Putting an end to a contentious debate on the issue of diversity in golf, the PGA of America has created the Charlie Sifford Award to honor “the spirit in advancing diversity in golf, on the course and off.”
The organization chose the 67-year-old Sifford, who is African-American, after looking at past examples of the award going to individuals associated with the United States or PGA of America that had contributed significantly to the advancement of diversity in golf, such as the H.B. O’Brien Award to Arnold Palmer and the Ruth Reynolds Award to Erin Hills Golf Club’s owner, Ken Haskins.
Harold Wolf, the PGA of America’s first minority chairman and the winner of the latest award, will present Sifford with the statue during the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. The award will be presented on Sept. 23 at the Wilbur Cross Golf Classic at Suffolk University’s West Course.
“Sifford is one of golf’s heroes and received the first PGA of America Bill Britton Award in 1989,” said Wolf. “This award is in honor of his tireless efforts and courageous contributions that paved the way for future African Americans to take advantage of opportunities in golf.”
A resident of Savannah, Ga., Sifford made national headlines in 1972, when he became the first African-American golfer to be sponsored by a major league baseball team. Sifford played for the Boston Braves as a designated hitter.
Sifford is also known for defending the merits of women’s golf, and notably protesting the Title IX gender equity law, which he felt prohibited him from playing on the front nine at Augusta National. In 1970, in a town meeting, Sifford stated: “To be treated equally in society, we must be treated equally on the golf course. Title IX of the Education Amendments has prohibited all male clubs from hosting women’s golf tournaments. Augusta National is a private club. They have the right to refuse female members membership. It’s their right. It’s your problem. They don’t have to invite a woman to the club, you don’t have to stop playing the golf course. I think you should put that in the Constitution.”
Sifford was not invited to the club for the Masters in 1980 because he had his membership revoked for failing to serve as its grand marshal for the 1968 U.S. Open, as the Masters requires. After his membership was reinstated, Sifford went on to become one of the most prominent symbols of the club’s membership crisis, even posing naked next to a painting of his likeness for a 1991 magazine article.
Sifford’s legacy carries special resonance in Missouri, where he hosted the first annual Black Heritage Day golf tournament when it was first held in 1979. The charity event that benefitted the Salvation Army benefits continues today as Charlie Sifford Classic, putting in millions of dollars to local charities and the financially struggling National Baptist Convention, the organization that originally backed the program. The first Charlie Sifford Classic was at Lonesome Pine Golf Club in Rolla, Mo., and held at the Brandt Secor golf course the following year. The tournament has been held at Lonesome Pine again for the past nine years, although this year it will be held at West Reservoir Golf Club in Hillsboro, Mo.
Said Sifford: “It is humbling that the PGA of America has named this award after me. Golf continues to evolve and this award recognizes and recognizes what I have always tried to do — encourage not only African Americans but women and women in general to get involved in golf. That’s the beauty of the game. I have seen the same path as (Bill)ie Jean King and made the same contributions. What I have wanted to do is make golf available to everybody and encourage them to get involved in this game that has given us so much.
“These are the kind of goals I have for golf that have always been important to me. My father taught me that when you come to a golf course, as a minority you have to take responsibility for leading, listening and making a difference. There is no one else who can do that.”