Golf Channel to feature ‘Uneven Fairways’

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: February 8, 2009

Charlie Sifford

Charlie Sifford

ORLANDO, Fla. – In a first-of-its-kind documentary, the Golf Channel will chronicle an era when honor and fair play took a backseat to segregation, revealing the story of the little-known, but rich history of the African-Americans who had the courage to stand up for their rights and pave the way for future stars of golf.

Uneven Fairways, produced in partnership with Moxie Pictures, will celebrate the golfers who confronted prejudice and endured indignities for the right to play golf at its highest level. The 60-minute documentary will premiere Wednesday, February 11 at 9 p.m. ET.

Hosted by Samuel L. Jackson and based on the books Uneven Lies by Pete McDaniel and Forbidden Fairways by Calvin H. Sinnette, the hour-long documentary will chronicle the circumstances that led these men and women to create their own tour in the form of the United Golf Association (UGA), which many compare to the Negro Leagues of baseball. The hardships and indignity these pioneers endured is captured in never-before-seen archival footage and rare interviews with the golfers and their families.

Uneven Fairways will be one of the most compelling programs we will air in 2009. These are inspiring stories of golfers who overcame great odds just to create a tour where they could compete. It’s a fascinating and important story, and we are all proud to tell it on the Golf Channel,” said the network’s President Page Thompson.

Through stories told by golf’s trailblazers and their families, the documentary will recount both their painful memories that caused heartbreak to the lighter moments that created goodwill and laughter. Tiger Woods will pay a personal tribute, while golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer shed light on their respect for the pioneers of the UGA.

“Charlie [Sifford] has told me of some wild stories of things he had to endure,” said Woods in the documentary. “He is the Jackie Robinson of our sport.”

When asked about meeting the baseball hero, Sifford – the first African-American member of the PGA – replied, “So he [Jackie Robinson] asked me if I was a quitter, and I told him no. He said, ‘All right, if you are not a quitter, go ahead and take up the game, but you are going to run into some obstacles that you are going to wish you hadn’t.’ But I never did quit.”

Uneven Fairways will delve into the stories of several of golf’s trailblazers including:

John Shippen – Recognized as the first African-American professional golfer, Shippen competed in five U.S. Open Championships, the first in 1896.

Charlie Sifford – One of the leading pioneers in the fight for desegregation in golf, Sifford was the first African-American member of the PGA in 1962.

Bill Spiller - One of the top African-American golfers in the 1940s and ’50s, Spiller was instrumental in the PGA overturning the “Caucasian Only” clause in 1961.

Ted Rhodes – Initiated litigation alongside Spiller against the PGA’s “Caucasian Only” clause. One of the top golfers in his era, sources estimate Rhodes won nearly 150 tournaments on the UGA Tour in the 1940s – 1960.

Joe Louis – Recognized as one of the top-heavyweight boxers of all time, Louis was the first African-American to compete in a PGA sanctioned event at the 1952 San Diego Open.

Also interviewed for the documentary were PGA TOUR winners Calvin Pete and Jim Thorpe; The First Tee Executive Director Joe Louis Barrow (son of Joe Louis); Peggy White (daughter of Ted Rhodes); Bill Spiller Jr., several UGA Tour members including Bill Bishop and Pete Brown and authors McDaniel and Sinnette. Altogether, nearly 50 personalities were interviewed for the documentary.

In paying tribute to golf’s pioneers, Woods adds, “Not only the golfing community, but everyone should know who they were. They were true pioneers. If it wasn’t for their focus and dedication to the great love of the game of golf, as I said, my father probably wouldn’t have played the game because he wouldn’t have had access to the game…so, in essence, I owe my entire career to them and their pioneering efforts.”

NOTE: Executive produced by the Golf Channel and produced by Moxie Pictures, Uneven Fairways will broadcast in high definition. Additional vignettes, bonus footage and full-length interviews from the documentary will be featured on the network’s Web site (