Golf legend and Charlotte native Charles “Charlie” Sifford is often referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of golf” for his role in breaking down color barriers in the sport. To mark his 100th birthday next year, the entities representing his estate are planning a centennial celebration that highlights his legacy for a new generation.
Sifford, who died in 2015 at the age of 92, was the first Black golfer to hold a PGA Tour card and be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He fell in love with the game while caddying as a boy. By the time he started playing professionally in the late 1940s, however, Black golfers faced discrimination and weren’t welcomed into the PGA membership under a “Caucasian-only” clause. Sifford was instrumental in getting the PGA Tour to formally terminate the clause in 1961.
Prior to his acceptance into the PGA, which allowed him to compete as a 39-year-old rookie, Sifford played in United Golf Association tournaments alongside other Black golfers. In the 1950s, he won UGA’s National Negro Open six times — including five consecutive wins.
“I knew what I was getting into when I chose golf,” Sifford told Golf Digest in 2006. “All the discrimination, the not being able to play where I deserved and wanted to play—in the end I didn’t give a damn. I was made for a tough life, because I’m a tough man. And in the end I won; I got a lot of black people playing golf. That’s good enough. If I had to do it over again, exactly the same way, I would.”
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WME Legends, a division of the global entertainment and media company WME, announced a representation deal earlier this month with management company JLMP LLC to co-represent Sifford’s estate. The team recently revealed plans for the centennial celebration.
In the works is a feature-length documentary on Sifford’s life, produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson. Additionally, Sifford’s autobiography, “Just Let Me Play,” is set for re-release with updated photos and a new epilogue edited by Sifford’s son, Charles Jr. The book picks up from where it ended in 1992 through his death in 2015.
“Dad just wanted to play golf, but in the process, he helped open doors for others, which was important to him as well,” Charles Jr. said in a statement. “His life story is an essential part of racial and social justice movements – then and now. It offers an opportunity to reflect on humanitarianism and the Black American experience.”
Russell Crockett, JLMP co-founder and friend of the Sifford family, said the team is also ironing out details for a collaboration with former New York Knicks star John Starks and his Legends Cigars company to brand a signature series for Sifford’s centennial.
“If you know anything about Charlie, you know he always had a stogie. When he was playing golf, a lot of times it was stuck in his mouth, even when he was swinging the club,” Crockett said during a recent phone interview.
Scholarships, celebrity golf tournaments and traveling memorabilia exhibits are other initiatives currently in development. Crockett said they’d like to host events in cities where Sifford lived, including Charlotte, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston and Cleveland.
Sifford blazed a trail for golf athletes of color, including Tiger Woods, who called Sifford the grandpa he never had. Sifford and Woods’ father became friends when Tiger was a junior golfer.
In Charlotte, a tribute to Sifford is recognized with a public golf course off of Remount Road in west Charlotte that bears his name: the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park.
Beyond his 2004 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Sifford was awarded the highest civilian honor just months before his death. Former President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. The award recognizes people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”