From Boxing Rings to Golf Courses: Remembering My Father, Joe Louis

Categories: Blog, Uncategorized

A Father’s Day reflection by
Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., Chief Executive Officer, The First Tee

Barrow, Jr. plays with his father. Circa 1953.
Barrow, his father and sister. Circa 1953.

I was first introduced to the game of golf when I was five or six years old.

My father [former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis] would take me to Pipe O’Peace Golf Course (renamed in 1986 to Joe Louis “The Champ” Golf Courseoutside of Chicago where he passed along his love of the game.

However, Dad’s love of golf was actually a pastime that worried his promoters.

My father’s trainers were concerned that golf would develop his muscles in the wrong way, plus it took a lot of his time.

Barrow learned to play golf under the watchful eyes of Ted Rhodes (left) and his father (right).
Barrow learned to play golf under the watchful eyes of Ted Rhodes (left) and his father (right).

He would go out to the course whenever he could, whether he was in training or not, and as a result, he became quite an accomplished amateur golfer.

The one time my dad did not listen to his trainer resulted in the only time he was beaten during his 12-year reign as heavyweight champion. That was the first Max Schmeling fight in 1936.

My father was overconfident going into this fight.

He later said, “I thought I was going to win no matter what I did. So I took my golf clubs to training camp with me. I had the idea that I was doing a lot of hard work for nothing, so I started cutting my training short. I’d box two rounds and drive to the golf course.”

Joe Louis. Photo courtesy of USGA Museum.
Joe Louis. Photo courtesy of USGA Museum.

Fortunately, Dad put more focus into boxing and less into golf while preparing for his successful rematch against Schmeling in 1938. [listen to the fight].

While Dad did pass his love of golf on to me, more importantly, the golf course became a special place for us as father and son.

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 because people would constantly stop him for autographs or just to talk. But on the course, we were able to share a special intimacy created by two people sitting in a golf cart.

During these rounds, he told me about his background, revealed details of his fights and discussed my future.

Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. at his home in 2014 for Golf Digest.
Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. at his home in 2014 for Golf Digest.

Although he passed away in 1981, before I became involved in the golf industry, I think Dad would have been proud of my current work with The First Tee.

My father’s overwhelming desire to help others also influenced me.

This quality was an important factor in my decision to join The First Tee, and it now provides inspiration for this organization that is so driven to help young people develop the confidence, leadership skills and character to succeed in life.

This Father’s Day, I hope you too can reflect back on that special someone who has guided you through your life and inspired you to be the best you can be.

9 responses to “From Boxing Rings to Golf Courses: Remembering My Father, Joe Louis

  1. Great article, Chace! It was not only a nice tribute to Joe and his father, but a sweet reminder to all of us whose fathers were our “champions.”

  2. What an interesting story! You learn something new everyday. I had no idea that the great Joe Louis’ son was involved in this program. My son attended the First Tee Golf Progam at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx when they first began the program in 2000. Now my grandson is a member and I am happy to say that I will be accompanying him this summer for his lessons and I promised him I will play with him!

  3. My own father , who was an artist, died when I was a year old. However, I grew up inspired by his art and became a teacher of art myself. My two older brothers were my male role models, and one grew to love the game of golf as much as Joe. He was an aerospace engineer by profession, but golf became his relaxation.

    Joe Louis, Jr. was a playmate of mine as a child. I knew him by the nickname “Punchie” and we went to the same Lake Michigan resort every summer.
    He was a wonderful friend then, and I am so glad that he has become involved in First Tee as an adult. Joe is a true role model and inspiration to so many children. His father would be very proud!

  4. Joe, you are such a warm and generous man it is hard to imagine you as the little boy in the photo. Thank you for all the hard work and commitment you have given to those involved with First Tee. You have become a modern day influence toward the same goals your dad stood for in his time….quiet a legacy.

  5. I love the game of golf. It is a game that you play against the course and between the space between your ears!!! If you succeed it is you if you don’t it is you. You must learn to depend upon your own skills and upon your morals and ethical behaviours: perseverance, truth, honesty, patience, sportsmanship and many others traits. It is a game for life and teaches you about life and how to handle yourself and others, God Bless Joe Louis and especially for teaching his son the values needed to succeed and God Bless his son for extending these on to the first tee!!!

  6. What a great story to share, Joe. As your Dad was an inspiration to a generation, so are you with your work at The First Tee….Hit ’em straight 🙂

  7. I am interested in starting a First Tee program here in Maine. We have a wonderful young course in Jonesboro, called Barren View named for the many blueberry barrens nearby. Located in Washington County….a very rural setting.
    As a golf coach for an area high school, Narraguagus Jr/sr High School I feel we need to start up a local First Tee Program.
    I would be very interested in talking with someone about this venture.
    I look forward to hearing from someone soon to discuss the possibilities.

  8. Thank you for your interest in bringing The First Tee to your area! We will reach out to you directly with more information.

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