Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf

Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf

Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf

Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf


This groundbreaking history of African Americans and golf explores the role of race, class, and public space in golf course development, the stories of individual black golfers during the age of segregation, the legal battle to integrate public golf courses, and the little-known history of the United Golfers Association (UGA)--a black golf tour that operated from 1925 to 1975. Lane Demas charts how African Americans nationwide organized social campaigns, filed lawsuits, and went to jail in order to desegregate courses; he also provides dramatic stories of golfers who boldly confronted wider segregation more broadly in their local communities. As national civil rights organizations debated golf's symbolism and whether or not to pursue the game's integration, black players and caddies took matters into their own hands and helped shape its subculture, while UGA participants forged one of the most durable black sporting organizations in American history as they fought to join the white Professional Golfers' Association (PGA).

From George F. Grant's invention of the golf tee in 1899 to the dominance of superstar Tiger Woods in the 1990s, this revelatory and comprehensive work challenges stereotypes and indeed the fundamental story of race and golf in American culture.


December 24, 1955, was “a happy day in town for black folks,” recalled Atlanta resident Gary Holmes. Twelveyear-old Gary’s father, Alfred Holmes, and his grandfather, local physician Dr. Hamilton M. Holmes, had recently prevailed before the U.S. Supreme Court in Holmes v. Atlanta, the first example of court-ordered desegregation in Georgia’s modern history. Yet the excitement in the Holmes household and Atlanta’s black community “was tempered by a fear of white retaliation” fueled by anonymous threatening calls and “talk … of a bloodbath or race war.”

That tension centered not on racial segregation in Atlanta’s public schools or voting booths but, rather, on its golf courses. Holmes v. Atlanta had just forced the city to allow African Americans access to its public links, particularly the historic Bobby Jones Municipal Golf Course, and some residents anticipated violence when blacks headed out on Christmas Eve to test the ruling; rumors swirled that golfers of all races planned to pack guns in their golf bags. “We understand how to play the game of golf and understand the courtesies of the game,” seventy-one-year-old Dr. Holmes told Time magazine the month before. “You can be sure we will do what is right.”

Holmes and Atlanta’s black golfers did just that, and their fight against segregation in the seemingly staid world of middle-class leisure was much more than a curious sidelight to the quest for civil rights in schools, churches, and businesses. in fact, it was integrally tied to that narrative; three weeks earlier Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. had launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Six years later Gary’s brother, Hamilton E. Holmes, became one of the first two black students to attend the University of Georgia.

This book explores the many black Americans who changed professional golf as well as the countless everyday black players—like those in the Holmes family—who used the game and its symbolism to influence their communities and assert their civil rights. Contrary to popular memory, African Americans played a significant role in shaping modern golf from its origins in the late nineteenth century to today. Surprisingly, that full story has yet to be written.

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