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Archive for February, 2011

African Americans have impacted golf

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun News 02/25/11

Most everyone knows that February is African – American history month, but few of my fellow golfers realize what a significant role African American golfers have played in the American golf scene.

While researching this article, I came across a multitude of websites dedicated to African – American golfers.  National organizations such as the United States African – American Golf Association (USAAGA), United Golf Association (UGA), and the United States Black Golfer’s Association (USBGA, support the growth of the game for everyone. 

Earlier this month, the USGA and PGA jointly announced that they will create a “centralized repository for artifacts and documents related to the history of African Americans in golf, to be located at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.”  Along those lines, The Aesop Robinson Golf Association (ARGA) website contains a concise listing of significant people and events involving African-Americans.  I would imagine the USGA/PGA task force will research these events and more for their collection:

  • John Shippen became the first black to play in the U.S. Open in 1896.  He began the event’s second day tied for the lead, but succumbed to a disastrous 11 on the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
  • In 1899, George Grant developed the golf tee.  He received a patent, but the prominent Boston Dentist did not market it.  He therefore was not credited for the invention.
  • George Adams became a founding member of the United Golf Association in 1925.  The UGA primarily provided a series of golf tournaments for African – Americans at a time when they were prevented from playing with whites.
  • Joseph Bartholomew designed and supervised construction of a number of golf courses – many of which he was prevented from playing.  The John Bartholomew Golf Course is a New Orleans municipal layout that Bartholomew designed.  Renovations, required by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina are nearing completion.
  • Ann Gregory was the first African – American woman to compete in a USGA championship when she played in the 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur.  She was known as the “Queen of Negro Golf”.
  • Althea Gibson was not only the first African – American Woman to play on the LPGA, but was probably best known for her play on the world tennis tour.  Gibson was also the first black woman to play on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title in 1956.  After retireing from tennis, Gibson seriously developed her golf game.  Although she was much older than most of the other competitors, she joined the LPGA tour in 1964.  Her best showing was a tie for second after a three-way playoff for the 1970 Len Immke Buick Open at the age of 43. 
  • It took Charlie Sifford nine years to desegregate the PGA tour.  In 1952 he used an invitation obtained by Joe Louis to play in the Phoenix Open.  Although he was subject to threats and racial remarks, Sifford would not be deterred.  In 1957 he won the Long Beach Open.  It wasn’t a full PGA event (only co-sponsored), but there were several well-known white players there.  Finally, in 1961 he was granted full membership on the PGA tour.
  • Lee Elder is probably best known as the first African-American player at the Masters in 1975.  Elder had a difficult childhood which included the loss of his father in World War II and his mother only a few months later.  It seems that golf may have saved him as a young man as he caddied and played occasionally when he could.  After being discharged from the Army in 1961, he joined the United Golf Association Tour.  At one stretch he won 18 of 22 consecutive events, but probably didn’t win more than $10,000 dollars in total.  In 1967 he raised the money to participate in the tour qualifying school.  He finished 9th out of 122 players and was awarded his tour card.  Lee’s wife, Rose Harper, was an accomplished player on the women’s UGA circuit herself.  She is also a member of the USGA/PGA task force mentioned above. 
  • Clyde Martin was a very good player that you probably haven’t heard of.  As with many professionals, Martin began his career caddying.  In the 20’s he caddied at the Congressional Country Club.  Caddying allowed him to play occasionally.  Eventually, the Club’s renowned PGA professional Tommy Armour noticed Martin’s skill and began to arrange matches for him against visitors looking for a cash game.  He rarely lost, but was never afforded the opportunity to play in national competition.  In 1939, Clyde Martin was named club professional at the newly created (and segregated) Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C.
  • Carl Jackson caddied in his 49th Masters Tournament in 2010.  His goal is to caddie in 50 Masters.  He will accomplish this goal this year when he carries Ben Crenshaw’s bag.  Crenshaw has employed Jackson in 34 Masters Events including his two wins in 1984 and 1995.
  • When Bill Powell was denied access to public golf courses in 1946 after returning from serving in the armed forces, he decided not to fight ‘em, but to join ‘em.  With the financial backing of two black physicians and his brother, he bought a 78 acre dairy farm in East Canton, Ohio.  After doing much of the work himself with his wife’s assistance, the 9 hole course opened in 1948.  Clearview Golf Club was the first golf course developed by an African – American, but Powell welcomed players of all races.  Eventually Powell expanded to 18 in 1978 and then in 2001 the property was designated a national historic site.  Bill Powell died about a year ago at the age of 93.  His daughter Renee Powell is also on the USGA/PGA task force mentioned above.

In 2011 there are only five professional golfers of African American ancestry participating in the various US tours:

  • Shasta Averyhardt (LPGA Tour)
  • Joseph Bramlett and Tiger Woods (PGA Tour)
  • Jim Dent and Jim Thorpe (Champions Tour).

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Guest commentary: Caddyshack lives at AT&T Pro Am

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 02/17/2011 04:06:50 PM MST

 The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am came to a wonderful conclusion this past weekend as Bill Murray and partner D.A. Points came out on top.Murray’s victory at the “Clambake” seemed to supersede Point’s first professional win. I found myself wondering what that said about the event.

The tournament originated because Bing Crosby wanted to give his fellow members at Lakeside Golf Club in Los Angeles a chance to play with the 50 to 60 professional players that wintered on the west coast. Instead of Lakeside, he ended up conducting the first tournament in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club near his home in Southern California. Unfortunately, the weather was a big factor and the tournament was limited to 18 holes. The fun apparently began as a result of the rather “ducky” weather when bored golf pros began shooting ducks on the pond next to the 18th green. Once the ducks flew away, the pros started shooting at older brother Larry Crosby’s hat.

Although the website describes the tournament as four-parts professional golfers and one-part show business and sports celebrities, it has always seemed equally fun and serious competition to me. So many things have happened there – especially with the weather. I remember watching my first “Crosby” on television, perhaps it was the 1962 event, when flashy dresser Jimmy Demaret peered out the window in his room to see a blanket of snow on the ground. “I knew I got loaded last night, but how did I wind up at Squaw Valley,” he deadpanned.

I remember watching the tournament on television – probably that year. Snow was falling to the ground on the 18th fairway.Wind and rain has been a huge challenge at the Crosby/AT&T. In 1952 Cary Middlecoff told the Scottish-born pro at the time that the wind was blowing so strong that he couldn’t keep his ball on a tee. The pro, Peter Hay, replied, “Show me in the rule book where it says you have to tee up the ball. Now get back out there and play.” In 1962 after a particularly wet round, Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan and Olympic swimming fame pronounced, “I’ve never been so wet in my life.”

Perhaps the guy that made Bill Murray’s shtick acceptable was entertainer and Crosby pal Phil Harris. Phil was known to combine his first vice, whiskey, with his second – golf. One year, he appeared on the first tee declaring he was the pro from “Jack Daniels Country Club.” Perhaps his fun began in 1951 when Harris dropped a 90-foot putt at the “dumbbell” shaped 17th and yelled over to Crosby, “How about that, Bing. Ain’t this a helluva blow to clean living?”‘ Perhaps my funniest personal memory was of Bryant Gumbel getting a “birdie” on the 17th as his tee shot brought down a seagull. The Today show crew ragged on him relentlessly the next week.

Even the broadcasters got into the act. Highly respected Olympic’s telecaster Jim McKay reported in 1969, “And now here’s Jack Lemmon, about to hit that all-important eighth shot.” Having CBS broadcast the last several events with Feherty and McCord just adds to the merriment.

There have been some very noteworthy winners, but of the professionals, Mark O’Meara is known to be the best at handling the courses, but mostly the format. He won in ’85, ’89, ’90, ’92 and ’97. Memorable celebrities that have won are Phil Harris, Kenny G, Andy Garcia, Kerry Packer, Jack Wagner, Dan Marino, George Brett, Frank Tatum and Dean Spanos. Everyone pulled for Lemmon to win – he played for many years and came close toward the end of his appearances, but never did pull it off. Also a sentimental favorite was Nathaniel Crosby who won the U.S. Amateur at 19 years old, but was never able to play well in the event his father founded. Bill Murray is probably the most iconic golf comedian to ever win the tournament, perhaps to ever even play in the event. His role in “Caddyshack” as Carl Spackler, greenskeeper, at the fictional Bushwood Country Club has cast him as a golf nut for the rest of his life.

As the tournament wound down at the 18th, Murray wasn’t playing his best, nonetheless, he found himself with a medium-length putt when he finally reached the green. As he lined it up, Bill morphed into Carl. His impromptu monologue went something like “This crowd has gone deadly silent, a Cinderella story outta nowhere. Former greenskeeper and now about to become the AT&T Pro-Am champion.”

Carl Spackler would have been proud.

Murray gets his name on a plaque of pro-am champions in the wall below the first tee at Pebble Beach – perhaps Bushwood would be apropos as well. By the way, the original Caddyshack was four-hours long. I can’t wait for TCM’s “Director’s Uncut Version”!

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Guest commentary: The LPGA – on the verge of what?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 02/10/2011 04:40:03 PM MST


The 2011 Professional Golf Tour is in full swing right?Not quite. By the time the LPGA plays its first tournament, the PGA will have played six. This during one of golf’s highest television viewing periods of the year!

Those northerners just love to torture themselves watching green grass, short skorts and waving palms. And yet, Michael Whan can’t seem to find sponsors for January. Meanwhile, he seems to be busying himself and his staff with a charity event – “RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup” scheduled for March 18th. This event will net the player’s zilch. It brings in past LPGA stars and up and coming stars from the Futures Tour. While RR Donnelly appears to be a very good supporter of the LPGA, and Micheal Whan gets good vibes for generating funds for girl’s junior golf, the tour continues to falter. It seems that Whan feels he needs to bring in other personalities to promote the world’s best women players. Huh?

Last week the LPGA announced the 2011 Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico was being dropped as an LPGA event due to drug violence concerns. If recent news reports for Guadalajara are accurate, one has to wonder if Lorena Ochoa’s event might be the next to fall. The Tres Marias was scheduled for April 21-24. The LPGA lists 27 events for 2011 on their website. The loss of the Tres Marias Championship brings the total number of tournaments down to 26. One of the 26 is the Founders Cup and another is the Solheim. Neither of these will be of much direct benefit to 90 percent of the tour players.

The reality is that the LPGA lost at least four tournaments since last year when they had 27. The Tres Marias, CVS, Jamie Farr and Mojo 6 were all deep sixed. As I have reported previously, for 2011 they are offering up a new event – The LPGA Taiwan Championship – but that of course is in Taiwan. The Founder’s is new as well, but as a charity event, I don’t see how we can count it. Since 2008, the LPGA has lost 14 events – nearly all of them from American soil. That’s over 35 percent of the tour.

It’s happening because of the economy. That was my first thought, and probably yours as well. However, the PGA is projecting 51 events this year. In 2008, they scheduled 50 events. So what gives?

Women’s sports just don’t sell.  We hear that often enough.  Just for fun, I decided to take a look at the WNBA.  In 2008, there were 14 teams.  In 2010 the league has 12 teams.  So yes, they have retracted some, but only at a 15 percent rate – much less than the more than 35 percent of the LPGA.  In Women’s professional tennis, the WTA has dropped three events from 60 in 2008 to 57 in 2011.  Well, okay, I concede that women’s sports just do not sell as well.  But wait, wasn’t it American marketing that achieved selling something that is free to everyone?  By the way, speaking of water, the town of Concord, Massachusetts recently banned the sale of bottled water.

The women do have some challenges that the PGA doesn’t have. Foremost on most people’s minds is the problem of marketing foreign players. But other sports have to deal with a wide ranging international field. At the recent Australian Tennis Open, Li Na became the first Chinese nationalist to reach a Grand Slam final. Her interview after winning in the semis was nothing short of entertaining and fun. If you haven’t seen it, check it out on YouTube.

She does speak English, but as you might expect, she is a little difficult to understand and yet her personality and confidence comes shining through. Do Australians embrace diversity better? Are international women professional tennis stars just more confident and outgoing? Personally, I think that the LPGA could take some pointers from the WTA. Last week, a Facebook friend posted a golf lesson video featuring Hee Young Park. The South Korean LPGA tour player appears confident, fun and outgoing even though the lesson is totally in Korean! And yet, I didn’t recognize her name. The LPGA just isn’t doing enough to publicize the personalities on tour. We hear about the English speaking girls, but when they don’t win it only alienates American fans. Being fluent in English isn’t necessary. Having traveled internationally myself, I can tell you I’ve connected with people from France, Austria, Switzerland and Vietnam although they spoke little or no English. The key is that it takes more effort than we usually are willing to exert. The LPGA needs to work harder getting us acquainted with the women that play their tour. They indicate on their website that last year there were 161 players. Of those, 127 were from 28 countries outside the United States. Nearly 80 percent of the players are from countries outside of the U.S.

The LPGA as we know it may or may not survive these tough times. One thing I do know is that devoting energy to charity tournaments won’t “pay the bills” of the LPGA pros. While some have spoken highly of the move by Whan, I can’t imagine that most are pleased with playing an event that gives them no chance of cashing a pay check. Take note that when Jason Bohn won the Zurich Classic on the PGA tour last year, he won more money for one tournament than all but eight LPGA players won during the 2010 SEASON. Perhaps the PGA should take over the founders cup where the players could really use a tax deduction.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Guest commentary: Frozen greens – to play or not to play

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 02/03/2011 09:39:51 PM MST


This week’s inclement weather has put a crook in our golf games. Enjoying golf year-round is one of the reasons I chose to move to Las Cruces. I wanted the mild weather, but most of all, I wanted to be able to enjoy the outdoors and challenge myself as golf can only do.A recent article in the USGA’s Green Section Record commented on winter golf. From a Superintendent’s point of view, winter golf isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re an avid golfer you probably realize that frost delays are a part of the game. If you’ve ever seen frost damage, you know why. Typically, it appears as footsteps across turf. When you walk across frost-covered turf the grass leaf blades break instead of bend. The damage you see is the bruising and rupturing of the cell walls. Often this can result in the plant being severely damaged or killed. When you consider that the average player takes 60 steps on any given green and you extrapolate that out to a dozen foursomes, some real damage can result.

We don’t see a lot of frost here because we have such a dry climate, but we do see frozen green surfaces. There seems to be a lot of disagreement about the damage that is done in this situation. There is a faction that believes that frozen turf and root zones are blocks of ice – and what can you do to blocks of ice – right? This might be true – at least where the surface and three-to-four inches into the root zone are completely frozen. Even then, the USGA cautions that play should be maintained at very light levels – and how many people would want to play when it’s that cold anyway?

Our usual January and February daily weather cycle here in Cruces is overnight lows in the mid-20s, followed by a fairly quick afternoon warm-up into the 50s and low 60s. When this happens we typically end up with a thin frozen layer. According to the USGA this can present the most damaging conditions since traffic – foot and machines – exert lateral pressure which can sever the plant from its roots at the bottom of the freeze-line.

Since the greens in this area are nearly dormant, the damage isn’t immediately revealed. When temperatures warm enough for the green to start actively growing, those patches that are slow to transition are actually damaged from playing on frozen greens.

Winter greens in this area aren’t too good anyway and if you’ve played early in the morning – before they have thawed – you know it’s not much fun either. Approach-shots won’t hold and pitches and chips are totally unpredictable. Why not just wait until the temperature rises enough for them to thaw completely? I believe you’d give the turf a break and probably improve your handicap as well. If you find yourself on the course and the greens are still frozen, try to stay off the greens as much as possible, and by all means avoid twisting your feet. It’s pretty hard to blame course managers since most courses are struggling and a green fee is a green fee. As long as there is a demand, I imagine they’ll be open.

The weather of the last few days has been horrible for play, but actually not too bad for the courses. The snow acts somewhat as a blanket and there is probably some very slight melting under there which is helping to keep the grass hydrated. The real danger around here is with winter desiccation. If the turf is exposed to lots of wind it can be dried out and the crown killed. That’s why you might see irrigation taking place even on dormant bermudagrass.

Back in New England, the winter they are having is probably scaring the Superintendents half to death. When snow has been on the ground continuously it’s not unusual for an ice layer to form between the snow and the ground. If the ice is in place for more than 60 days, the result can be an anaerobic condition that seriously damages turf by suffocation or anoxia. Poa annua, also known as simply “poa” or annual bluegrass, is generally killed when it is covered by ice for more than 60 days and bentgrass for more than 90 days. Patches of winter kill can result from many factors – including dessication on rises and raised greens, while low ice covered areas can be killed by suffocation. Either way, poa annua can’t generally take the extremes, but it is a prolific seed producer and the seed can remain viable for much longer than most other grasses. This often leads to a vicious winter kill cycle.

It’s easy to forget that the carpet-like surfaces we play on are alive. At this time of year we should think twice about playing during those freeze/thaw cycles – only an extra hour or two wait can spare those greens and result in better putting surfaces earlier this coming Spring.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Guest Commentary: What it takes to be a good caddie

By Mary Armstrong / For the Sun-News

Posted: 01/28/2011 01:03:01 PM MST


Through the years I have learned that I should never offer myself as a caddie. It’s not a simple job and the physical part is the easiest of all. Sometime ago, I came upon a book written by professional caddie Anderson Craigg.”Professional Golf Caddie Secrets Revealed” can truly put you on the path to becoming a professional caddie. But it’s also a great resource for learning better behavior on the course as a player – how to be efficient in your movements and wise in your actions.

Let’s say you decide to help out a friend and caddie for them at a Sun Country Tournament. First of all, you should check that caddies are permitted. Secondly, you and your friend should have a clear understanding of what your “caddie” duties will entail and then not vary from that commitment. My suggestion would be not to do anything but carry their bag. The rules for caddies are not necessarily the same as if you were playing and you can easily put your friend into a bind if you don’t know what you are doing. If your friend wants to chitchat, great, but I would steer clear of talking to the other competitors. One wrong sentence such as, “Hey Chuck, what’d ya hit there?” could add penalty strokes to your boss’ score.

But if you insist on doing the whole gig, I suggest a lot of studying and doing a trial run. If there is a practice round for the event, I wouldn’t use that as your first time around the course because you need more experience to get to know the elements and for strategizing. 

From Craigg’s book, here are the topics I would concentrate on:

  • You are there to do a job and you should put your friendship aside for four or five hours in order to provide proper caddie service. Perhaps the biggest boo-boo you can commit is talking too much – the best policy when caddying is to speak only when spoken to. A suggestion or reminder might not be a welcomed interruption by “the boss.”
  • Make sure your player brings everything they require, but don’t depend on them to bring what you need. Unless you know that your player has certain items always in their bag, you should bring a copy of the Rules of Golf, a golf towel, a divot repair tool, toilet tissue or napkins, a wrist watch, scorecards and pencils, a small note pad, a yardage book (if available), pin sheets (if provided), a range finder or GPS (if permitted), tees, a permanent marking pen, ball markers, a golf club brush, sunglasses and an umbrella. You should dress in layers so that you can remove or add clothing as necessary.
  • Before starting the round, clean all the club heads and grips. Count them to make certain there are no more than 14. Always know where the clubs are – it’s your responsibility to take care of them.
  • During the round use proper etiquette. Always be mindful of the other players in the group. Avoid making any kind of noise or movement while they are preparing to play and during their stroke. Perhaps the most valuable thing you can do for your player is to keep a close eye on their ball. Always visually mark and remember the location where you believe the ball stopped rolling. During your “get acquainted” round, decide whether you will attend flagsticks, repair ball marks, rake sand bunkers, serve as a forecaddie when tee shots are blind, replace divots, provide yardage or advice on shot selection, and read putts. If you decide to do all this, you’ll need to hustle.
  • After the round make sure all the clubs are clean and that there are the same number you started with. Bring the clubs to the car or locker room and put them away. This concludes your caddying duties for the day.

This only brushed at the edges of what it takes to be a good caddie. Craigg’s book is 136 pages of serious instruction. He covers everything from reading greens to reading the scorecard. You can purchase “Professional Golf Caddie Secrets Revealed” at Amazon or at

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: