At one time, African-American golfers couldn’t ‘T’ off at Macon’s public golf course. They were only allowed to caddy for white golfers. Fifty years later they’re not only teeing off they’re giving back to a whole new generation of golfers.
Nine ragtag teenage boys line up on a driving range at Macon’s Bowden Golf Course swinging at and occasionally striking balls. Residents of a youth home, it’s their first time on the green.
“When you come from a background, a child that’s been thrown away, and sometimes parents don’t quite understand the child, that’s where we come in with as much love as we possible can to give that child.”
That’s long-time golfer and teacher Charles Glover. He volunteers in the Macon Golf for Kids program teaching the game to at risk youth. He says showing that love often means teaching these boys how to behave on a golf course, a golf course that didn’t always welcome Charles Glover.
“Most of the guys they just only caddied up here. It was not open for black Americans to play and then they decided they wanted somewhere to go play golf.”
In 1961 Bowden was closed to black golfers. Many were forced to travel hundreds of miles to Florida to play. Macon business leader Sam Macfie founded the Macon Golf for Kids program at Bowden in 2006. He says since then he’s met many of the courses long time players.
“They learned to love the game with hand-me-down repaired clubs and golf balls. And they loved the game in spite of the fact that they weren’t welcome in many places to play golf.”
Macfie was so moved by their story, that in 2010 he produced a documentary called, “Playing it Down.” It tells the story of the first black foursome to ever play a round of golf at Bowden in June of 1961.
“I love the golf course and just love the game.”
Seventy-eight year old Walter Worthen Senior is the only surviving member of that original foursome.
It’s a little-known fact that Georgia’s first scene of court-ordered desegregation took place on a golf course rather than a school house. In 1955 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Homes V. Atlanta opening up public golf courses to all people regardless of color.
Buoyed by that decision Worthen and three of his fellow caddies made repeated trips to the Macon City Council to ask for permission to play golf. Permission never came, so they set a date, told the city, and showed up at Bowden, golf clubs in hand.
“We got a chance to use that front door, which we was known to use the back door. So, we went in there like the other golfers did and paid our greens fee and didn’t nobody say nothing. You know, we had the eyes looking though.”
Macfie says Bowden was the first venue in Macon to be completely integrated.
“It wasn’t a lunch counter. It wasn’t the buses. It wasn’t a university. It wasn’t a school system. It wasn’t a hospital. It was a golf course. Because at a golf course the people are equal. It’s how well you play.”
And for a new group of young golfers right now that’s not very well. But their instructor Charles Glover says they’ll get better with time and teaching.
“They’ll come up here you know and swing that stick a few times, you know and they’re trying to hit that ball and sometimes they’ll grunt. They’ll be trying to hit it. They're grunting, they're missing and they hit it again and then next thing you know you can’t hardly even take the golf stick out of the child’s hand.”
And 50 years after the integration of Bowden Golf course those “sticks” can stay in everybody’s hands