In August, historian Maggie Lagle and I had the opportunity to represent the USGA at the inaugural African American Golf Expo in Atlanta, Ga. The event included a weekend of golf followed by two days of special exhibits and numerous educational sessions on a wide range of topics.
The diverse attendees of the expo ranged in background from those who simply enjoyed golf to those who ran foundations and programs meant to grow the game. Maggie and I set up a display to share some of the most significant artifacts in the USGA Golf Museum and Library’s collection with attendees. As the museum’s curator, I have enjoyed escorting artifacts to various events and championships throughout the years, but this experience was one of the most fulfilling of my career.
The USGA has the world’s largest collection of golf artifacts that covers nearly every facet of golf history, including the collection and preservation of items related to the African American golf experience. Our longstanding commitment to sharing stories related to diverse communities paid off because we were able to bring a range of artifacts that showed how Black golfers have always been a part of golf history, even if their contributions have been largely overshadowed.
These artifacts spanned the entirety of American golf history beginning with a club made by John Shippen, who competed in the 1896 U.S. Open, to the towel used by Tiger Woods during the epic playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open. We brought items that belonged to barrier breakers like Althea Gibson, who was the first Black player on the LPGA Tour; Ann Gregory, the first Black woman to play in a USGA championship; and Bill Wright, the first Black USGA champion. We also highlighted artifacts that belonged to baseball player Jackie Robinson, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., Olympian Jesse Owens and boxer Joe Louis – celebrities who enjoyed golf and used their names and influence to change the game for the better.
Since we sent some of our most valuable artifacts to Atlanta for this event, we used an art shipping service equipped with temperature-controlled trucks to provide safe and secure transportation of the items. We flew to meet the artifacts the Sunday before the expo and, once the artifacts were in our possession, Maggie and I ensured they never left our sides. Even during an unexpected false fire alarm on the first day, I grabbed what I could carry and brought the artifacts outside to safety.
Late on Saturday afternoon, two women approached our booth and identified themselves as the daughter and granddaughter of Ted Rhodes, a Black golf pioneer who played in the 1948 U.S. Open. When they saw we were displaying a program from the Joe Louis Open, they mentioned that Rhodes often played in the event. I opened the case and started flipping through the program, hoping for a mention of his name that I could show them, when I came across a beautiful photo of Rhodes that neither had seen before. The pair told me stories about him and I promised to provide them a copy of the photo to add to their collection.