Charles Sifford Becomes First African American to play on the PGA Tour

As February is Black History Month, it’s fitting to talk about Charles Sifford, the first African-American to play on the PGA tour.

Sifford was born in rural North Carolina in 1922. He started in golf as a caddie in the 1930s, making 60 cents/day. Of course, caddies get to play in their free time and by age 13, Sifford was frequently shooting par.

Charles Sifford won the National Negro Open five times in a row (1952-1956), while repeatedly being denied a PGA card. He was finally invited to the tour in 1960, when the PGA dropped it’s “Caucasian Only” rule, under pressure from the California attorney general.

Even though he was 39 when he joined the PGA, Sifford won two events–the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. He went on the become one of the original members of the Champions Tour in 1975.
Sifford made history again in 2004 when he became the first African-American inductee in the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida.

Two generations of African-American golfers are indebted to Mr. Sifford’s efforts. Tiger Woods was quoted at Mr. Sifford’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame as saying, “He has my respect and my gratitude for the sacrifices he made to open the doors to this great game to people of color.”

Charles Sifford (born June 2, 1922) was an African American professional golfer who helped to desegregate the PGA of America.

Sifford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He began work as a caddy at the age of thirteen. Later he competed in the golf tournaments that black golfers organized for themselves as they were excluded from the PGA of America, and worked as a personal golf coach for band leader Billy Eckstine. He first attempted to qualify for a PGA Tour event at the 1952 Phoenix Open, using an invitation obtained by former World heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and was subjected to threats and racial abuse there and at other tournaments. In 1957 he won the Long Beach Open, which was not an official PGA Tour event, but was co-sponsored by the PGA and had some well known white players in the field. He became a member of the Tour in 1961 and went on to win two official money events. He also won the 1975 PGA Seniors' Championship, then the leading tournament for golfers over fifty.

In 2004, Sifford became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He chose the fellow Hall of Fame member South African Gary Player to present him for induction. On June 22, 2006, he received an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews as a Doctor of Laws. He also received the 2007 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, GCSAA's highest honor.
In 2009, the Northern Trust Open created an exemption for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf; it is named in honor of Sifford and is referred to as the Charlie Sifford Exemption.