R. Kenyatta Rowel, Jr. XMNR
Can you imagine not being able to play a sport just because of your color? Golf has a rich and unsettling history, much like many systems that derived from our colonial dark side. Many of these injustices are still yet to be mentioned, acknowledged, or even attempted to be made right. Stories like the one where my Uncle would tell me about how they used to use tuna fish cans as the bottom of the putting hole with holes punched in it to drain the water when it rained. He told me they once started their very own par 3 course of 3 holes in between my Great Aunt Vi, and Aunt Stan’s house in Mulberry Hill. “God’s Country” is where I am from, it sits just a few hundred yards away from the USNA Golf Course and Greenbury Point the so-called “birthplace of Annapolis”. There were times when Blacks were not allowed to play.
Vince Leggett and Blacks of the Chesapeake are having their 3rd Annual Blacks of the Chesapeake Open: Celebrating Local African American Golf Pioneers coming up on June 26, 2023. Register here.
I got my first real job at age 15 at the United States Naval Academy Golf Course under the leadership of still today Pat Owen. I can remember growing up and him catching me sneaking to play on the course and yelling “hey come get a job when your hold enough!” Everyone around me seemed like worked there, my cousin Myron Williams, has been working there since I was born and still does! I got to play on the USNA GC as an employee, which allowed me to sharpen my skills greatly at a young age. I participated in the Jr PGA Tee it UP Golf tournament in Washington DC under my Uncle Al’s tutelage all the way. I then made the varsity Golf team in 9th and 10th grade at Broadneck High School, qualifying by just 1 stroke on the last hole on the last put at Eisenhower GC at that! Talk about intense. Since those early days, I have worked at South River Golf Course in Edgewater Maryland, Queenstown Golf Course on the Eastern Shore, and Old South Country Club in Lothian Maryland. I have played in many golf tournaments, have won some, and now even am a member of the Sunday Golf Crew with the legendary James Garnett and others.
The history of Golf itself is a chapter book, of rare form. From the beginnings of golf, much of the land was previously used for agriculture with slaves, but the emancipation proclamation really was the turning point where golf expanded. Large land masses all over America were turned into private golf courses. If you ever want to learn even more about the rich history of golf for the Black community, check out Uneven Fairways.
Here in Annapolis, and Anne Arundel County, golf had a unique place in history. Not far from Annapolis was the Langston Golf course on the banks of the Anacostia river. Langston GC was the first golf course to allow Black golfers! Some of the bests in the world came from right around our town.
Such as Albert Green, who in 1967 became the 1st African American to be a Head Pro at a municipal Golf course, Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville Maryland. Albert Green was Tiger Woods before Tiger woods. He also was the 1st African American to be a member of the Mid-Atlantic PGA (Professional Golf Association), and the first African American to ever play in the PGA Club Pro Championship. He gave me my first real full set of golf clubs, his own. I still have them! Albert Green had many notable victories such as the 1991 Senior Championship (MAPGA), the 1975 Walt Disney PGA Team Championship with Lee Elder his close friend, 40+ Mid-Atlantic PGA events, over 100 amateur events, and played in multiple U.S. Opens.
He would always tell us stories about how he would be offered 2nd place prize-winning earnings, to just not to play at all and go back to wherever he came from – just because he was Black! Or stories of how he would be in the lead over 10 stroked and golf tournaments would cancel the event saying it was raining, with no rain in sight. All to alleviate him from winning against whiter golfers and the optic that gave to society at large.
Albert Green, one of the first Black PGA Golfers in the U.S., also in 2007 became a member of the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in Atlanta Georgia. Clay Hunt, Billy Owens, Darryl Hunt, and many more, were all a part of the Generals Golf Association, formed at Eisenhower Golf Course in 1969 of Black golfers. The club was formed after the course opened under John Makell Director of Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation. Al Green was Head Pro, and his brother Frank Green was Foreman/Grounds Keeper. My Aunt Viola, Standola, and Pearl all worked the kitchen. It was a family affair. The club was named after the highway the course set on, Generals Highway.
The United States Naval Academy Golf course is nestled right in the heart of our historic African American Communities such as Mulberry Hill and Brownswoods on the Broadneck Peninsula. The course didn’t allow Blacks to play but only allowed them to caddy and carry the bags of white golfers. Black caddies/golfers were only allowed to play one day out of the week, and it was when all the legends came out and competed.
Born in Annapolis in 1939, Al attended Wiley H. Bates High School and graduated in 1958. Al also was a member of the United Golfers Association, a group of Black self-proclaimed professional golfers, affectionately known as the “Chitlin Circuit”. Al was a dominant competitor. The United Golfers Association (UGA) was a group of African American golfers who operated a separate series of professional golf tournaments for Blacks during the era of racial segregation in the United States. It was started in 1925 with the collaboration of several golfers who saw the need for an organized effort to increase golf amongst themselves. Many talented golfers such as Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller, Pete Brown, Renee Powell, Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford, Willie Brown Jr, Althea Gibson, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent, Ann Gregory, and Howard Wheeler started their careers as members of UGA. Albert started playing without any formal training in golf, he learned to play left-handed because someone gave him a left-handed set of golf clubs.
He lived a full, traveled the world, and one of his famous quotes was “To Always Do The Right Thing”. After his career at Eisenhower, he was appointed to a new role as Director of Golf at the Bahamas Princess Hotel and Casino in Freeport, Bahamas. H later returned home as lead operations at Langston Golf Course and Lake Arbor Country Club where I used to get dropped off at with him for the day in the summertime. This was my “Summer School”.
The golf season is upon us, and I hope to see all my people out there getting some golf in, engaging with the great outdoors, and enjoying some quality time with family and friends in green spaces!