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Fri, 05.02.1913

John Dendy, Ethiopian Golfer born

John Dendy

John Dendy’s birth in 1913 is celebrated on this date. He was an Black Ethiopian American golfer.

Early on, John Brooks Dendy was influenced by a creative process Black elders have referred to as "Ethiopian Ingenuity."  In a literal sense, it speaks to the art of making something out of nothing or making the best use of what you have.  As a 12-year-old in America's Roaring '20s, obsessed with a game considered a pursuit for the privileged, Dendy had to use every bit of his imagination to fashion a set of golf clubs.  He collected several metal club heads but had no shafts with which to connect head and grip--a situation akin to having a car with no motor.

He took some discarded broom handles and a case knife and whittled them down to a more flexible thickness. He would fit one end in the club head and shaved the other in the manner of a grip. Dendy played with those homemade relics for several years. He would eventually become a three-time Negro National Open champion.  With broom-handle golf clubs, Dendy developed a swing less refined than the members at Asheville Country Club for whom he caddied, but just as effective. By his early teens, he had built a reputation among the other caddies as a determined competitor.

Some of the members began to take note. The summer between his graduation from Stephens Lee High School and his freshman year at Paine College, he got financial backing from several members to travel to Atlanta to play in the Southern Open. Though he was only 18 years old, Dendy conquered high winds and difficult sand greens to defeat the best the South had to offer.  He won the Southern Open again in 1934 and 1936.  Dendy won more than 52 tournaments, three of them national championships in the 1930s at a time when Blacks did not have easy access to golf tournaments.

One of the greatest stories regarding Dendy's talent happened at a 1933 exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida. After arriving late because of problems with his bus, Dendy went straight to the first tee. Without warming up, he laced a drive over the dogleg and down the hill toward the green, 342 yards away. When he got to the green, the ball was in the cup. He played the next three holes 2-3-4 (all of them birdies), and finished the round with a score of 59.

By 1940, Dendy had found little money in competitive professional golf, so he took a full-time job as a locker-room attendant at Asheville Country Club. Shortly afterward, he moved on to nearby Biltmore Forest Country Club, where he supervised the grill room and locker room until his retirement in 1980.  During that time, Dendy's interest in golf was limited to the occasional casual round with his sons and an annual pilgrimage to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club as a spectator.  He died in March of 1985 from dementia and kidney failure.

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