written by Olivia Pennybaker

Lee Elder made history as the first Black American to play in the most prestigious professional golf tournament in the country at Augusta National Golf Club. He was born in Dallas, Texas on July 14th, 1934. He worked as a caddie and played on his own whenever he could. He played a match against heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, where he met instructor Ted Rhodes, who was teaching Louis at the time. Under Rhodes, Elder fine-tuned his game and started playing in tournaments. He served in the United States Army from 1959-1961 then joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black Players where he won eighteen out of twenty-two consecutive tournaments. In 1961 the PGA Tour lifted the color barrier and allowed non-white members to join. By 1967 Elder had raised enough money for Qualifying School and gained his tour card in 1968. There were a few instances where Elder had to change in the golf course parking lot as the locker rooms were still white-only. Faced with inequality, Elder persevered. In his rookie season he lost a playoff at the American Golf Classic to Jack Nicklaus. In 1974 he won his first PGA Tour event at the Monsanto Open which allowed him entry to the 1975 Masters Tournament the next April. Lee Elder was the first Black American to play in the Masters Tournament. Leading up to the event, he received a great deal of hate mail. But despite the negativity, Elder played in the event, becoming a pioneer for Black golfers. He missed the cut but his impact was astounding, as he proved that Black Americans had a future in golf. He went on to play in five more Masters Tournaments, where he tied for eleventh place in 1979. Also in 1979 Elder became the first Black American to qualify for the Ryder Cup. In 1984 he joined the Senior PGA Tour and won eight times. He can’t be just known for breaking boundaries, Elder was also a great golfer, winning a total of four PGA Tour events in his lifetime. The impact Elder left behind does not end with his golf career. In 1990 he spoke out against country clubs that still excluded Black Americans from membership. He also set up the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund that gave monetary aid to low-income men and women for college. Lee Elder recently passed away but we will never forget all he did for Black golfers. He fought racism and prejudice while maintaining a successful and talented career in golf.