Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf

ISBN 10: 1886947422 / ISBN 13: 9781886947429
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Synopsis: The emergence of Tiger Woods on the international golf scene has brought the world's attention to the African American experience in golf. But before Tiger, names like Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller, Ann Gregory, and so many others remained in relative obscurity without being given the chance to compete. Forbidden Fairways is not just a history of the African Americans who have been playing golf for over 200 years but a tribute to them as well. From the unnamed South Carolina enslaved young man who first dared to hit a golf ball when his master wasn't looking . . . to another young man named Tiger who dared to win the Masters while the whole world watched. It's a sad story in places, uplifting in others. It's about cruelty, but it's also about courage. It's about pettiness, but it's also about perseverance. It's about golf, but it's about life, too. Descriptive and intuitive, Forbidden Fairways lets you in on the real story.

Included in this edition is a new Introduction by Sinnette, as well as remarks he delivered at the African American Golf History Symposium at the United States Gold Association Museum in Far Hills, NJ.

Review: The sad truth about golf is that for a game that, on the surface at least, requires so little--just a player, a ball, some clubs, and a lot of natural beauty to complicate things--it has traditionally led the league in barriers put up to anyone who wasn't white and male. While much has improved, and will continue to with the emergence of a Tiger Woods, golf's racist past hangs over the fairways like a storm cloud.

Calvin Sinnette has done yeoman's duty in uncovering that past with Forbidden Fairways. He chronicles the history with great thoroughness; rather than lace it with bitterness, though, he infuses it with accomplishment. Just as blacks created a game of their own when baseball slammed the door in their faces, so they did with golf; the ancient game hasn't always been royal. He begins with a brief sweep through golf's American prehistory--the late 18th and early 19th century--when slaves caddied for their southern masters, then segues into the stories of five remarkable trailblazers, including George Grant, a Boston dentist and golfaholic who patented the first tee in 1899, and John Shippen, the first golf professional born in the United States.

Along the way, Sinnette pays homage to caddies, to the alternative courses blacks were forced to create for themselves, and to a love for the game that knows no racial boundaries. He explores the way blacks used the legal system to gain entry to the game, and the impact of events like black soldiers returning from World War II, William Wright winning the National Public Links title in 1959, and the civil rights movement of the '60s and '70s. He also offers special tribute to "The Struggle Within a Struggle" that black women faced; among those he profiles is Althea Gibson, who broke down barriers in tennis, as well as golf, when she won Forest Hills and Wimbledon.

"Adaptability to change," writes Sinnette, "is one of the characteristics of humankind from time immemorial.... The African American tried to the utmost to participate in all areas of human endeavor, and some excelled in the process." It's about time that the story as it relates to golf has finally been told. --Jeff Silverman

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