Book of the week: Scratching the surface of discrimination

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The Independent Online
Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf

(Sleeping Bear Press, $24.95) By Calvin H Sinnette

WHEN TIGER WOODS won the US Masters last year, the roof of the Augusta National clubhouse almost blew off. "I've never seen as much excitement as we had in the clubhouse," said the then chairman, Jackson Stephens. "When he made the putt on 18, the clubhouse exploded."

Woods had set records galore, but not lost among all the statistics was the fact that Woods was the first black player to win the event. His victory came 22 years after Lee Elder became the first black golfer to play in the Masters and seven years after Augusta admitted their first black member.

"That's why this victory is even more special," Woods, who later described himself as a "Cablinasian" to represent his mix of cultures, said. "Seeing Lee Elder before I played meant a lot. I looked up to him and Charlie Sifford and because of them I am able to live my dream."

Little over a generation before, Woods would not have been able to do so. When Sifford was leading the Canadian Open after two rounds in 1962, officials from Augusta sent word that that year's winner of the event would not be invited to the following year's Masters. Clifford Roberts, the long-serving chairman, once said that "a black man would never play at Augusta as long as he had something to do with it and that the only way a black man was going to get on Augusta was as a caddie or a clubhouse porter."

None of this is addressed in Calvin Sinnette's book Forbidden Fairways. The background to the removal of the infamous "Caucasian rule" in the PGA's statutes in 1961 is covered, however sketchily. Tournaments were redesignated "Open Invitationals" to prevent players such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes and Sifford from being able to play.

At the San Diego Open in 1952, Joe Louis, the former world heavyweight champion, was allowed to play, but other black players were not. From then on, non-PGA members were allowed to play in tournaments if they received a sponsor's invitation. At the next event in Phoenix, Louis, Rhodes, Sifford and Eural Clark were sent out in the first group of the qualifying round and on the first green "were greeted by the revolting sight and smell of human excrement that someone had surreptitiously placed in the cup".

This is far from the definitive record of an interesting and important subject in a sport which cherishes honour and integrity but has a history of appalling discrimination, whether racial, sexual or ageist. But Sinnette does provide a gentle ramble through the lives of some golfers whose fame would be greater but for the colour of their skin.

Among those recounted are John Shippen, who might have won the second US Open in 1896 but for an 11 at the 13th hole when he was leading in the final round, and George Grant, who invented and patented the first wooden tee in 1899, but failed to exploit the idea commercially.