- Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf by Lane Demas
Hanging over Lane Demas’s thorough history of African Americans and golf looms Tiger Woods. Demas’s comment on post–World War II potential that “[t]he opportunity was at hand for African Americans to truly influence [golf’s] national development and . . . make the game uniquely their own” (83) resembles sportswriters from the late 1990s championing a former Stanford star’s impact on golf and American society. Demas himself worried, as one of his colleagues put it, that Game of Privilege “would basically be a book about Tiger Woods” (xv). He faced the popular and potentially scholarly perception that golf was played by white, middle-class, suburban men and women—and also by Tiger Woods. Game of Privilege builds upon previous work by Calvin Sinnette, Marvin Dawkins, Graham Kincoln, and Pete McDanial who have written about the sport. Demas guides his readers though 130 years of African American contributions to American golf and the sport’s role in the black freedom struggle, extending into the civil rights movement, Black Power, and anticolonialism. By exposing and analyzing black communities’ and elite players’ involvement in golf and their efforts to integrate golf facilities, along with white resistance to integration, Demas demonstrates the close and complicated association between African Americans and golf long before Woods won the 1997 Masters Tournament.
The organization follows chronologically yet unfolds thematically. The first two chapters explore the initial popularity of golf among African Americans and the sport’s expansion through the Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance. Demas gives particular [End Page 118] attention to the role of black caddies and a growing black middle-class that was increasingly interested in playing. Each succeeding chapter approaches Demas’s joint topic of African American effects on golf and the game’s impact on the black freedom struggle, focusing on four primary developments. The third chapter centers on the integrated United Golf Association, an alternative to the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA). (The codification and practice of PGA segregation remains opaque, although Demas attempts to shed light on its intricacies.) Demas follows this with an analysis of the ample efforts by civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to integrate golf clubs in the postwar period. The fifth chapter explores golf as a tool for anticolonialism in Africa and the proliferation of golf-course privatization in the wake of court-ordered integration.
The final chapter explains the advent of Tiger Woods, his childhood within the times, and his contribution to the sport and America. Demas compares Woods as an athlete and his conception of race to other elite black golfers who came before him, such as Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, and Charlie Sifford. In the context of a long history of African American golf that Demas provides in the first five chapters, Woods’s legacy is neither synonymous with the pinnacle of African American golf—Demas dates this to the mid-1970s—nor the voice of racial integration in sports. Thirty black professionals competed on the PGA tour in the five decades before Woods, including Lee Elder’s integration of the Masters in 1975. In this context, and in terms of economic gain, Woods is better compared to Michael Jordan (one of the highest earning professional athletes) than Jackie Robinson (the first to integrate Major League Baseball). However, Woods’s personal multiracial construction of “Cablinasian” publicly revealed on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 ironically reflected his distinction from the earlier civil rights movement yet placed him at the convergence of American racial politics in the late 1990s.
Demas’s disassociation of the black freedom struggle and Tiger Woods showcases African American historical connections to a “game of privilege” and a sea change in that connection in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Although black contributions to golf included golf tee developer George Franklin Grant, the first American...