Lee Elder First Black Man to Play at the Masters Dies at 87

Courtesy of generalising (Flickr CC0)

Robert “Lee” Elder, the first Black man to play at the Masters, has passed away at the age of 87. The man who broke the racial barriers on the pro golf tour died in Escondido, California on Nov. 28, 2021.

He was born on July 14, 1934, in Dallas, Texas. Elder was the youngest of eight siblings.

When he was a child he attempted to work as a caddy, however, due to his size he was unable to carry the golf bags. Elder was hired to collect stray golf balls until he was could work as a caddy. He was given his first golf club by a man he caddied for.  The first time he swung a golf club was in an empty field across from the course he worked.

He lost both of his parents at the age of seven. The golfer is known for his work on Shell’s Wonderful of Golf, Sammy and Company, and Ebony/Jet Showcase.

Elder raised enough cash to attend qualifying school for the PGA Tour in 1967. He earned his tour card in 1968. During one of his games, a spectator stole Elder’s ball from the fairway causing him to lose a shot. Sometimes he would change in the club’s parking lots due to Black players not being allowed inside the clubhouses.

Courtesy of Karen (Flickr CC0)

He qualified to play in the 1975 Masters tournament because he won the Monsanto Open the year before. Elders was 40 years old when he teed off at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

Until 1961, the PGA of America only accepted “members of the Caucasian race.” It was with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement that the Masters and PGA began integrating their ranks. The first time he began regularly touring on the PGA Tour was in 1968.

In 1974, he and his first wife, Rose Harper, created a foundation to provide college scholarships for families with low incomes. Elder promoted a summer youth golf development program and raised cash for the United Negro College Fund.

He is survived by his second wife Sharon, family, and friends. May he rest in peace.

Written by Sheena Robertson


IMDb: Lee Elder
 The New York Times: Lee Elder, Who Broke a Golf Color Barrier, Dies at 87; by Richard Goldstein

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Inset Image Courtesy of Karen’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License