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Jackson Park Golf Association Symposium Recap & Video Highlights - November 6, 2017
Compelling Local History Resounds Within Renewed Aspirations Beyond the Game
December 2nd, 2017
On Monday November 6th, a symposium hosted by the Jackson Park Golf Association (JPGA) drew a standing-room only crowd exceeding 200 in South Shore Cultural Center’s Solarium for a unique celebration of urban golf. Attendees included both golf enthusiasts and non-golfers; showcasing a diverse crowd of community leaders and residents of all ages.
Pete McDaniel, Author of Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African Americans in Golf, visited Chicago to share his vast appreciation for Black Golf history and ideas to spur participation, scholarships and golf industry careers on the South Side. Radio Host Matt McGill moderated a panel discussion with McDaniel joined by: Miljan Akin, Co-Founder of the Ebony Ladies Golf League who continues playing at age 85, Craig Bowen, Head Coach of Men’s Golf at Chicago State University, Harry Gilliam, a Golf Instructor who has worked with Jackson Park Junior Golfers for 30 years with 7 of his students earning scholarships to play in college, and Mark Rolfing, NBC Golf Channel Analyst and Founder and President of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. The panel discussion can be viewed in its entirety here, with many video highlights from the evening linked below.
Miljan Akins encouraged attracting kids to the game at a young age based upon her 60 years of service with the Chicago Women’s Golf Club’s Bob-O-Links Junior Golf program. She energetically declared, “I still love the game as much as the first day I played at age 17. Get kids used to swinging the club and just keep it up.”
McDaniel, a National Black Golf Hall of Fame inductee, elaborated, “Stories of African American golfers must be told. If you teach children their history, they will take pride in it and carry it into the future.” Recounting personal experience, McDaniel stated, “Golf opened up a whole new world of endless possibilities, and combined with my writing skills made me who I am today.”
Prior to coaching college golf, Craig Bowen leveraged his role as a Promotions Manager for Titleist and FootJoy to advocate for the expansion of golf programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). While with the company, he organized grants and equipment donations to support golf team at HBCUs. Bowen, who also serves as President of the Black Golf Coaches Association, described the multitude of golf scholarships available at HBCUs particularly for female students. He went on to list various golf career paths, while calling for better representation of African Americans within the industry: “Every major golf manufacturer needs accountants, business people, engineers and researchers…but if you walk in the door of the golf companies, there’s not many folks that look like us; simply because we just don’t know that those opportunities exist.”
Harry Gilliam expanded upon the importance of educating children about golf as a “tool of life” in order to energize them about the game. Referencing a job interview setting with five similarly qualified candidates, but one who plays golf, Gilliam tells his students the golfer will gain a unique advantage in connecting with corporate executives. Gilliam also credited golf for sharpening his focus during graduate studies in biology and service in the military.
Mark Rolfing stressed the importance of public, urban facilities for growing the game of golf. “We can create a model for the future of sustainable urban golf here on the South Side. Chicago is simply the greatest golf town in America, and deserves to have the greatest youth golf initiatives of any town in America.” He noted “accessibility and exclusion” as key factors which hindered golf’s path to becoming a mainstream sport. Comparing golf to sports with more racially diverse superstars, Rolfing declared, “One of the problems that I believe golf is facing is that the stars of the game do not reflect the face of America.” He complimented the strength of the diverse golf community assembled by Jackson Park Golf Association, with optimism toward bringing better visibility to the game.
McDaniel emphasized that Tiger Woods was not the first Black golfer to succeed on the PGA Tour; naming Ted Rhodes, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Pete Brown and Renee Powell (LPGA) among those who preceded him. Prompted by McDaniel to describe African Americans he competed against while playing professionally in the 1970s, Rolfing recalled Charlie Owens as an example of the determination that characterized many self-taught minority golfers who excelled at top levels. He lauded, “Charlie grew up playing the game cross-handed and went on to win a tournament on the Senior PGA Tour, and it was purely because of his determination.”
The event was also a compelling history lesson on the impact Chicago’s Black golf pioneers achieved for others nationwide. McDaniel proclaimed, “In many ways. Black Golf could refer to Chicago as its birthplace.” Foremost, Walter Speedy, known as “the father of golf in Chicago” and the city’s first champion Black golfer in the early 1900s, spearheaded efforts to integrate Chicago’s public golf courses. In 1910, Speedy sued the Chicago Park District to play in a tournament at Jackson Park. Later in 1915, Chicago’s “Pioneer Golf Club” hosted the first ever Negro National Golf Tournament at Marquette Park, which Speedy won. Fellow Chicagoan Robert “Pat” Ball went on to become a four time winner of the National Negro Open. These local trailblazers also competed valiantly against golfers of all races. Ball won the Cook County Amateur as well as qualified for the Western Amateur and United States Golf Association’s National Public Links Championship. Ball’s Wife, Cleo won the female division of the National Negro Open in 1941. Speedy’s wife Nettie George, a writer for the Chicago Defender, was the first Black woman to play golf in Chicago and one of the first to play in the country. Friendship flourished between these noteworthy golf couples, leading to the creation of the Windy City Golf Association and Chicago Women’s Golf Club, as well as an indoor golf school opened by Pat Ball at 42nd & Michigan.
Andre Stephens Sr., the great grandson of Walter and Nettie George Speedy, traveled from Arkansas to deliver a rousing conclusion for the JPGA Symposium: “Golf has such an
impact on the intelligence and demeanor of our young people.” and sharing his family’s legacy that “this game will change your life.” Stephens’ complete remarks were streamed live via Facebook, with vast circulation since the event.
Striking another inspirational tone, Jackson Park Golf Association’s junior golfers and caddies were recognized for their achievements and character both on and off the golf course. Diane Meades, Director of the Fairway Network (a group of prominent business women focused on golf as a vehicle to develop valuable new contacts to advance their career and community service endeavors), complimented the performance and demeanor of the caddies who participated in the Western Golf Association’s Summer 2017 Caddie Program at Jackson Park Golf Course.
Raquel Simpson (age 15), winner of two consecutive Girls City Junior Amateur Championships at Jackson Park, thanked JPGA for opportunities to develop her skills as well as to caddie over the summer. Describing her golf experience as an African American girl, Simpson prides herself upon “a responsibility to represent our culture in a sport we don’t usually dominate and prove I can succeed like everybody else.”
Abdel Raoul (age 17), winner of the City Junior Amateur Championship at Jackson Park in 2015 and 2016, represented the First Tee of Greater Chicago in a national tournament at Pebble Beach during September 2017. He is excited for prospects of Tiger Woods redesigning his home course. “To have Tiger design a golf course is an honor, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Louise McCurry, President of Jackson Park Advisory Council complimented the event: “A powerful stakeholder forum with resounding messages of kids and education, bringing
light to a mostly unknown community history. The visually large crowd showing diverse community support is why Jackson Park Advisory Council is working hard to tell everyone about the positive impact the Jackson Park/South Shore golf course restoration project will have on youth and our community.”
Dorothy Che-Menju of Jackson Park Golf Association, notably summarized the event’s themes of character, scholarships, and careers, “In golf they teach you about integrity to become a better person, and all of that comes out in these kids.”
The Chicago Parks Golf Alliance is proud to support the Jackson Park Golf Association. They can be followed on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JPGAChicago/ with further information available via email to Cassandra Curry (firstname.lastname@example.org).