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Sun, 06.11.1939

Langston Golf Course 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 off 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 clubs 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 is hinted 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 1880's and 1920's, 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 knowledge of the course was important as each player took on the challenge. This knowledge was honed as the Black caddie played the course during the slack time or on special days.

The golfing skill of the Black caddie was often recognized and even envied. In an undated article, Washington sports writer 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, and yet you never hear of 'em. Lots of 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, 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 was present, along with 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 Americans 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 been consistently loyal to Langston as much from the tradition of playing golf there as from the strong emotional bond of their hardships and their achievements in the long struggle begun in the mid-1920's for accessible golfing facilities of high quality.

Reference:
Langston Golf Course

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