Obama Center, African-American golf, and Chicago

Original members of the Chicago Women’s Golf Club, courtesy of Chicago Tonight

Original members of the Chicago Women’s Golf Club, courtesy of Chicago Tonight

By Dave Papendorf

Through the great work of CMU’s own Dr. Lane Demas a recent item of news has come to the forefront — and one of historical note concerning former president Barack Obama’s proposed Obama Presidential Center on the south side of Chicago. Refurbishing bits of Jackson Park along Lake Michigan, the project, headed by the Obama Foundation, plans to provide a “refurbished” public space that connects the park to the lakefront. The park will also include a museum tower that tells the history of the Obamas’ story in the United States and prominently features exhibits on the history of civil rights, African Americans, and Chicago generally. Complete with Obama’s presidential library, a conference center, and a large athletic center, this project will celebrate the Obama family and provide a new public space for south-side residents. The city of Chicago has been largely enthusiastic towards the project, giving the Obama Foundation a sweet deal on the property — a $10 (!), 99-year lease to rent and use the land. Despite a dendrological lawsuit and real estate critiques, the project continues forward.

One larger and more historical concern with the project, however, is closely related to Dr. Demas’ book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf. Jackson Park is the site of the Jackson Park Golf Course, an important historical site for African American golf in the city of Chicago. This course is the primary course of use of the Chicago Women’s Golf Club — established in 1937 and featured prominently in Dr. Demas’ book. Golfers and historians were initially concerned that the Obama Center might close the course in favor of improvements, but this concern seems to have been tempered for now. Currently, the Obama Foundation’s plan is to redevelop some of the property into a six-hole “short course”, and they have enlisted the help of Tiger Woods for design and input. Whether the course will still be accessible to South-Side residence is still debated, but the history of this course is indispensable in telling the history of African Americans in Chicago. Included below is a recent presentation at the CWGC’s clubhouse concerning Nettie George Speedy — the first female African American golfer in Chicago and a founding member of the CWGC. One of Speedy’s descendants offers insight into the history of the organization and its importance. Moreover, the archives preserved at the clubhouse of the CWGC have proven to be a historical resource for retelling this important story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCT3AgEo9Xs&feature=youtu.be

As previously mentioned, Dr. Demas’ book is award winning in many capacities. He was the 2017 USGA Herbert Warren Wind Award Winner as well as the recipient of the North American Sports Society for Sport History’s book award. Be sure to read more about the history of golf in Chicago in his monograph and keep an eye on the news concerning the course in Jackson Park.

Tiger Woods: Racial Identity and Sports

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CMU history professor Lane Demas offered an insightful reflection on the importance of Tiger Woods for the UNC Press blog. His book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, is now available in print or eBook formats. From the publisher: "This groundbreaking history of African Americans and golf explores the role of race, class, and public space in golf course development, the stories of individual black golfers during the age of segregation, the legal battle to integrate public golf courses, and the little-known history of the United Golfers Association (UGA)--a black golf tour that operated from 1925 to 1975. Lane Demas charts how African Americans nationwide organized social campaigns, filed lawsuits, and went to jail in order to desegregate courses; he also provides dramatic stories of golfers who boldly confronted wider segregation more broadly in their local communities. As national civil rights organizations debated golf’s symbolism and whether or not to pursue the game’s integration, black players and caddies took matters into their own hands and helped shape its subculture, while UGA participants forged one of the most durable black sporting organizations in American history as they fought to join the white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). " Enjoy and excerpt of his blog post below.

Tiger Woods and his career are officially history.

No, this is not another mean-spirited screed; a sportswriter proclaiming the once-greatest golfer can barely hit the ball today, a tabloid promising more lurid details on the star’s “shocking” downfall, or another fan angry that people still care when Woods is now just the such-and-such ranked golfer in the world. (#987, as of this writing)

Can they really not understand why we’re still interested in Tiger? Do they really prefer to read about #986? (No offense to Mr. Jake Roos of South Africa, I’m sure he’s an interesting guy.)

At any rate, I have no idea what the future holds for Tiger Woods on the golf course. I won’t even speculate. What I do know is that the recent attention surrounding his personal and professional “decline” led to a missed opportunity, for this past April marked the twentieth anniversary of his first victory at the world’s most important golf event: The 1997 Masters Tournament at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. Yes, it’s been twenty years since 44 million U.S. viewers watched 21-year-old Tiger dominate the field, win his first major championship, and tearfully embrace his father Earl on the eighteenth green.

So whether or not his golf career is history, it’s at least time to consider Tiger Woods as history.

And here, at a moment when the star’s light is fading and some are questioning the legacy of his accomplishments, I have perhaps a different perspective. As a historian, I believe that the past decade has seen the historical significance of Tiger Woods grow, not shrink. Even as his popularity and prowess fades, even if he may never reach the expectations many had in the 1990s – heck, even if a better golfer should soon come along (unthinkable at the height of Tigermania) – it’s still likely that Woods will make the history textbooks of 2050, 2100, and beyond.

Why? Because it’s increasingly clear that Tiger Woods was the largest pop culture figure associated with the discussion of racial identity – blackness, whiteness, multiracialism, etc. – at a pivotal moment in American history when those ideas evolved swiftly.

Continue reading at UNC Press Blog.