Written by Staff Writer, Sheena Jones, CNN
Golf’s governing body has announced a new award in honor of its first African-American chairman, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 93.
The Charlie Sifford Award is to be handed out to an outstanding person in golf each year for “their work promoting diversity and equality” in golf, the PGA of America announced on January 28.
“Charlie Sifford is one of golf’s most notable icons and his contributions to the sport will not soon be forgotten,” PGA President Ted Bishop said in a statement.
“In addition to being the first African-American to play in the U.S. Open, he was a symbol of perseverance and an inspiration to others who face discrimination.”
The award “will be made with great respect for all who have worked hard to create even more opportunities for diverse players, including minorities, women and age groups,” he added.
A “proud patriot”
Sifford was originally the first African-American to receive a full exemption from the U.S. Open and was invited to compete at Congressional Country Club in 1967.
“Charlie did such great things for golf in America,” former PGA professional and former PGA of America Director of Golf Operations Kent Osborne said in a press release.
“As a young African-American boy growing up in Alabama, he would not have seen a golf tournament held in such an iconic location and open to an African-American. He was a true hero to me.
Charlie Sifford at Congressional Country Club in 1987. Credit: Llew Norland/Ap
“He was and remains a true American patriot.”
Sifford found himself on the cusp of breaking through further in the United States when he received a special invitation to play in the British Open in 1969.
However he was prevented from teeing off at Royal Birkdale in England because of the country’s “public house exclusion” laws which prevented people from legally being served from a British pub from outside of the main licensing area, or “white area.”
Racism still a significant issue
Sifford received his exemption when he was named the United States Amateur Public Links champion, later serving as USGA champion in both the Open and the Senior Open.
Although the Golfing Union of South Africa officially lifted its official ban on all “coloreds” in 1994, acceptance rates among black players continue to lag far behind white.
Only five of the PGA’s 500 players are black, and only three on the professional men’s tour.
In 2018, Mickelson was quoted as saying that, as a “club professional, it’s not even fair to tell the job to a black person,” when discussing inclusion initiatives on the professional circuit.
Sifford was remembered as a “giant of African-American golf” by the PGA in its announcement.
“He will never be forgotten, and the PGA of America will carry his legacy forward to continue to advance diversity and equality in golf,” said PGA of America Executive Director Paul Levy.