intensity.

When Tiger's career is finally said and done the question will be arisen of what his legacy is, not necessarily how many majors he won or if he surpassed Jack Nicklaus's record, but how he changed the game. To this point, Tiger could retire and already be arguably the greatest golfer to ever walk this planet. But, there have already been "great" golfers. What this game needs is someone who can change it forever, someone who will inspire future athletes to recognize golf as of the core "five" American sports. Tiger Woods could definitely achieve that stature. As stated previously, he has the swagger but most importantly the ethnicity to do so. As someone who comes from African-American descent, Tiger Woods has the potential to not only become the greatest athlete of all time but the greatest athlete to affect the African diaspora in sports.

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