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Sun, 06.11.1939

The Langston Golf Course (Washington D.C.) Opens

*The opening of Langston Golf Course occurred on this date in 1939. Located in Washington, D.C., this facility was a benchmark in the growth of golf as a popular recreational and professional sport for African Americans.

The first tee that summer, the course served as a focal point for Black golfers in their effort, first, to encourage the development of golfing facilities for Black players and, later, to ensure equal access to and equal quality of recreational facilities operated by the National Park Service. The course is also significant as the home course of the Royal Golf Club and the Wake Robin Golf Club, the nation's first golf club for Black men and women. The development of the Langston Golf Course is also significant for its association with the efforts of Harold L. Ickes. He was Secretary of the Interior (1933-1941) and was to offer equal access to all public facilities for Black citizens.

The history and development of golf as a recreational pastime and professional sport are hinted at with the sport's "country club" image. For much of its history in the United States, golf has been perceived as the sport of a privileged few. For this reason, in the early years, the black golfer was somewhat anomalous and a departure from common perception. Yet an examination of golf's general history, and the history of Langston Golf Course, in particular, reveals a long and continuing chronology of Black participation, enjoyment, and excellence in the sport. Ironically, while golf's strict social hierarchy restricted Black golfers from the clubhouses, it did not prevent their access to some of the best golf courses in the United States. Serving as caddies, some Blacks regularly could be found on the golf courses where they advised their clients/customers regarding the best way to play a hole.

During the sport's formative years, the 1880s and 1920s, Black servants and hired laborers, shouldering the burden of golf bags and clubs, followed their white employers around the courses. This role was elevated to a skilled art form as the caddie became more important than just the "totter" of the bag. A skilled caddie became a premium in great demand. His course knowledge was important as each player took on the challenge. This knowledge was honed as the Black caddie played the course during slack time or on special days.

The golfing skill of the Black caddie was often recognized and even envied. In an undated article, Washington sportswriter Walter McCallum noted the skill of Black caddies; " These boys--no fooling--can get around any course ... in figures that would turn you green with envy. Scores like 70 and 71 slip off their clubs like magic, yet you never hear of them. Many golfers who think they are good would learn that bag totters could play golf." Early participation of Blacks in golf is also evidenced by the fact that a black golfer invented the golf tee in 1899, and Dr. George F. Grant, a prominent Black dentist and an avid golfer, was granted a patent.

Langston Golf Course was named to honor John Mercer Langston, the first Black person from Virginia to serve his state in the U. S. House of Representatives. Langston Golf Course opened with officials of the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service present and representatives of the local golf clubs. The golf course was touted as "modern in every respect," with bent grass greens. It was a victory for African American golfers in their efforts to gain golfing facilities. The professional player most often associated with Langston is Lee Elder, who became a fixture on the UGA circuit.

While golfers of many ethnic backgrounds frequent Langston Golf Course, it is traditionally and predominately played by Black golfers. Over the fifty-year history of Langston Golf Course, Black golfers have consistently been loyal to Langston as much from the tradition of playing golf there as from the strong emotional bond of their hardships and achievements in the long struggle that began in the mid-1920s for accessible golfing facilities of high quality.

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The road run straight with no turning, the circle runs complete as it is in the storm of peace, the all embraced embracing in the circle complete turning road... BLACK PEOPLE: THIS IS OUR DESTINY by Amiri Baraka.
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