Barbara Douglas, who in 2009 became the first minority chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, died Jan. 27 in Glendale, Ariz., after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 69 years old.
Douglas was diagnosed with stage-4 ovarian cancer in March 2009, just one month after she was appointed Women’s Committee chairman, a dream come true after her 16 years of service as a committee member. Despite the disabling effects of treatment, which included chemotherapy, Douglas displayed tremendous courage and endurance as a proactive chairman who seldom missed a USGA women’s championship.
Four days after her diagnosis, Douglas endured more than five hours of surgery, and when she awoke immediately asked her surgeon if she could attend U.S. Women’s Open Media Day.
Throughout her battle, she scheduled treatments to fit her schedule of Women’s Committee duties, often serving as a walking Rules official in a 36-hole championship final, then flying to Scottsdale to begin another round of chemotherapy.
Last year, the Golf Writers Association of America honored Douglas with the prestigious Ben Hogan Award, which has been awarded annually since 1954 to an individual who continues to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness.
“When she wasn’t on the golf course, she was in the hospital,” said one GWAA member in nominating Douglas.
When the award was presented at the 2011 Masters, Douglas called it one of the highlights of her life.
When she spoke of her battle against the disease, Douglas said her lifelong positive outlook helped her in her fight. “Charles Swindoll, an American writer and clergyman, says, ‘Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,’ ” Douglas told the audience. “…I would not let ‘the big C’ control my life.”
Over her two-year term as Women’s Committee chairman while suffering from cancer, Douglas worked at two U.S. Women’s Opens, two U.S. Women’s Amateurs, two U.S. Opens, the Curtis Cup Match and the World Amateur Team Championship. Getting up every day wasn’t easy, she said, but “my focus on the positives kept me going. It fueled my fire and gave me the wherewithal to get up and get going.”
As an African American growing up in a primarily white neighborhood, Douglas was accustomed to challenges. Blessed with strong, supportive parents, Douglas shrugged them off.
“I’ve endured a lot of discrimination, both from being a female and a minority,” Douglas said in a 2009 interview. “But it’s never the first thing that comes to my mind.”
As a beginning golfer, she went alone to New York-area public courses and asked to be paired with other golfers, utter strangers to her. Still a new golfer, she entered a USGA national championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and surprised herself by qualifying. While she never advanced to match play, she qualified several times. In addition, she was on a fast career track as an executive with IBM and was president of the National Minority Golf Foundation for five years.
In 1992, she was named to the USGA Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship Committee and in 1993 became the first minority member of the USGA Women’s Committee. While she was soft-spoken and quietly pleasant, Douglas was a staunch defender of the game. At one WAPL, where she was championship chairman, several spectators behind the ninth green told her that they believed a father who was caddieing for his daughter had intentionally broken a Rule.
Douglas grabbed her copy of The Rules of Golf, striding quickly to the 10th tee. “I think I’m going to stay with this group,” she said, and followed the player and her father for the rest of the round.
During her two-year term as Women’s Committee chairman, Douglas worked hard to further involve state and regional golf associations as grass-roots supporters of the game and focused on growing the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program. In 2011, she was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame. After her term as Women’s Committee chairman ended in February of 2011, Douglas devoted more time to her career as a realtor and was able to spend more time playing the game she loved. But the medical treatments that had kept her going throughout 2009 and 2010 failed to keep pace with the disease in 2011 and she was often confined by side-effects.
Douglas is survived by her closest friend, Bob Tomisak of Glendale, Ariz., and a host of devoted friends from around the nation.
Donations in her memory may be made to the American Cancer Society. A celebration of Barbara’s life will be held at a later date.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.