On Sunday July 19th the 16th Annual Original Tee Golf Classic will honor the 40th anniversary of Lee Elder’s participation in the prestigious Masters Golf tournament as the first African American golfer to do so.
As a member of the United Golfers Association (UGA), PGA of America (PGA), and the PGA Senior Tour, Elder will be honored with the "True Original Award," which will be presented to him by last year’s recipient supermodel Beverly Johnson. Recently I had the chance to chat with PGA Diversity head and Original Tee founder Wendell Haskins to discuss the tournament, this year’s honoree and the historical significance of Original Tee.
“The Original T Tournament is a tournament that started in 2000. I started it specifically to pay homage to African Americans in the game of golf,” Haskins explained. “The name ‘Original T’ is inspired by the inventor of the golf T by an African American man named Dr. George F. Grant. He was a Harvard Dental School graduate who patented the Original Tee in 1895. Golf places a lot of emphasis on tradition and history but people of color were often excluded from that history. But, there is a very rich history of African Americans in golf. This is designed to make sure people remember our contributions to the game and to make sure we expose the African American contributions to the game of golf.”
What is the True Original Award and who is eligible for it?
“Every year I have an honoree at my tournament. The first person I honored was Charlie Sifford. He broke the color barrier in golf and is often called golf’s Jackie Robinson. I helped him get the presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in my role at the Professional Golf Association of America. Then, I honored Dr. J, better known as Julius Erving, who is an avid golfer. I’ve honored Sam Jones, the legendary Boston Celtic, I’ve honored George Gervin better known as the Ice Man, I’ve honored Britney Powell, one of the first African American woman players to play on the LPGA tour, I’ve also honored Beverly Johnson, who last year was our honoree. She is the first African American super model and an avid golfer.”
“So, the criteria for people who receive the True Original Award, is that they’re a person who contributed to professional golf at a very high level or they’re an iconic person who has a real love and passion for the game of golf,” he continued. “This year our honoree is going to be Lee Elder. We’re honoring him for being the first African American to play in the Masters, which is one of the most prestigious tournaments in golf.”
He broke the color barrier at the Masters when he played at the 1975 Masters. We’re celebrating his 40 anniversary of playing in the Masters. He contributed to golf at its highest level. That’s pretty much a synopsis of Original Tee.
Although many of us are misled to believe that golf participation is at an all-time high among people of color, but that is something of misnomer. However, the PGA is hoping that the growth of youth golf will change all that.
“Golf has a bright future because we have so many young people who are playing the game now. The pipe line, I believe it is much stronger as far as the future is concerned. But, to be quite honest, there were more people of color playing on the PGA tour back in the 60s and 70s. You had Lee Elder, Sifford and a number of people playing on tour. Now Tiger Woods is one of the lone people of color on the PGA Tour. But now golf has grown tremendously and children see golf in a different way. Most of the Black players in the PGA Tour started off as caddies. A lot of them got exposed to the game as caddies but now we have youngsters who are playing the game competitively at an early age. It’s just going to take a minute to see them materialize at the pro level. But they’re in the pipe line. We hope to have more people of color playing at the highest level. The popularity is probably higher than it has ever been.”
And what of the future of golf among minority populous?
“We have junior league golf, which is pretty much a little league golf circuit. Kids can go to their local golf course and it takes a number of years for kids to matriculate from junior golf to more advanced golf. But it’s happening. The PGA Junior League is the Little League formula for golf so the tournament that we raise money for is the Original T League within the Junior League. Like, with Little League baseball you may have the local supermarket sponsoring a team, what I’m going to do is use the Original Tee Golf Tournament to help raise funds for the Original Tee Junior League team.”
The 16th Annual Original Tee Golf Classic will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Lee Elder’s history Masters’ debut at the Wild Turkey Golf Club in Hamburg, New Jersey on July 19.
The Original Tee Golf Classic features:
* A competitive golf tournament
* PGA professional instruction
* A Nine-Hole Youth Competition
* Various spectator activities
OTGC 2015 sponsors include Chico's, Mercedes-Benz, National Basketball Association (NBA), Zacapa Rum, Delta Airlines and Times Square Communications.
To register, visit www.originaltee.com.