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Before participating in the 63rd annual Skyview Golf Tournament, the longest-running Black-owned golf tournament in the U.S., attending amateurs and professionals in Asheville, North Carolina, were welcomed by Matthew Bacoate.
Living-legend himself and organizer of Skyview, The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Bacaote about the tournament which has helped launch 29 Black golfers into the PGA and honors golf’s little-known first American player.
Speaking to the crowd of golfers eager to hit the links, Bacoate thanked them, saying, “The tournament is what it is today because many of you have come here for many years to participate and to those who are new: Everyone is welcome at Skyview!”
Not only is the present class of golf celebrated, but the very ancestor who paved the way for every one else to follow is honored at the historic Asheville Golf Course.
“The legacy of golf is not just a White game — if not for John Shippen, none of us would be here,” said a tournament attendee.
The First American-Born Golf Professional AND
the First Black Golf Professional
According to the PGA, in 1899, John Shippen Jr. – then a 19-year-old golf professional and a native of the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. – was hired as Aronimink’s second head professional. He brought his brother, Cyrus, as his assistant, and the two would represent Aronimink that year in the U.S. Open at Baltimore Country Club.
Three years earlier Shippen had made history as the first Black golf professional in the U.S. when he was hired as the first head professional at Maidstone Club in Easthampton, New York.
In 1896 at age 16, John Shippen Jr. became the first American-born golf professional in the United States.
Prior to Shippen, golf professional jobs were primarily held by immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Not only is Shippen bestowed with honor in Asheville, but so too are the men who have graced Skyview over the many years.
John Shippen was a Black man
John Matthew Shippen, Jr. was born on December 5, 1879 and despite his groundbreaking role as a Black golf professional, according to the PGA, there were those who refused to acknowledge Shippen’s Black ancestry, instead considering him Native American for generations.
Federal census records, the Virginia Historical Society, Howard University, the New York Public Library, the USGA and ancestral historians including his own late daughters, Beulah and Mabel, have since debunked the lingered mistruth.
Shippen’s daughters charted the family tree from the first generation of Blacks born free following the end of the Civil War, finding that John’s paternal grandfather was an enslaved person on a Virginia plantation.
Over a century after his professional admission, in 2009, the PGA of America bestowed John Shippen with his PGA Membership card posthumously, and he is now recognized by the USGA as America’s first golf professional.
In 2018, he was inducted into the New Jersey Golf Association Hall of Fame’s Inaugural Class.
Shippen was later hired as the golf professional at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, NY.
He went on to work as the golf pro at several clubs including Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia, PA, but he is best known for his tenure as the head pro at the Shady Rest Golf Course (now known as Scotch Hills Country Club) in Scotch Plains, NJ.
Shippen worked at the Shady Rest from 1924 until his retirement in 1960 during an era when Black luminaries, scholars, social reformers and entertainers such as W.E.B. DeBois, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday and Cab Calloway came to perform and enjoy themselves, and where Althea Gibson honed her tennis skills.
THE JOHN SHIPPEN pays it forward with next generation of golfers
THE JOHN SHIPPEN National Invitational aims to create opportunities in golf for Black men and women, ensure his story is told and preserve his tremendous legacy, which is one of Black History, but also of American History.
THE JOHN SHIPPEN was established by Intersport to identify historical barriers to and expand upon Black representation in the sport of golf and create awareness, access and opportunities for persons of color in the business of sports.
John Shippen passed in 1968 in Newark, New Jersey, however, his legacy lives on forever.