Tampa, Fla. – Three leaders of the golf industry, Dr. Calvin Sinnette, Rose Harper and Joe Louis Barrow Jr., were inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame at its 25th anniversary celebration on March 5.
Sinnette is author of the landmark 1998 nonfiction book, “Forbidden Fairways,” which chronicled the contributions of African Americans to golf and their early struggles to advance in the game. Harper is the founder and CEO of The Grass Ceiling, a firm that specializes in using golf as a platform to help women and minorities advance in business and academics. Barrow is CEO of The First Tee and executive vice president of the World Golf Foundation.
Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, was the keynote speaker. Addressing an audience of about 500, Mona acknowledged the contributions of minorities to golf and stressed his optimism for the future of the game.
Dr. Sinnette said his induction was “a source of immense satisfaction.” He briefly recounted the path of African American golf over the centuries, “since we arrived in 1619, not by choice but under duress,” Sinnette said. “Now that Charlie Sifford is in the World Golf Hall of Fame, some may question the need for a National Black Golf Hall of Fame, but the need is there.”
The National Black Golf Hall of Fame was founded in 1986 by Harold Dunovant, a professional who played with Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Ted Rhodes and Charlie Owens from 1965-67 in events conducted for black golfers. Dunovant was the first black person to graduate from the PGA business school in 1964. Four years later he filed for membership as a Class A PGA professional but was denied because local PGA members would not endorse his membership. Dunovant was finally granted Class A status in 1974. His son, Jeff Dunovant, a PGA professional, is today the exective director of the National Black Golf Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame champions black golfers who loved the game and could not participate to the fullest extent. The organization also recognizes people, regardless of color, who continued the mission. Former USGA President Judy Bell was inducted in 2007 and former USGA Women’s Committee Chairman Barbara Douglas was inducted last year. Arnold Palmer (1986) and Gary Player (1991) are also members.
Harper, in accepting her induction into the Hall of Fame, paid tribute to other minority women in golf and said, “I stand on their shoulders.”
Barrow spoke of his role with The First Tee, an organization which seeks to improve the lives of young people through golf and has reached some 4.7 million people. Barrow pointed out that the program includes a 35 percent female enrollment as compared to 25 percent of the overall golf population who are women.
Barrow, the son of the late world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, spoke of how golf strengthened their relationship. “I got as close to my father as I did because of golf,” Barrow said. “I understood who he was and what he meant. When a son can walk with his father into a Hall of Fame, it’s very special.”
A 36-hole golf tournament, the Mid Winter Classic, was part of the weekend. The tournament was sponsored by Nestle USA and Advocates USA, a nonprofit dedicated to improving African American communities. This year, Nestle and the Advocates will sponsor events in Denver, Los Angeles and Orlando, which, along with the tournament in Tampa, follow the route of the early African American professional tournament circuit.
The Mid Winter Classic is for amateurs and professionals and is played annually at Tampa’s Rogers Park Golf Course. The city-owned course is a part of American minority history. In 1948, Florida had only one course, in Miami, that allowed black golfers to play. Willie Black, a Tampa Parks Department employee, was given permission to build a nine-hole course for black golfers on city property. With Tampa’s caddies, Black built the course by hand and it opened in 1952. The city later added nine holes. Rogers Park is a sporty layout with narrow, tree-lined fairways, small greens and abundant water hazards. The inward nine is the original course built by Black and the caddies.
With PGA Champions Tour player Jim Dent and former PGA Tour player Adrian Stills among those in the field, professional Thad Bruner captured the 2011 title with a birdie on the first playoff hole after he tied Joshua Wooding at 140, two under par, after 36 holes.
The USGA, The PGA of America and the PGA Tour are among the supporters of the Hall of Fame ceremonies and the Mid Winter Classic.