Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf. – book reviews

Golfing history is not high on the list of favored subjects for
most Americans. Moreover, yet another painful recitation of the darker
side of American history involving race relations is about as welcome
to most people as a politician’s confession that taxes are going up. To
his consummate credit, Calvin Sinnette succeeds not only in telling a
story that needs to be told, but does so without rancor and with a
style and grace that bespeaks his own love of the game of golf.

Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf is
essential reading for those who truly love the game. For African
Americans especially, it chronicles the pioneers who struggled against
great odds just to find a way to play the game. Men such as Dr. George
Grant, Walter Speedy, John Skippem, Joseph Bartholomew, and Dewey Brown
are revealed not only as groundbreakers, but also as athletes who could
play golf at the highest levels of competency. It is of note that most
of their achievements were accomplished under a shroud of obscurity.

After reading this book, I confess that I will hereafter begin each
round of golf with a slight, hidden sense of pride that everyone tees
up on a device first submitted for patent by Dr. Grant. Also, as I have
the opportunity to play various golf courses which inspire a sense of
awe in me because of the architect’s skill and accomplishment, I will
undergo a similar feeling of pride when I think of the wonderful
courses designed by Bartholomew during the 1930s and 1940s.

Sinnette had to overcome the formidable problems of finding
information about African American golfers despite the omission of
reports on their activities by almost all of the nation’s major
newspapers and sports publications. He relied, therefore, on Black
newspapers and publications produced by African American organizations.
He also managed to collect information from various local and regional
minority golf organizations.

The subject of the African American caddie is handled with a
sensitive touch and appropriate candor. The position of caddie is
vitally significant historically because it is the main channel through
which Black golfers were introduced to the game. By portraying as
examples some of the more well-known African American golfers whose
careers began as caddies, Sinnette appropriately spotlights the role of
golfers’ assistants.

The book points out the little known contribution African American
celebrities from other sports — such as boxer Joe Louis, tennis
champion Althea Gibson, baseball player Jackie Robinson, and football
player Jim Brown — made to the advancement of African American golfers.

Also mentioned are the efforts of a number of White professional
golfers whose support was an important factor in getting more African
Americans through the clubhouse doors and onto the courses as players.

The chapter entitled “The Struggle within the Struggle” brings to
light the achievements of such talented women as Ann Gregory, and
reminds us that golf talent can arise from the most unlikely places.

Finally, the author pays homage to the recent and current African
American golfing talent. He mentions some of today’s stars, including
Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe,
Charles Owens, Jim Dent, Walter Morgan, and Bobby Stroble. And, of
course, as a capstone, he mentions Tiger Woods, about whom the story is
just beginning.

I commend Sinnette for bringing to our attention a part of American
sports history that is, by his own declaration, an opening chapter in a
book yet to be written. What is to be done about the democratization of
golf? How are we to reconcile the need to encourage more young people
to take up the game, yet retain those elements that historically have
been associated with wealth, privilege, and exclusivity? These and
other troubling questions are raised in this sparkling little book.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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