Charlie Sifford: Appreciating Golf’s Version of Jackie Robinson

Mar 1995: Charlie Sifford studies a shot in the FHP Health Classic at the Ojai Inn Country Club in Ojai, California . Mandatory Credit: J.D. Cuban /Allsport
Mar 1995: Charlie Sifford studies a shot in the FHP Health Classic at the Ojai Inn Country Club in Ojai, California . Mandatory Credit: J.D. Cuban /Allsport /

As Black History Month winds down it is important for us to recognize the achievements of African-American golfers throughout history. Like the man who started it all, Charlie Sifford.

Tiger Woods may be the obvious name that comes to mind for this discussion, but just talking about him would be a major disrespect to all of the other African-American golfers that have left a lasting legacy on the sport, as Charlie Sifford did and has done.

The history of Golf is a long storied history that dates back to 15th century Scotland, and thanks to that long history golf has acquired many legendary players who have each left a mark on the game. From Old and Young Tom Morris, to Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and on to Tiger Woods these legends loom large over the golfing world.

The 1960s were pivotal years in American History, highlighted by Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. The sixties were also a great decade for golf and the decade was dominated by the “Big Three” Player, Palmer, and Nicklaus. For all the greatness that these men achieved the greatest achievement of golf in the 1960s came from someone else, Charlie Sifford.

More from Pro Golf Now

Charlie Sifford is golf’s Jackie Robinson, breaking the PGA’s color barrier in 1961, fourteen years after Robinson broke baseball’s barrier. Sifford was an accomplished golfer on the United Golf Association (UGA) where he won the National Open six times including five years in a row.

The UGA was a professional golf tour for African-American men and women, it was founded in the 1920s in response to the PGAs “Caucasian Only” Clause. According to, The Caucasian Only clause was in place from 1934-1961 and was removed at the 1961 PGA Annual Meeting. Charlie Sifford became the first African American to play on the PGA Tour, he would later win three tournaments, all while fighting adversity from crowds.

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times wrote a fabulous piece on Sifford in 2011. In this piece, Plaschke quotes from an interview with Sifford…

"“This was just never a black man’s game… It’s just too hard, too expensive. You can’t just walk out off a caddie pen and play; you have to go to college. It’s too much for most African American kids.”"

At the time of Plaschke’s article in 2011, there were only two African-American players on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods and Joseph Bramlett. There is still a major disparity between the number of African-American golfers on Tour compared to the total number of golfers.

Charlie Sifford has helped pave the way for African-American golfers to play on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods and Harold Varner III are helping to pave the way for future generations of golfers as well. Golf is an amazing sport and pastime with a passionate following, however, what we must realize is that not everyone can enjoy the game of golf, and in some cases, a set of golf clubs is simply unattainable.

According to a Golfweek article from 2018, the average cost of an 18-hole round of golf with a cart was $36. This was for public golf courses, as private courses are generally much more expensive. The same Golfweek article stated that the cost of green fees at the prestigious courses TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach can run between $495-635.

For a large majority of the country, these prices are enough to turn them away, spending nearly $500 on four or five hours of golf! That is outrageous.

Sifford’s quote about the cost of golf is something that we all must take to heart. Surely, there is a way to make golf cheaper for everyone, right? Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, the only African-American to be inducted.

His legacy will be forever immortalized in the Hall of Fame, but hopefully, his legacy is never forgotten. Other giants of the game have been honored with tournaments, and awards named after them. In order to honor Charlie Sifford and Black History month, perhaps the PGA Tour should rename a February tournament after Charlie Sifford rather than a major corporate sponsor.

Best Golfers: Ranking the 10 greatest short games all-time. dark. Next

Want to learn more about the achievements of other African-American golfers? There are a couple of great places to check out, including the USGA’s timeline on “Barrier Breakers”, as well as another section on their site with a fantastic piece relating to Sifford done by Rhonda Glenn.