In 1945, there were four close friends from Houston, Texas; (Charles M. Washington, Eugene Harrison, Lee Powell and Howard McCowen), World War Two veterans who had a vision after returning from the war to play the game of golf. They were very knowledgeable of the game based on their background as caddies. During this era the City of Houston did not have a public golf course that African Americans could play on. Therefore, they had to travel to cities such as San Antonio and Dallas to pursue their dreams. It was not until June 19, 1946 that the City of Houston allowed the "colored" group to play a half day tournament.
On April 18, 1947 Don Robey (Executive Chairman of Clinton Park Country Club and Election Campaign Chairman for Mayor Oscar Holcombe) was appointed as Tournament Chairman to approach Mayor Holcombe for permission to obtain the use of one of the Municipal Parks in the city, preferably, The Memorial Park, for a three day period of June 18th, 19th and 20th to host a golf tournament. Robey was appointed Tournament Chairman by the group of business men, golf players and supporters whom he was able to secure in Mayor Holcombe’s campaign. The group, named the Houston Golf Association, invited as Guest of Honor, Joe Louis (Heavyweight Champion of the World). This letter of request was received in Mayor Holcombe's office on April 19, 1947.
On February 13, 1948, a motion by Councilman Needham that the recommendation of Councilmen Bailey and Holmes on the request of Don Robey to hold the Annual Houston Negro Golf Tournament at Memorial GC on June 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th be adopted and the request was granted.
Between 1949 and 1950, the group did not host a tournament due to lack of participation and, in the meantime, a white group formed, also using the name "Houston Golf Association." Since the original group did not host a tournament for 2 years, they had to restart the appeal process and the request was referred to the Director of the Golf Department for recommendation.
Early in 1951, after running into many complications and several years of appealing to the City of Houston, Mr. Charles M. Washington (Tournament Chairman) submitted a letter to Mayor Oscar Holcombe requesting permission to host its first Negro Open Golf Tournament. With a signed petition from other black golfers, and giving up its original name, the city granted the group permission to host the event. Since the motion wasn’t passed until July 7, 1951, it didn’t give the group enough time to obtain sponsors and finances needed to host the event that year.
In June of 1952 the group under its new name of Lone Star Negro Golf Group, hosted the first $1,000 Negro Open Golf Tournament from June 17th thru June 21st. There were 80 participants, of whom 12 were from out of state. The tournament attracted players from all over Texas, Louisiana, California, and as far as New York. The event continued to grow attracting players such as: Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Ted Rhodes, and Houston’s own golf professional, Willie Brown. As the tournament grew Joe Lewis, Jim Brown, and Dallas, Texas star Lee Elder took part in the event.
On September 18, 1952, Jack Spear (Director of Municipal Golf Course in Houston, TX) submitted a letter to the Mayor (Oscar Holcombe), indicating the group had submitted ten requests to host a golf tournament. He used the results from the Negro Open Golf Tournament to get the Mayor to deny the request. He stated that the group only had 68 players in their tournament. He indicated that if the course was open, the number of white players would have been a total of 598, thus indicating that the City has a loss in revenue of $448.50. He also indicated, out of the 68 players, a half dozen were caddies. He recommended that the request be denied. After the request was reviewed, Mr. Spears revamped the letter, stating; “the tournament had a total of 80 players, of whom 12 were from out of the city, making a total of 68 local players”.
The group continued to host The Negro Open Golf Tournament until 1990. The winners of the Lone Star Golf Association Professional Division were: 1953 –Ted Rhodes; 1954-Bill Spiller; 1955-1956 Charles Sifford; 1958-1961 Pete Brown; 1962-1966 Willie Brown; 1980-1983 Lee Carter; 1984 Mr. Woodard; 1985-1986 Chuck Thorpe; 1989-Bobby Strobel; and 1990-Jessie Allen. This event open doors for players such as Charlie Sifford, who was the first African American to not only play on the PGA Tour, but also the first African American to win on tour.
In 1985, the Lone Star Junior Golf Program was born. LSGA President, Mr. Eugene Floyd and LSGA Tournament Director, Mr. Joe Solomon hosted one of the largest Junior Golf Camps in the City with over 150 young boys and girls in attendance. With the help of the City of Houston and Hermann Park Golf Course, the camp was a huge success and the program has since continued.
Though the fight was hard and long, the organization continued to strive. Each year during the month of June, Lone Star Golf Association hosts an Annual Golf Classic in honor of its past director, Mr. Charles M. Washington. Revenue from the tournament supports the organization’s Junior Golf and Scholarship Program.
The Lone Star Golf Association, one of the oldest golf associations in the Houston area (founded 1946), hosts an annual one-day “Turkey Shoot” Golf Tournament during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Our First Opening Tournament (click here to read more)
The Charlie Sifford Story...
Back in the day, way before Tiger and Earl, the nation's best black golfers weren't allowed to play on the PGA Tour and they certainly didn't spend any time pondering endorsements. Theirs was the United Golf Association Tour, known affectionately in those days as the "Chittlin' Circuit," and for years it was the best friend a black golfer ever had.
It was the home of Charlie Sifford, Teddy Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, Zeke Hartsfield, Pete Brown and Lee Elder. It was unique because for a long time, it was the only organization that would routinely give black golfers a place to compete. From Detroit to Pittsburgh, to Philadelphia to D.C., to New York to Boston, up and down the highway they'd go, chasing a dream and that little white ball.
"It launched my career. Without the UGA, I never would have played competitive golf," says Pete Brown, a four-time winner of the UGA's National Negro Open and a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. "It meant a lot to us because it was a place where we could play and win some money," says Sifford, who won six Negro Opens and was the first black golfer to win a major PGA tournament, the 1967 Hartford Open. "It was one of the greatest organizations in the world because it gave a lot of people a chance to play golf who didn't have anywhere else to play."
Founded in 1926 by Massachusetts golf enthusiast Robert Hawkins, the UGA's heyday, arguably, was from 1946-61, when Rhodes and then Sifford were in their prime, when heavyweight champ Joe Louis was in love with the game, and when the PGA Tour hadn't yet been forced to open its tournaments to blacks. Forced to play on whatever hard scrabble golf course that would have them, the black legends of golf traveled from city to city, from early spring to late summer, enjoying each other's company almost as much as they did the golf.
"We had a good time. It was no dog-eat-dog thing," says Brown, now 62 and the golf pro at Madden Golf Course in Dayton, Ohio. "Sometimes a few of us would even decide before the tournament that if any of us won, we'd share the money. We'd travel all over the place to try and win that $500." While on the road, they'd stay with whomever would put them up. What little money they had was used to pay the $25-$50 entrance fee, then gas and food. "We were awful thin back then," says Sifford, "because we didn't have a lot of money and we didn't eat too much food." What they did do was play a lot of golf in the daytime and then go dancing or listen to jazz at night. Life was good and loads of fun.
Like Sifford, Rhodes and innumerable other golfers before them, Brown got hooked on the sport by caddying as a youngster. He was 18 and working at a municipal golf course in Jackson, Mississippi, when he first heard of the UGA in 1954. Back then, in the deep, deep south, a black man either snuck onto one of the well-manicured whites-only courses to try and play a few holes undetected or waited patiently for those rare occasions when caddies were given the green light to play. Imagine then Brown's excitement when he learned that there was a course in nearby New Orleans where on Mondays and Fridays blacks could golf to their hearts' delight. It was while in New Orleans that Brown heard about the UGA's Lone Star Open, scheduled for Houston later that summer. He hitched a ride to Texas for the event, where he beat Sifford handily and finished second to Spiller. His life was never quite the same afterwards. "Charlie and Bill took quite an interest in me, I guess because they saw a potential in me," Brown says. "I didn't have any experience, but I sure could hit the ball long."
Sifford and Spiller were so impressed by Brown's game and demeanor, that before they departed for the next UGA stop in Dallas, they asked if Brown would be interested in playing the Negro Open in a couple of weeks. He said yes. They swung through Jackson on their way north, and the rest is history. "After that I always knew where the UGA tournaments were being played," says Brown, who eventually moved to Detroit to be closer to the action. Without a doubt, the annual Negro Open was the most popular of the UGA events. First prize could be as much as $1,000 and the bragging rights were huge."
"That was our Masters," says Sifford. "You'd have people come in from Florida, California, Texas, you name it."
"We used to call it a picnic because they had way too many golfers, says Joe Roach, a three-time amateur division champ of the Negro Open who now lives in Miami. "You never knew when you were going to play," recalls Brown. "You'd get in nine holes and then you might have to wait three hours to play the next nine. They'd sometimes move the women and juniors to another course, but most of the time they tried to work in those 200 to 300 people.
" The irony of it all was that during an era in which blacks were barred from playing on most courses, UGA events were open to and frequently contested by golfers of any race, even whites. "It was a black organization, but we never discriminated against anybody," says Roach. "We had a lot of white people who played in our events. We wouldn't have cared if Sam Snead or Ben Hogan came out to play."
One reason the Negro Open was such an attraction was that Joe Louis often played in the amateur division. He had hired Teddy Rhodes as his personal golf instructor, and more than a dollar or two exchanged hands when those two hit the course. Sifford, in turn, was hired by Billy Eckstein, the great singer and band leader, and from 1946-56, Charlie would spend the winters traveling with the band and the spring and summer playing as much golf as he could. In those years, he wasn't as focused on getting the PGA to drop its "Caucasians Only" clause, so he spent a lot of time traveling the UGA circuit with Rhodes and others."When I started to play regularly on the UGA circuit, it was me and Teddy traveling together in one car and Zeke and Howard in the other," recalls Sifford. "I remember one year Joe Louis bought Teddy a little red Buick. Teddy couldn't drive, so I had to go to Detroit and get it for him. We were driving through Albuquerque on our way to California once. It was something hot, but Teddy was asleep. My foot got kind of big and I had that speedometer hitting 80 and 90. Suddenly, Teddy woke up and said, "Hell, Charlie Horse, don't run 'Alexander' so fast and hard. That's what he called that car, Alexander. He near 'bout washed it every day, kept it clean like he kept himself."
Cliff Brown (no relation to Pete) recalls a similar Rhodes story. The two of them were driving through Florida, not too long after Rhodes had undergone an operation to have some hemorrhoids removed. "He was sitting on an inner tube, sleeping," says Brown, "and I accidentally ran up on the median of this divided highway. Naturally, Teddy woke up to some discomfort, and he said, 'Son, I told you to look out for the divided highway. Look out for the divided highway. He was real comical, real carefree."
That is when he wasn't on a golf course. Sifford says it took him five years before he could beat Rhodes in a Negro Open, because Rhodes was one of the most solid golfers he'd ever seen. Once Sifford did notch his first victory, he ran off a streak of five consecutive National Negro Open titles from 1952-56. His final national title came in 1961, the last year he played on the circuit. If nothing else, the UGA was the one tour Sifford could play without fear of any obstacles. A place where he could play without being ostracized because of the color of his skin.
One need only read his 1992 autobiography, Just Let Me Play (British American Publishing), to get an idea of the atrocities he and other blacks had to go through in an attempt to be treated fairly and equally by the PGA Tour. In 1952, for example, one week after Joe Louis became the first black man to play in a PGA Sponsored event, PGA tournament officials in Phoenix agreed to let seven blacks attempt to qualify for their tournament. "We vowed that if we had to compete to qualify, we'd play our hearts out and force them to enter us in the tournament," Sifford wrote. "We'd show them how the black boys did it on the UGA Tour. We gave Joe Louis the honor of hitting the first ball, and he put it down the fairway. Teddy and Eural Clark and I then teed up and took a few extra moments to control our excitement before swinging. Eural and Joe missed the green on their approach shots after Teddy and I put ours within birdie range. We waited for them to chip up, and then, since I was the closest to the pin, I walked up to pull the flag stick out. Something seemed funny and I glanced down at the cup. I had the flag stick half raised but I shoved it back into the cup. Somebody had been there before us. The cup was full of human--." Sifford's concentration was wrecked and he failed to qualify. It's a wonder that he kept fighting so doggedly over the next nine years, finally getting his Approved Tournament Player's card in 1961 and full PGA membership in May of '64. And while many still like to paint him as a bitter man who carries much too big a grudge against those who fought so hard to keep him down, the truth remains that black golfers would not have made the gains that they have if not for his insistence to be treated equally and fairly.
Unfortunately, progress often has its casualties, and when the PGA eased its restrictions against blacks, many of the UGA's pros followed the exodus. The UGA didn't disband right away, but it was clear from that day that it would never be as special as it once was.
It All Leads Back to Lone Star Golf Association!