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When golf's 'Opens' weren't open to all

Posted by Ron Driscoll, Globe Travel Staff  February 11, 2009 03:05 PM

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When will Tiger Woods return to the PGA Tour? There’s no doubt that both fans and Tour sponsors are eagerly awaiting his comeback from leg surgery, even as Woods and his wife Elin rejoice in the birth of their second child, son Charlie, over the weekend. But what if Tiger had never picked up a club? We as Copy%20of%20siffordwoods.jpgsports fans would have lost out on the chance to see some of the most dominant and thrilling feats in the sport’s history. Tonight at 9 on Golf Channel, an hour-long documentary called “Uneven Fairways” debuts. The film chronicles an era when honor and fair play took a backseat to segregation, and discusses the African-Americans who struggled not only against their opponents but against a prejudiced society to play the sport they loved. Samuel L. Jackson narrates, and weaves a tale of pioneers such as John Shippen, recognized as the first African-American pro golfer, who competed in five US Opens, the first in 1896. Bill Spiller, one of the top African-American golfers of the 1940s and ’50s, was instrumental in the PGA overturning its “Caucasian Only” clause in 1961. Ted Rhodes, who with Spiller initiated litigation against the PGA's clause, won an estimated 150 tournaments on the United Golf Association, which many liken to the Negro Leagues in baseball. Woods himself calls Charlie Sifford (above with Tiger), the first African-American member of the PGA Tour in 1962, “the Jackie Robinson of our sport.” When asked about meeting baseball pioneer Robinson, Sifford recalled, “He [Robinson] asked me if I was a quitter, and I told him no. He said, ‘All right, if you are not a quitter, go ahead and take up the game, but you are going to run into some obstacles that you are going to wish you hadn’t.’ But I never did quit.” In paying tribute to the pioneers, Woods said, “If it wasn’t for their focus and dedication to the game of golf, my father probably wouldn’t have played because he wouldn’t have had access to the game…so, in essence, I owe my entire career to them and their pioneering efforts.” That puts all golf fans in their debt. To learn more, go to www.GolfChannel.com/uneven-fairways. The show will air several more times this month.

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