Members of a Fort Worth golf organization remember when they were forced to set up their own course, using coffee cups and makeshift flags, just to have a place to play. Oscar Haswell, one of the members of the Golden Tee Golf Club, recalled his first exposure to the game. "We weren't allowed to play even on the city courses (in Fort Worth) back then, we had to carry bags," said Haswell as he played at Sycamore Golf Courses. And "back then" was the 1940s and early '50s, when segregation was the rule rather than the exception at golf courses in the south. Haswell still carries a golf bag, but it is his. He and other members regularly play at Sycamore.
Most Golden Tee members who range in age from 35 to 75, were caddies in the 1940s at various country clubs. In those days, they longed to use the clubs they were carrying, to play instead of following other golfers. At the caddy shack, a lot of golfers would throw their clubs away, old clubs, clubs nobody really wanted." "Then, the caddies would get them and use that one club for everything. We would chip, putt and drive with that one club."
Intrigued by the game but barred from using city courses, black golfers played in schoolyards, hitting balls into cups and tin cans, before setting up a course at Greenway Park in east Fort Worth during the 1940s. "There were no greens, no fairways, no fancy stuff, just a couple of coffee cups and a stick with a rag on it for a flag. That's how we started." There were no formal lessons; most of the caddies learned the game by observing golfers at various country clubs. "I caddied for Henry Pichard, a touring professional," said Ivory Roberts. He was impressed with my selection of irons I gave him. "He showed me how to hold the irons, grip the clubs and how to swing." If the clubs they used were second hand, the makeshift course at Greenway was "the hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs", said Thomas Russell. He is not a member of Golden Tee but was active in the Negro Golf Association that predated it. Greenway, where a freeway interchange now stands, was a city park set aside for black. It had no greens and lacked restrooms, members said.
From the 1930s until courses were integrated in 1964, blacks were allowed to play on city courses only once a year, June 19 - June teenth, Texas holiday of black liberation.
In late '30s, Dallas city officials of the '40s and '50s did have a place to go to escape the homemade course at Greenway, "We would go to Dallas at least once a week because we wanted to play on a real golf course," Haswell said.
But all that changed when Love Field operations were expanded in 1954. Hillard was closed, thus depriving blacks of a course. That year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Brown vs Board of Education decision, generally recognized as the end of segregation under the 'separate but equal' doctrine.
Integration came to the golf courses of Dallas three years later, when a group of blacks went to the city's Stevens course. They were permitted to pay green fees and play, according to the Dallas parks study.
While Dallas counterparts were forcing the issue, James Clemons led about 10 members of the Fort Worth Negro Golf Association in demanding that the city officials at least provide black golfers with their own course, Clemens said.
"We approached members of the NAACP, threatened a lawsuit and did everything we could think of to play at the city courses," said Clemons.
The city compromised, allowing black to play at Meadow, but only Wednesdays. But they still were frustrated at having only one day a week to play.
"We (complained) so much, they (the city) built us a nine-hole golf course called Harmon Fields Park in east Fort Worth," Haswell said, "Dallas (black) had their own course, and it was time we had ours." Harmon Field Park is now Bretha Collins Park and Recreation Center.
The facilities, however, were considered inadequate. Poorly maintained grounds and general maintenance problems were common.
"The black parks were in the worst land areas, flood-plain land, with no facilities," said KERA-TV news director Bob Ray Sanders, a former reporter for the Star-Telegram,"... When systemwide integration came into effect, Fort Worth had to comply."
But Thomas McCann, a city councilman from 1954 to '55 and mayor from 1957 to '61, says he doesn't recall the controversy.
"We really didn't have any black golfers to speak of," McCann said, "I don't remember seeing any blacks playing on the golf course, and I don't remember any problems. I do remember Harmon Field being the golf course for blacks. We had a race relations committee, and we were successful in handling black integration."
Edd Kane, a former city councilman, concurs, "I was playing at Worth Hills at the time; I don't recall any problems," he said.
But Golden Tee members do. In the late '50s "we continued to ask the City Council to open up all the courses to us," Clemons said. One day, we tried to pay green fees at Z-Boaz Golf Course. They refused to take it. We threatened to bring (grass-eating) mules and goats to the course if we couldn't play. In the 1960s, the city opened all courses and other facilities to blacks. Playing on a good 18-hole course was the difference in a Cadillac and a Model-T Ford. "They (the city) could see it coming because Dallas started having sit in every day," said John Killingsworth. Before we had a chance to sit in, the city opened all the courses to us. The Freedom Riders (civil rights demonstrators) made known their intentions to come in and organize a protest, they (the city) could see it coming.
As Golden Tee members finished their round at Sycamore, they relaxed and reminisced. They laughed, recalling the frustration of the struggle and sense of accomplishment that accompanied progress. "We're still experiencing problems on our city courses.
There are golf organizations in Fort Worth that have literally turned the city courses into their own private golf courses. We've had to go out of the city in order to have our golf tournaments. We live here and we pay taxes but can't use the courses." "They have a valid complaint," said Ralph Emerson, then director of Parks and Recreation. "I suspect there have been some problems in the past, but since I've been director I've tried to correct the situation." You'll find that happening any place there's a strong golf association attached to a particular golf course. This is not an isolated situation. I've had complaints from Elvin Bennett and several golf organizations about the same issues, Emerson said.
We've come a long way from using that one golf club for all nine holes. At one of our tournaments with the Southwest Regional Golf Association (affiliated with the various Black Golfers Association), there was well over a quarter of a million dollars worth of golf equipment there, said a Golden Tee member.
Golden Tee has tournaments for charities such as Sickle Cell Foundation and the NAACP and donates Christmas baskets to the needy families. And the club is integrated now. Robert Youngblood joined. Youngblood, who is white belongs to other golf organizations but is impressed with the charity benefits of Golden Tee. "I've been playing with these players at Sycamore a long time," he said. "I'm an avid golfer. I don't care who I play with - red, black or purple..."