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Golf and African-Americans: Is There a Link?

by  Sherra Jones on April 28, 2011
Golf and African-Americans: Is There a Link?

It is common for professional and novice golfers to select courses based on their specific needs, and whether the profile of the course will offer "bragging rights" once played. An attribute as simple as the view can play a major role in their decision-making. Other factors that are considered include when the course was built; what is the best hole; is the course a link course; what well known golfer has played the course; how is it ranked; does the resort offer amenities: spas, restaurants, shopping.

In addition to the desired attributes needed for an ideal golf course, networking with other players is a strong factor for the game. More and more African-Americans are joining Tiger Woods on the greens, according to the National Golf Foundation. The increased interest has also spawned attention to African-American-owned golf courses. Benjamin Straker, founder of The Harambee Golf Club, an association of black golfers in the New York Tri-State area, feels that businesses and vendors benefit from networking opportunities provided through the game of golf.

History tells us that African-Americans have been involved in this sport for more than 60 years. So I searched for African-American-owned golf clubs and resorts. I was particularly interested in finding historical information as it relates to African-American golf pioneers. Currently, five on the East Coast and in the South offer a competitive day on the green.

Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club

My first discovery was the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club located in Palm Harbor, Fla., owned by billionaire Sheila Johnson. Innisbrook is home to four championship golf courses and has welcomed pros such as Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh during PGA stops. Johnson, the former wife of BET founder Bob Johnson, is believed to be the first black woman who has purchased a major golf resort.

Andre Halston, the executive chef at the resort's restaurant, Market Salamander Grille, was named Chef of the Year by Restaurant Business and Chef Magazine. In addition, he has appeared regularly on NBC, served as the personal chef for former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev during his U.S. tour and had the honor of cooking for Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Clearview Golf Course

Clearview Golf Course in Canton, Ohio, was developed by Bill Powell, a pioneer among African-American golf enthusiasts. Powell became the first African-American to construct a professional golf course and in August 2009 received the Distinguished Service Award at the 91st Annual PGA Championship. This award is the organization's highest honor.

Powell started caddying at the age of nine and over the years developed a true passion for the game. He built Clearview primarily due to the racial discrimination he felt from other golf courses that wouldn't let him play. A World War II veteran, he started the course in 1946 and completed the first nine holes in 1948. In 1978, he expanded the course to 18 holes.

The club enjoys a diverse membership and remains the country's only course designed, constructed, owned, and managed by an African-American. In addition, it is registered as a national historic site.

Meadowbrook Country Club

Meadowbrook Country Club in Garner, N.C. (a suburb of Raleigh), was founded in 1959 and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. Meadowbrook was developed after a group of prominent African-American businessmen in the Raleigh area wanted to establish a country club.  The club's charter members paid $100 each at their first meeting in 1958 and all pledged to raise the remaining amount needed to build the club. When their financial goal was met, they purchased land that had previously been a tobacco farm and eventually built a golf course that to this day is still only nine holes.

After the club opened, membership approached 200, but as other country clubs that once banned blacks starting relaxing their policies, many of the members left Meadowbrook for clubs offering more upscale amenities. In 2007, after experiencing financial hardships, the club was purchased by St. Augustine College, a historically black college. This business transaction allowed Meadowbrook to maintain its cultural roots, history and significant contributions to the game of golf, where as in previous years African- Americans had limited access, primarily restricted to being caddies.

Freeway Golf Course

Very little is known about Freeway Golf Course in Sicklerville, NJ. Designed by Horace Smith, the course opened in 1967. In 1968, it was purchased by The Knickerbocker Golf Club, one the oldest African- American golf clubs in the United States. It remains the first 18-hole golf course owned and operated by a black group in the United States.

Bull Creek Golf & Country Club

Bull Creek Golf & Country Club is located in Louisburg, N.C. and is an 18-hole, par-72 semiprivate club with limited membership. Warren Massenburg opened the club on the suggestion of relatives since he couldn't find anyone who was interested in taking over his farm once he retired or died. The land used to be a farm that housed six families and had a total of 11 property owners. Massenburg converted the 200-acre family farm that he previously used to grow tobacco, cotton, and corn into a prestigious golf course. The first nine holes opened in 1996 and second nine holes in 1998.

Massenburg noted that many people in the area thought he was crazy and that the golf course would not come to fruition. But he proved them wrong. Today the course includes a pro shop, driving range and a golf academy for those interested in learning the game of golf. He died this past January at the age of 84.

Given the history and success of the courses above, there is no question that golf does have a link with African-Americans.

Sherra Jones

Sherra Jones

Sherra Alston Jones is the owner of TravelDetailsbySherraJones, a home-based travel business. Sherra has a Master's Degree in Education and has worked as an educator both at the secondary and post secondary levels for over 30 years. full bio

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