About Ted Rhodes: Pearl High Graduate and Pro Golfer

About Ted Rhodes: Pearl High Graduate and Pro Golfer
Posted on 02/18/2020
Pearl High Graduate and Pro Golfer

“I am the first minority to win here, but I wasn't the first to play. That was Lee Elder, and my hat's off to him and Charlie Sifford and Ted Rhodes,” Tiger Woods said after winning the Masters Tournament in 1997 and becoming the first African-American to win.

Theodore “Ted” Rhodes
photo: Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

Woods' story will be told in many history books. But as he noted, others paved the way, including a graduate of Nashville's public schools.

Theodore “Ted” Rhodes has been credited as the first African-American professional golfer. Rhodes, born in 1913, graduated from Pearl High School. He learned how to play the sport by serving as a caddy at Nashville's Belle Meade Country Club and Richland Country Club as a teenager.

Black History Month

During the time he grew up, African-Americans were not allowed to play golf or be members of country clubs, so Rhodes would often practice his golf swing by hitting shag balls at Sunset Park in Nolensville. He also practiced in Douglas and Watkins parks. After graduation Rhodes joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, later serving in the United States Navy in World War II. After his tour of duty concluded, Rhodes began to seriously pursue his love of golf.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) did not allow African-American members, and Rhodes toured the golf circuit sponsored by the United Golfers' Association (UGA). The UGA was formed in 1926 as a response to the USGA's discrimination policies against African-Americans. Invited to play in the U.S. Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, it was there that Rhodes was recognized as the first African-American professional golfer.

In that same year Rhodes and fellow golfer Bill Spiller sued the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) for its “Caucasians-only clause.” In 1961, the PGA become the last major sport to desegregate and finally eliminated its bylaws to allow African-American golfers to play.

Rhodes, despite his expertise and skill, was rarely allowed to participate in whites-only tournaments. He excelled in the UGA tournaments, winning 150 during his career, including the UGA Championship in 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1957. He also won the Negro National Open title in 1957, the Gotham Open and the Progressive GC Championship in 1958.

Returning to his hometown of Nashville in the 1960s, Rhodes began mentoring several African-American PGA players, including Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament. Due to failing health, Rhodes died on July 4, 1969, at the age of 55.

The Cumberland Golf Course, Nashville's first African-American course, was renamed the Theodore “Ted” Rhodes Golf Course in May 1992. The facility was re-designed and expanded from nine to 18 holes. The course incorporates lakes and bunkers, which provide a pleasurable round for golfers.

cover photo: screenshot of the Ted Rhodes Foundation site.

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