May 13, 2014 marked the 100th birthday of former world heavyweight champion and amateur golfer Joe Louis.
Why does this day matter to The First Tee?
Because the “Brown Bomber”, as he was known to many, is the father of Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., chief executive officer of The First Tee!
After an illustrious and inspiring 12-year reign as heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis (who began fighting under that name so his mother wouldn’t find out) retired from boxing and focused on golf, a sport he was drawn to because of its parallels to boxing. He appreciated golf’s status as an individual sport that required the same levels of focus and perseverance needed in boxing.
Breaking Down Golf’s Segregation Barriers
Outside of his accomplishments in the boxing ring, one of Louis’ most influential moments in sports was his role towards breaking down golf’s segregation barriers in the 1952 San Diego Open at a time when the tour still had a “Caucasian-only” clause.
Louis and others put together a petition and delivered it to the California governor, Pat Brown, who declared that the clause was unconstitutional. The PGA permitted Louis to play in the event as an exempt amateur, making him the first African American to compete in a PGA-sanctioned event. His appearance made a powerful case for the inclusion of minority players in the sport, leading to the removal in 1961 of the clause.
A Son Born to Lead
Passing his love of golf on to his son, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., the golf course became a special place for Mr. Barrow and his famous father.
“My parents divorced when I was young, so during visits with my dad, he would take my sister and me to lunch or dinner, but it was difficult to really get to know him. In public settings like restaurants or walking down the street, people would constantly be stopping him for autographs or just to talk,” Mr. Barrow reflects. “But on the course, we were able to share a special intimacy created by two people sitting in a golf cart for several hours. During these rounds, he told me about his background, revealed details of his fights and discussed my future.”
Although his father passed away in 1981, before he became involved in the golf business, Mr. Barrow thinks his dad would have been proud of his current work with The First Tee–an organization that uses golf to promote education, character, values and a healthy lifestyle among young people.
“My father inspired people to do things they otherwise would not do, and his overwhelming desire to help others also influenced me,” said Mr. Barrow. “These qualities were important factors in my decision to join The First Tee, and they now provide inspiration for this organization that is so driven to help young people develop the confidence to succeed in life.”
Honoring a Legacy
On May 3, 2014, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. opened “Honoring the Legacy: A Tribute to African-Americans in Golf” – a new, permanent exhibition that will include pioneers like Joe Louis, and will recognize the triumphs and contributions of African-Americans in the game of golf.
Find Out More
You can read more about Joe Louis’ influence in this GolfWorld article.