Al Green was first Black to participate in the PGA Club Pro Championship
by Dr. Lynise Anderson & Al Green, Jr.
The presence of African-American professionals in the world of golf is surprisingly at its lowest level since racial barriers were eased in the 1970’s. Bringing light to this issue as part of its “Celebrating Blacks in History” agenda, Ferrum College recently hosted an event honoring the legacy of African American golfers who blazed the trail for Tiger Woods and other minorities.
On February 19th, the college presented a showing of the documentary “Uneven Fairways; The Story of The Negro Leagues of Golf.” The viewing, which was attended by students, faculty, administrators, and local golf enthusiasts, took place in the Franklin Hall Panther’s Den, at the heart of the Ferrum campus. The documentary tells the little known stories of golf pioneers such as Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and others, whose determination to make a living playing the game they loved, opened doors to opportunity in spite of unthinkable opposition. Though able to celebrate a modicum of success, obstacles still exist in the effort to bring more diversity to the fairways.
The highlight of the evening was a question and answer session with National Black Golf Hall of Fame member Al Green, who is featured prominently in the documentary. In addition to fielding questions from the audience, which included members of the Ferrum golf team, Green shared his historical perspective while discussing current and future opportunities for minorities in the golf industry.
At one point during the discussion Green noted, “People see the success of Tiger Woods and believe that the game of golf has been successfully integrated. As a matter of fact, the PGA currently has roughly 30,000 members, of which only about 100 are Black. So we’ve made some progress, but there’s definitely a lot of room for growth.”
Green’s numerous milestones include becoming the first African-American Club Head Pro in the state of Maryland, when the Dwight D. Eisenhower Golf Course opened in his hometown of Annapolis in 1969. After years of being denied for purely racial reasons, he eventually became the first Black allowed membership into the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the PGA (MAPGA).
During his playing career, he won more than 50 professional events, including the MAPGA Seniors title in 1991 and the PGA Disney Team Championship in 1975 with Lee Elder. He has played in three U.S Open tournaments and was also the first Black to participate in the PGA’s Club Pro Championship. During the discussion, Green, who has also operated golf courses in the Bahamas and Washington, DC, drew comparisons to the differences between the overtly racist barriers he and his contemporaries battled, and the obstacles that exist today.
“Golf has become a very expensive game to play,” says Green. “Thirty years ago, a full set of clubs might have cost you $100 to $200. Today, there are drivers and putters that cost three times that amount or more. At that cost a lot of families, and not just Black families, can’t afford to introduce their kids to the game. Also, as the number of public courses continues to decline, access becomes even more limited.”
He optimistically shed light on the numerous career opportunities in the golf industry that don’t involve playing the game itself, pointing out that students majoring in business, marketing, agriculture, hospitality management and even culinary arts, can find lucrative careers at golf courses and resorts in the United States and internationally.
On hand for the occasion was Ferrum College President, Dr. David L. Johns; Provost Dr. Aimé Sposato; Vice President for Institutional Advancement George Seals and members of the college’s marketing and communications team. Also in attendance was an enthusiastic group of golfers from Roanoke’s Pine Valley Golf Association. The organization, founded in 1959, was instrumental in opening doors that enable Black golfers to play at courses throughout the region where racial barriers previously existed.
The event was organized by Ferrum’s Dean of Student Affairs and Campus Wellness, Dr. Lynise Anderson, a resident of Floyd, VA where she is also the co-owner of the Healing Tree Wellness Center (www.healingtreehealth.com). Dr. Anderson is also the daughter of the event’s guest speaker. “I’m incredibly happy I had the support of our Administration to bring this type of event to the campus and the community” Anderson shares. “It’s not often that you get to interact so intimately with a living piece of history. It was a special time for our college, and a special moment for me, being able to honor my father and his life’s work”. The event was the first of many upcoming outreach efforts designed to expand the partnership between the college and its local community.
For additional information, contact Dr. Lynise Anderson by email at Landerson@ferrum.edu.