I keep hearing how the face of golf is changing—how Tiger Woods is bringing people of all colors to the game, and how programs like First Tee are making golf accessible to black kids. When I hear that stuff, I can only shake my head, because I don't see much future for black golf.
In 1965 nine black players were on the PGA Tour, including me. Today there are two: 49-year-old Jim Thorpe, who ranked 225th on the money list last year, and Tiger, a great player who correctly says he is multiethnic, not exactly black. And I doubt we'll see many more blacks on the Tour anytime soon because so much is working against them. Caddying used to give black kids a way into the game, but now golf carts have taken over. There used to be affordable, accessible public courses, but today's public courses are crowded and expensive. There was a black tour, the United Golf Association, that was the proving ground for players like Lee Elder and me, but the UGA is gone. Things are going backward, and it disappoints the hell out of me.
I'm not saying the old days were so great. I faced blatant and vicious prejudice. I have reached into a cup for my ball and touched human excrement—a reminder of what some white golfers in my day thought of me. When I think of that moment and then think of the millions of golfers who see Tiger Woods as a hero, I know there's been progress. But I still can't help noticing that out of 75 kids in the junior program at my home course, not one is black. It makes me wonder whether the game has failed men like Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller, who founded the UGA in the '40s, and Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, who supported them. It makes me wonder whether the greatest game in the world has room for a few more faces like mine.