Charlie Sifford : World Golf Hall of Fame

By Peter Aviles
Updated: November 13, 2004

Charlie Sifford

MAPLEWOOD, NJ—Charlie Sifford became the first African-American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Born June 2, 1922, this pioneer, who broke the color barrier in golf, became the first African-American player to win a PGA event when he shot a final round of 64 to win the 1967 Hartford Open. While a prodigious winner on the UGA (United Golf Association), he would go on to win only one other PGA tournament two years later, that being the Los Angeles Open in a playoff over South African Harold Henning. In an interesting twist Charlie will be introduced to those in attendance by none other than South African Gary Player otherwise known as the Black Knight. On the surface, this selection might seem surprising, but Sifford chose Player because of the bond they established on the tour as a result of Player’s support and encouragement.

It is incomprehensible what Charlie had to endure to crack the color barrier. For instance, there was the time in 1952 when Charlie along with Bill Spiller, Teddy Rhodes, and Joe Louis among others went to Arizona to attempt to qualify to play in the Phoenix open. They went as a result of what happened in the prior tournament in which they attempted to participate. The San Diego Open which preceded the Phoenix had denied Black golfers with the exception of Joe Louis to play in this charity event tournament. However, this tournament became a turning point because as a result of the ensuing brouhaha, non-PGA members were allowed to participate in PGA events if they received an invitation from the sponsor. After much behind the scene wrangling, the foursome was allowed to tee off the first tee; but all was not golden. On the first green, Charlie and the other Black members found the cup filled with human waste. As distasteful as this episode was, it was not enough to deter him from his dreams. In 1961, playing in the Greater Greensboro Open, he was subjected to death threats and racial slurs but this did not stop him. He finished fourth but considered it a victory because he had endured. As he stated in his book “Just let me play,” he felt that he achieved a larger victory because despite all of the insults he did not quit, he did not back down. This is what he had to endure simply to play the game of golf.

Charlie received his PGA card in 1960, prior to the elimination in 1961 of the “Caucasian only” rule from the PGA constitution and while his PGA career was not spectacular, it was his contributions to the game of golf that paved the way for his induction. His selection in the lifetime Achievement category is in recognition of these contributions.

We all owe him a debt of gratitude and when we talk about the exploits of Tiger and Vijay remember that it was Charlie Sifford, now World Golf Hall of Fame member that among others made it possible.