Golfing is a sport that is still viewed as a predominately white industry. There are big names like Tiger Woods and several others that have become minority staples in the sport, but reports of discrimination have plagued the sport.
It wasn’t until 1961 that Charlie Sifford was allowed to play as the first Black member of the PGA Tour, the top professional tournament tier of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, or PGA. However, racism at the country club level where amateurs and pros alike play persisted long after Sifford’s symbolic breakthrough. It wasn’t until 1990 that the PGA Tour itself began to use its leverage to address the issue when it signaled it might withhold a prestigious tournament from the exclusive Shoal Creek country club in Birmingham, Alabama, Shoal Creek over the club’s defiant stance about allowing Black members to join.
“I started golfing when I was 15 years old, I’m still golfing and I’m 101 years old,” said Black Golfer Hall of Fame member Herbert Dixon.
Dixon has been golfing at Bartow Golf Course in Bartow, Florida, for over 80 years. The Dade City, Florida, native told Atlanta Black Star that he always had a love for playing golf, but admits that the sport did not have much love for Black golfers.
“We had a lot of good black golfers back in the day with me: Teddy Rose, James Black. I can go on and on and on but still we weren’t allowed to play on the golf course,” said Dixon. “That’s just the way it is because of segregation. Black people weren’t allowed to do a whole lot of things back in the days growing up. You weren’t allowed to use the restaurants or drink out of the fountains. You had to sit at the back of the bus.”
Despite the odds, Dixon moved forward with his passion, traveling the world during segregation to play and win over 50 golfing tournaments. This accomplishment was celebrated in the National Black Golfers Hall of Fame. Dixon said that the same field he plays on in Bartow today did not allow him on the property as a teenager.
“We was allowed to go down in the field and put a cup in the hole,” Dixon said. “I had one club that was given to me. I just hit from hole to hole with that cup. They eventually allowed the caddies on one day, which was a Monday. We call that caddie day.”
Now, years later, Bartow Golf Course has named an entire driving range after Dixon to celebrate his accomplishments as a professional golfer.
“I’m so proud that I was able to live to see the day that a black man would be recognized,” said Dixon. “I hit my first hole-in-one right over there, right here in Bartow.”
Dixon shared that he grew up on the Bartow Golf Course, and while having a portion of the land named after him means a lot he says his greatest accomplishment happened in 2019. When Bartow Golf Course turned 100, they threw Dixon a birthday party to also celebrate his 100th birthday. During the mini-tournament/birthday celebration, Dixon hit his eighth career hole-in-one.
“My greatest accomplishment in my golfing career was getting a hole-in-one at my age,” said Dixon. “Everyone was there and everyone jumped up and said oh, a hole-in-one! They took pictures. That was quite an accomplishment.”
The odds of your average golfer making a hole-in-one is 12,000 to 1, according to National Hole-in-One Registry. That number drops to 3,500 to 1 for professional golfers.
Dixon now competes in tournaments to raise money to help kids go to college.