Mark Nessmith This Week at August 24, 2005

Forget Wie, learn the untold
stories of golf's true pioneers

As managing editor, I get a look at all of the comments posted on our stories and blogs. Readers take sides, dig in their heels and go at it. One hot-button issue that surfaced recently was whether or not Michelle Wie is poised to serve as a pioneer for other Asian-Americans.

Reader Arnie chimed in writing, "the most laughable argument made by the Wie enamored media is that she's carrying the mantle for her race." Then, setting off a running debate of sorts, Jill shot back: "… yes she is carrying the mantle for other Asian Americans. How many successful Asian American golfers are out there?"

Arnie responded. Jill got angry. Others chimed in. Eventually, Arnie wrote: "Forgive me if I don't see Michelle Wie as exactly the Jackie Robinson of the Asian American community."

While I predict great things for Wie, like Arnie, I fail to see her as a pioneer in waiting. She’s simply a great golfer poised to earn a lot of money and (maybe) a lot of tournaments. Here in 2005 isn’t that the way it ought to be?

What really caught my eye was the Jackie Robinson analogy. It reminded me how little most folks know about the history of race relations in golf. Jackie Robinson was a true hero. But you know what? Golf has had many pioneering heroes of its own, and I'm not talking about Tiger Woods or even Lee Elder or Calvin Peete. The comment brought to my mind one of the best golf books I've ever read, Pete McDaniel's "Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf."

You may not know the name Bill Spiller but you should. He had serious game and a fiery temperament and found it impossible not to stand up to injustice. In part as a result of his efforts, the PGA of America eventually nixed its "Caucasian clause," paving the way for black golfers to play in tour events.

Down in Georgia in 1951, a courageous trio set out to integrate public tracks. C.T. Bell, Alfred "Tup" Holmes and Oliver W. Holmes decided they had every right to play at Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta. Not that easy, of course. "The head pro told us straight out … that they didn't allow no niggers," Bell is quoted as saying. After a good bit of plotting, a lawsuit was filed that made it all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in the golfers' favor Nov. 7, 1955. The case inspired similar efforts to desegregate courses in Florida and North Carolina.

I hope Jill and Arnie and the others continue to weigh in on Wie and Tiger and more. I also hope they'll go read McDaniel's great book. His second chapter begins: "like the unknown soldier, many African-Americans who contributed to the growth of the game in this country remain buried in history's tomb." That should change.

As always, welcomes your comments.

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