Due to minority golfer issues, the PGA Championship was and was not at Aronimink GC!

“DID YOU KNOW”
Due to minority golfer issues, the PGA Championship was and was not at Aronimink GC!

In 1947 Charlie Sifford was in Detroit playing in the Negro National Championship. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and entertainer Billy Eckstine were playing in the amateur division. Louis sold Eckstine on hiring Sifford as his private golf pro and chauffeur. Sifford had been living in Philadelphia and honing his game at Cobbs Creek GC, but now he was on the road with Eckstine. They would spend winter months in California where it was warm and had golf courses open to them.

Sifford played on what was called the United Golfers Association tour, which was for Black golfers. The UGA tour offered two-day weekend events in various locations with meager purses, but it was an opportunity to compete. Beginning in 1932 the UGA held a national championship, which Sifford would later win six times.

Golf was the last professional sport in the United States with a national schedule to become integrated. The PGA of America had a by-law stating that only Caucasians could be PGA members. With the threat of lawsuits in the early 1950s, the PGA announced that Black golfers could play PGA Tour events if invited. Now many of the tour events, especially in the south, became invitation tournaments, in order to not invite the Black golfers.

Sifford began entering the Monday qualifying events for tour tournaments that were open to Black golfers. Most of those were in the northern states.

By the late 1950s, with the growth of golf and more golfers wanting to play on the PGA Tour, the PGA devised an “Approved Players Card”, for non PGA members. Those were attained through the local PGA Sections. Only non exempt PGA professionals and those with Players Cards could enter the Monday qualifying rounds for PGA Tour events.

In 1960 on his third attempt and now with the help of an attorney, Sifford’s application for an “Approved Players Card” was accepted by the PGA, after an eight week wait. Even with that he could still only play in the Monday qualifying rounds for tournaments that were open and not invitations. With such a limited schedule, winning enough money to be among the top sixty money winners and gain full exemption for the next year was difficult.

In July 1960 the PGA announced that its 1962 championship had been awarded to Los Angeles’s Brentwood Country Club. One month earlier in June of 1960 Sifford had qualified for and played in the US Open, but he was most likely not going to be playing in a PGA Championship. To play in the tournament as a non PGA member he would have to be in the top 25 money winners on the PGA Tour the previous year.

When California attorney general Stanley Mosk was informed of that, he announced that there would not be a PGA Championship in California unless Sifford was in the field. The PGA replied that because Sifford was not a PGA member or an exempt player, he was not eligible for entry. Then the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was the sponsor of the tournament, decided they did not want to be involved in a segregation issue and asked out of its contract with the PGA. Instead they would run an L.A. Open in 1962, rather than skipping a year as planned.

The PGA came back with a statement that it had a valid contract with the Chamber, but at the same time went looking for a new venue. On the other side of the country near Philadelphia, the PGA found a club with a championship course that could host the tournament on short notice, the Aronimink Golf Club. Just a few years before the PGA had held a highly successful PGA Championship at Llanerch Country Club in 1958, which was not far from Aronimink, so there was some comfort in a shift to Philadelphia.

In the third week of May, 1961 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article stating that the 1962 PGA Championship might be coming to Philadelphia. PGA Tournament Director J. Edwin Carter was on his way to check out the course at Aronimink. At the annual meeting of the PGA in the fall of 1961, the Caucasian Only clause was removed from the by-laws. The tournament was played at Aronimink in June 1962 without Black golfers. The winner, Gary Player, was the first non PGA member to win the tournament and the first foreign born winner not domiciled in the United States.

In October 1988 the PGA announced that its 1993 PGA Championship would be held at Aronimink GC. In 1990 the PGA Championship was played at the Shoal Creek Country Club in Alabama. Leading up to the tournament it was learned by the press that Shoal Creek did not have any minority members and did not plan to. Now the press was on the case. With the 1993 championship on the horizon the press inquired as to whether Aronimink had minority members. When it was learned that they did not, there were more articles in the newspapers.

In early November 1990, officials of Aronimink GC informed the PGA that the club was withdrawing from its contract to host the 1993 PGA Championship. They said that with its current seven year waiting list for full golf privileges, the club was not going to be able to achieve minority representation in its membership prior to 1993.

If Joe Lewis had not introduced Charlie Sifford to Billy Eckstine, Aronimink GC may not have hosted the PGA Championship in 1962. Aronimink is now scheduled to host the PGA Championship in 2026. 

3 thoughts on “Due to minority golfer issues, the PGA Championship was and was not at Aronimink GC!

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  1. Peter: Thanks again. Always enjoy your articles. I liked going to the IVB at Whitemarsh Valley. I always admired Jim Dent and how far he could hit the ball. I would stand where I thought his ball would land. Then look back at the tee box. I would think, how could someone hit the ball so far?

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