9 Questions With 2017 Book Award Winner Dr. Lane Demas
February 1, 2018 | Liberty Corner, N.J.
By Michael Trostel, USGA
Dr. Lane Demas is a history professor at Central Michigan University and the author of Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, which was named the winner of the 2017 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. Recently, Demas answered nine questions about the book, his research and the topic of golf and race.
What is your connection to golf?
I love the natural beauty of the game – being outdoors and having a chance to interact with friends or colleagues in a different setting. I do play, but not very well. I’d like to blame my young children for that, but that’s on me [laughs]. This project allowed me to learn a lot about the history of the game and better understand why people love it so much.
What interested you in this topic?
I picked up bits and pieces of evidence working on my first book about race and college football. One day I did a search of historical African-American newspapers and got more than 10,000 hits in the database. I thought the search engine might be broken. I was shocked at the amount of material and evidence there was on this subject. The more I researched, I realized that this was a topic that needed to be explored further.
Why did this book need to be written?
There have been hundreds of books written on the subject of race related to other sports like baseball and football, but golf is underserved in that regard. There are a few very good books out there by the likes of Calvin Sinnette and Pete McDaniel, but very little from full-fledged historians. I wasn’t that familiar with the game going in, so I came at it as an outsider. Because of that, I asked different questions such as, “How does the game fit into a broader picture of society?” that I thought needed more attention.
What stereotypes were you looking to challenge?
A lot of people think the story of golf and race begins with Tiger Woods, but it goes back more than 100 years and is a very important aspect of social history. I explored the roles that African Americans have played from the start to illustrate how they have left their stamp on the game in so many ways.
Where does Tiger fit into this story?
He’s certainly a major figure, but it’s complex. People want to make him the face of the movement, but it isn’t accurate to compare him to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Tiger’s accomplishments have been extremely significant, but there were so many others that came before him. He’s also uncomfortable only being referred to as black. His multiracial heritage is something that he has embraced from the beginning.
How did American society influence golf’s growth and evolution among African Americans?
There was fierce debate over the meaning of golf in black communities. No consensus was forged. For some, it was a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and pursuit for equality while others viewed the game as elite and inconsequential when compared to what was happening with the integration of schools and restaurants. Many black leaders were torn whether to put resources behind the fight to integrate golf courses or ignore the issue completely in fear of being viewed as out of touch with the community.
How did the African-American press treat the game in the Civil Rights era?
It’s fascinating how often the Chicago Defender, the most influential black newspaper, wrote columns on golf. It was covered in almost every issue. Black newspapers weren’t reporting on the professional tours, but they covered the game at a local level – courses that were available for blacks to play and even instruction tips for those who were just learning the game. In some places, it was an arena to fight integration. There was extensive coverage of the [Alfred “Tup”] Holmes case in Atlanta that forced the desegregation of the city’s public courses in the 1950s.
Why haven’t black golfers been given the recognition of other African-American athletes?
Golf and race is more complicated in a way. In a sport like baseball, you can point to one individual and a specific moment in time of when the color barrier was broken. There was also significant progress made in the decades to follow. With golf, the UGA [United Golfers Association] was the only outlet for African Americans who wanted to be professional golfers for more than three decades. The PGA [of America] didn’t integrate until 1961, but there were more black professional golfers in the 1960s and 1970s than there are today. We’re not seeing the same progress.
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
I hope it inspires them to read more African-American history. I use golf as a vehicle to tell an important social story. My goal is to promote better understanding, more conversations on race, and to push readers to challenge stereotypes.
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.