“Grandfather,” the tiger calls him when he points to him, but not only. Charlie Woods is named after him, in his honor, so that he will never be forgotten.
Charlie Seaford, story
Addicted to golf and cigars, when he arrived in Philadelphia from rural North Carolina in the 1940s, Charlie Sifford realized that black golfers wouldn’t stand a chance.
In addition to professional golfer and excellent jazz bassist Billy Eckstein, Seaford amassed several “Negro Tournament” victories over the UGA but discovered that only white players could participate on the PGA Tour. In 1960, the PGA passed it as a player, forced by the California attorney general, but the player’s card did not allow access to the white country clubs where most of the tournaments were played.
Despite his statement, Charlie was often unable to change clothes at the club with other players. Seaford had to endure death threats and insults on the field when he appeared at the All Whites Open in Greensboro, North Carolina.
He even hid the banner announcing a new car win for the hatch in one of them before Charlie made it. By filing a lawsuit he will eventually win it. He won twice on the PGA Tour in Hartford and Los Angeles and became a legend as a prominent member of the PGA.
Charlie Seaford died in early 2015, but not before he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. You can read his story in a book he wrote called “Just Let Me Play” which I would literally translate to “Let Me Play….”
Charlie Seaford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, in 1922, to the father of a factory worker. Here his golf career began. The 13-year-old initially worked as a packer at an exclusive white golf club.
On Mondays he was also allowed to play golf as a boxer. He proved to be talented: he often played the rounds on an equal footing. At that time he was earning 60 cents, of which he gave 50 cents to his mother and the remaining 10 cents he bought Stoge, a cigar, which later became his trademark.
In 1939, at the age of 17, Seaford came to Philadelphia, where he himself played on several golf courses. Among them was Cobb Creek Golf Course, where he often competed against Howard “Butch” Wheeler, another black golfer from Atlanta, eleven years his senior.
At the same time, he worked for the American candy and snacks manufacturer Nabisco. In the aftermath, Seaford went into military service. He participated in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. Turning professional in 1946, Seaford the following year met baseball player Jackie Robinson, who had just become the first black player to line up on a major league team since 1888, and shared his dream of becoming a player to join the PGA Tour.
At the time, participation in the PGA Tour was reserved for whites only in reference to segregation. Robinson said he shouldn’t give up fighting for his dream. In the years that followed, Seaford primarily competed in the UGA National Open (UGA for short) and was a consultant, assistant, and personal golf coach to African-American singer and bandleader Billy Eckstein for many years.
He became a standout player at the National Negro Open and won the tournament five times in a row between 1952 and 1956. In 1952 he was allowed to play in the PGA Championship for the first time. At the Phoenix Open, he faced three black competitors, including boxer Joe Lewis, who later joined Billy Eckstein in Seaford’s career and Seaford’s participation on the PGA Tour as the first black player.
In 1956, Seaford won the Rhode Island Open as well as the Blacks’ Championship. After winning the Long Beach Open in 1957, which wasn’t an official PGA Tour event but could boast many professional players, Charlie Sifford, who Eckstine had just called Little Horse, was very close to his accomplishments.
After his sixth victory at the UGA National Negro Open, he was also able to win the Almaden Open the same year, which was an unofficial victory, as the tournament was held only as part of the PGA Tour the following year.
He played an average of 15 different PGA golf tournaments, mainly from the late 1950s, and also completed many other tournaments to which he was invited or where he was allowed to qualify as a black man. In 1959, Sifford finally met Stanley Musk, the then California attorney general, who knew that Sifford had been banned from the PGA Championships in his state.
Musk confronted PGA Tour officials that Sifford’s civil rights as a California citizen had been violated, while also asking if there were any reasons other than race for not being a member. It wasn’t until the following year, 1960, that the American PGA presented him with the Certified Championship Player Card, which allowed him to play on the PGA Tour; However, he was still considered a novice at the time.
In November 1961, after eligibility requirements were relaxed and the Caucasian-only rule abolished, Seaford had to wait another three years before becoming an official member of the PGA with full status. At the Greenwich Greensboro Open in April 1961, Seaford made his official debut as the first black player on the PGA Tour in the southern states.
Seaford himself has said that racism in golf is far from over. In his first match, for example, he was escorted by armed law enforcement officers before the first hole and received a death threat that same night. However, Seaford, whose height is almost 175 cm, did not let this hinder him and took fourth place in the final standings.
In subsequent tournaments and years later, Charlie Seaford continued to struggle with racism and ethnicity. Moreover, his game often got stuck and the ball was often deliberately hit rough by his opponents.