Joe Louis Became the First Black Golfer to Play a PGA-Sponsored Tournament

Joe Louis is known as one of the greatest boxers of all-time. He was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. Louis impacted a lot of people with his success in being an African American boxer.

He inspired many boxers, and his legacy will always be remembered throughout the world of sports. Louis also took an interest in golf as well as boxing. After his boxing career, he became the first black golfer to play in a PGA Tour event.

Joe Louis had a passion for golf

Joe Louis golfing
Joe Louis also had a passion for golf. | KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Louis could box with the best of them in the ring, and he also was talented on the golf course. He competed as an amateur at first, and back in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, he sponsored the Joe Louis Open in 1941. Louis donated money and paid the entry fees and transportation costs for golfers who could not afford to attend the event.

After he retired from boxing, Louis wanted to focus on golf full-time. In 1951 he won the national title for the amateur division. During his time in golf, Louis noticed there was a lot of discrimination in the golf world.

In 1952, Louis got a chance to play at a PGA event. At the time, there weren’t any players of color participating in the event.

The San Diego Open

Joe Louis a golfer
Joe Louis enjoyed playing the game of golf.

This was the tournament Louis was invited to play in, but because of the PGA’s membership clause of Caucasian-only members, Louis was denied entry to the tournament. Louis was not in approval of the decision that he could not participate in the event. So, he went on and did something about that.

 Louis would end up speaking with the tournament officials regarding the decision to not allow him to compete in the event. The officials would end up allowing Louis to compete as an exempt amateur. At that time, he became the first person of color to compete in a PGA-sanctioned event. This was something that Louis worked hard for, and he was going to continue to help eliminate racial prejudice from golf.

During the event, Louis shot a 76 in the first round the first day, and the next day he shot an 82. Louis did what no other person of color did at the time, and that would help change the landscape of the game of golf.

Joe Louis helped to integrate golf

When Louis was able to compete in the event, he used that as leverage to help fight for other golfers of color to participate in PGA sponsored events. He did not want to be the only one to have this opportunity.

On Nov. 10, 1961, something historic happened in the world of golf. During the PGA’s annual meeting, the decision came to remove the discriminatory bylaw that had existed since 1934. Golfers of color were now able to compete in PGA events, and Louis was one of the first people to push toward that happening.

Joe Louis Borrow Jr., the son of Joe Louis, became a national spokesperson for diversity in golf and retired in 2017. He served as CEO of First Tee for 18 years and helped push toward what his father wanted in integrating the sport of golf.