Golf Exhibit At Ritz Theatre Kicks Off Black History Month
The Ritz teamed up with the PGA and the World Golf Hall of Fame to kick off Black History Month Wednesday.
The museum opened the “Golf Heroes of the First Coast” exhibit, featuring artifacts like Tiger Woods’ golfing wedge from the 2001 Players Championship and Calvin Peete’s 1985 Championship trophy.
Golf has always had a rich history in the First Coast, with The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra returning every year. According to World Golf Hall of Fame historian Tony Parker, a lot of people don’t know golf was the start of desegregation in Jacksonville.
The exhibit contains newspaper articles and a timeline from the late 1800s to present, documenting the obstacles and challenges overcome by African-American golfers.
“[T]o see the changes and to see that golf was actually the progenitor of the desegregation of Jacksonville is quite significant,” Parker said.
Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment officer Dave Harrell said golf legend Charlie Sifford broke the color barrier in 1960 when he obtained his PGA playing card.
“And because of (Sifford), he opened up the doors for all ethnicities. … Not just African Americans, but Asians and all ethnicities to play in the PGA of America,” Harrell said.
Sifford was the first African-American to play the PGA. He paved the way for future black golfers, like Woods, Peete and Lee Elder.
Peete should be considered to be one of the greatest golfers of all time, with 12 PGA tour wins,, said Arthur Johnson, a long-time Jacksonville resident and former caddie at Hyde Park.
Peete’s widow Pepper Peete was on the opening panel before the ribbon cutting that officially opened the exhibit. She talked about how much golfing meant to her late husband, especially during the 17th hole of the 1985 Players Championship.
“Walking up to the tee he was nervous and his knees were shaking. His mouth was dry and he couldn’t really swallow anything,” she said.
Pepper added he had to give himself a pep talk at that second-to-last hole.
“He said, ‘Calvin, this is what you’ve hit all those balls for — for this one shot.’
“He always goes on to say, ‘Who would have thought a little poor black boy from Detroit, voted least likely to succeed, would set a tournament record and become a players champion?’ Calvin Peete thought that.”
Johnson said he had a dream to get young people from all over the country involved in the sport. When Calvin retired, they teamed up and traveled around to get youth involved in cities from Miami to Detroit.
Pete McDaniel, author of “Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf”, said the PGA has come a long way, but there used to be anywhere from six to 12 black golfers at any given time. He said in order to keep moving forward, the community of black golfers needs support.
“People like Charlie Sifford … went against all the odds and won. These are the pioneers and these are the ones who made a real impact and in not just african-american golf, but in all of golf itself,” Parker said.
The WGHOF has a permanent exhibit called “Honoring the Legacy: A Tribute to African-Americans in Golf.” There is a golf outing Feb. 27 at the World Golf Village course and golfing legend Elder will be speaking. Elder was the first African-American to play in the Masters Championship in 1975 and the Ryder Cup in 1979.
The Ritz exhibit will be open through the end of March.
Intern Serena Summerfield can be reached as 904.358.6317, email@example.com, or Twitter @sumserfield.