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The Rhode to the Open

The Rhode to the Open

We honor Ted Rhodes, one of the nation’s first black professional golfers who was born in Nashville. He attended the city’s public schools and learned the game of golf in his teenage years while working as a caddie. Rhodes’ dream of pursuing the game of golf was truly an ambitious goal for an African-American born in 1913. Ted practiced the game with other caddies and developed his swing by hitting shag balls at Sunset Park in Nolensville, as well as practicing in East Nashville’s Douglas Park and North Nashville’s Watkins Park.

It was in 1948, when he was invited to play in the U.S. Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, that he became recognized as the first African-American professional golfer. That same year, Rhodes and fellow golfer Bill Spiller initiated litigation against the PGA seeking removal of the association’s “Caucasian only clause.” It wasn’t until 1961 the PGA became the last major sport to desegregate its ranks.

Rhodes excelled in the United Golfers Association (UGA) tournaments, a circuit formed to give black professional golfers a space to showcase their talent. There he excelled, winning UGA Championship in 1949, ’50, ’51 and ’57. Rhodes remained a contender in the UGA despite failing health due to a kidney ailment that sapped his strength and made playing four-day tournaments difficult. He won the Negro National Open title in ’57 and collected two more crowns (the Gotham Open and Progressive GC Championship in Peoria, III.) the next year.

By the time the PGA rescinded its’ Caucasian-Only clause in November of 1961, Rhodes had retired from competitive action. Rhodes returned to his native Nashville in the 1960s and mentored several black PGA players including Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford. He died at the age of 55. A month after his death, the Cumberland Golf Course in Nashville was renamed in his honor.

Rhodes was inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2009, the PGA of America granted posthumous membership to Rhodes.

These are the legends that we stand on the shoulders of that laid the groundwork to make this all possible. We will continue to push for change in the game of golf, we will continue to push for change for all.