written by Olivia Pennybaker

John Shippen Jr. was born in December of 1879, the son of a former slave and pastor. His father preached at Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton on Long Island, New York, where Shippen would be introduced to golf. As a tenager he worked to build the original Shinnecock Hills Golf Course, near the reservation. He also learned how to caddie and was taught to play golf by the course’s professional, Willie Dunn Jr. By the time Shippen was sixteen, he was working as Dunn’s assistant professional, giving lessons to members, caddying, repairing clubs, and assisting the maintenance crew.
In 1896 Shinnecock was chosen to host the second U.S. Open with Shippen as an entrant. Some of the competitors protested against black players from the Open, even threatening to withdraw if Shippen and Bunn competed, but despite this, the USGA president let everyone play, regardless of skin color. After the first round, Shippen was tied for the lead. Unfortunately, during the second round a score of eleven on the par-four thirteenth hole cost him the win, finishing in fifth place. He won ten dollars in prize money, making him the first black golf professional. Historical records show he played in four other U.S. Opens. No other black golfer would play in the U.S. Open until Ted Rhodes in 1948.
Shippen continued working at Shinnecock as he pursued a professional golf career, though he was barred from becoming a PGA member. He then worked at the Shady Rest Golf Course (now called Scotch Hills Country Club) in Scotch Plains, New Jersey from 1924 until he retired in 1960. He even designed his own golf clubs while working there. This was the first black golf club in the United States. In 2009, Shippen posthumously received his PGA membership and is now recognized by the USGA as America’s first golf professional. History has tried to omit John Shippen’s story, leaving several parts of his life undocumented, but his participation and determination in the game of golf paved the way for, not only black golfers, but every American golfer.