By way of Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Instances
The highest shelf of the professional store on the Highland Park Golfing Route in Birmingham’s South Avondale space simply doubles as a corridor of reputation, a spot the place monogrammed golfing baggage of a number of notable avid gamers may also be discovered.
There’s the College of Alabama’s Justin Thomas and the College of Alabama at Birmingham’s Graeme McDowell. So, too, are Vestavia Hills, Ala., local Smylie Kaufman, in addition to Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth, all avid gamers at the Skilled Golfers’ Affiliation (PGA) Excursion.
Some may assume one bag—Lee Gurley’s—doesn’t belong as a result of he didn’t play at the PGA Excursion and didn’t garner the acclaim of the others at the nationwide scene. Those that know the sport know higher.
Gurley’s position amongst Birmingham’s golfing greats is easily established. He used to be one of the crucial first African American citizens to blaze a path at the cart paths, starting as a caddy after which as a participant and trainer. Even now, Gurley, 82, may also be discovered maximum days at Highland Park, the place he’s labored for the previous 45 years.
Many acknowledge him because the starter, the staffer who will get consumers’ rounds below approach. Some might consider him from his earlier stints as a caddy, a prepare dinner, and an icon who taught the sport on the golfing direction. What many don’t know is that Gurley shot a ranking of 58 about 10 years in the past to set the direction file at Highland Park—a mark that stood till Cincinnati, Ohio’s, Kevin Corridor, a deaf African American golfer, bettered that by means of one stroke about 5 years in the past.
However the soft-spoken Gurley is a part of a deeper tale, person who is going to the very roots of blacks within the recreation of kings.
In this day and age, golfing is at the minds of many in Birmingham and past. Simply final week, the Areas Custom introduced the most productive senior avid gamers on this planet to the Greystone Golfing and Nation Membership in Hoover. This week, everyone seems to be seeing inexperienced as Tiger Woods, contemporary off his go back to main golfing luck together with his 5th Masters Event championship, is pursuing main identify quantity 16 on the PGA Championship at the Black Route at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. With Woods dominating the nationwide scene and elevating the profile for golfers of colour, it’s a really perfect time to recall a number of of Birmingham’s black golfers who’ve earned their position in historical past at the hyperlinks.
“Attempted to Assist Momma”
Gurley stepped into the sport at age 8.
“I figured I’d get started caddying, seeking to assist my [mother and] make a bit cash,” he stated. “My dad had died, and I attempted to assist momma with my brothers and sisters.”
Regardless of being right-handed, Gurley began taking part in left-handed as a result of the ones have been the one golf equipment he may just get.
“You couldn’t to find right-handed golf equipment as a result of lots of the golfers have been right-handed, however you will discover left-handed golf equipment any place [because] possibly one or two golfers have been left-handed,” he stated.
That modified when Gurley moved to Connecticut and labored at Hartford’s Keney Park Golfing Route. The top professional there taught Gurley to play right-handed, and his recreation took off.
“I were given to be a just right golfer,” he stated. “I couldn’t hardly ever get no recreation then. No person sought after to play me. I used to be too just right.”
Gurley performed in tournaments all the way through New England for 25 years and ultimately turned into head professional for 10 years at Keney Park. In 1975, Gurley returned to Birmingham and ran the Beacon Hill Golfing Route in North Birmingham till it closed. It used to be one in all two classes the place blacks have been allowed to play, to begin with on a restricted foundation.
“Beats the Mall”
Frank Albert Bates, 85, has lived maximum of his existence at Birmingham’s Roebuck Golfing Route.
“It’s the place I used to be raised,” he stated. “I simply dangle available in the market. It beats going to the mall for me. It’s one thing to do, someplace to head.”
At about age 13 or 14, round 1947, he turned into a caddy at Roebuck, incomes 65 cents for 18 holes, in all probability up to $1.25 to $2: “It used to be only a method to earn money,” Bates recalled.
At the moment, caddies are uncommon on the facility. At top-name classes, the day charge could also be about $60; a caddy who is believed to have finished a just right task may just earn pointers of as much as $100.
Sooner or later, when Bates used to be about 16 or 17, he wasn’t content material to easily blank the golf equipment and supply yardage estimates to white golfers. He sought after to take part.
“We’d have to slide available in the market and play,” he recalled. “They’d chase us off the golfing direction in the event that they knew we have been available in the market. They’d provide you with a membership, or you’ll want to purchase them on the pawn store. On occasion we’d play with one membership, 3 or 4 people.”
Black caddies got an afternoon—normally Mondays, when the direction used to be closed—to play at personal classes, just like the Birmingham Nation Membership or Vestavia Nation Membership, however no longer at public classes like Roebuck.
“Beat it Round”
No longer each and every African American in metro Birmingham began out as a caddy. George A. Washington of Forestdale started as a 10th grader at A.H. Parker Prime Faculty.
“We didn’t have golfing crew at Parker Prime Faculty, we had a golfing membership,” he stated. “You recognize, just like the French membership or the Spanish membership. We had a golfing membership.”
The men’ guide took Washington and about part a dozen different scholars to the Cooper Inexperienced Golfing Route in Powderly Hills a couple of times a semester they usually “beat it round a bit bit.”
“[The advisor] had some previous golf equipment he’d allow us to use,” Washington stated. “We’d hit balls at the follow vegetables and possibly play a couple of holes. We were given an concept of what a golfing direction seemed like.”
That used to be about 1959. Again then, few other folks had televisions and there used to be little golfing on TV.
“After we have been rising up, we performed baseball, basketball, stickball, all varieties of balls,” Washington stated. “We additionally performed golfing. My uncle, who lived around the side road from [my childhood home], had a suite of golfing golf equipment. We beat them to loss of life—at the garden, sidewalk, any place. We performed with them within the yard. We put cans at the flooring [and] putted into them.
“At the moment, mainly, you didn’t have numerous individuals who even performed golfing or knew what golfing used to be.”
The Vulcan Membership
In this day and age, Washington is a member of the Vulcan Membership, which performs a couple of occasions every week. Membership contributors come with Jesse Lewis, Birmingham Instances founder and writer emeritus; Charles Townsend, retired Jackson-Olin (J-O) Prime most important; and Otis Windham Jr., who has served as an advisory board member for African American Golfer’s Digest mag since 2009. Windham used to be additionally event organizer and coordinator for the yearly Pete Ball Memorial Neck Bone Golfing Excursion in Miami, Fla., from 1998 via 2009.
Townsend, a trainer at J-O when he began taking part in golfing, ceaselessly accompanied bodily training lecturers to the Cooper Inexperienced direction to play 9 holes after college.
Lewis recalled running in sports activities advertising and marketing for Coca-Cola, arranging golfing occasions for blacks everywhere the rustic.
“I had wisdom of [the sport], however I needed to cross get some golf equipment and get started taking part in,” he stated, admitting that his biggest motivation used to be to assist his industry dealings. “If you’ll’t promote someone one thing in 4 or 5 hours, you’ll give it up.”