Black History Month

Lee Elder

Honoring Black History Month.

Celebrating Black athletes in sports, dance and arts.

Bob Thomas / Getty Images

Lee Elder became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975.

Born one of 10 kids, he was 9 years old when his father died in Germany during World War II, and his mother died three months later. Elder bounced back and forth among relatives and wound up living with an aunt in Los Angeles.

“My aunt was an incredible person. She gave me love and discipline, didn’t let me get too far out of line. Her resources were limited, but she carried herself with great dignity, communicated well with people and taught me right from wrong. I was on my own after about age 16, but she got me to a point where I could care for myself.” – Lee Elder (Golf Digest, Aug 2019)

Elder's Career

Rising from the caddie ranks to dominate the United Golf Association, the tour for Black golfers in the era of the PGA’s Caucasian-only rule, Elder won 18 of 22 tournaments. – The Florida Times-Union, Feb 2017

Elder won four times on the PGA Tour and another eight times on the PGA Tour Champions. –, Nov 2020

Elder said he is actually most proud of two other accomplishments: he was the first Black golfer to play in the Ryder Cup in 1979 and he was the first to play a tournament in South Africa during the Apartheid Era after Gary Player invited him to compete in the 1971 South African PGA — five years before he would be allowed to play in the Masters. – The Florida Times-Union, Feb 2017

“For the first time ever, there were young Black children coming to the golf course not to caddie, but to watch Lee, and you should’ve seen the looks on their faces.” – Gary Player (Golf Digest)

Elder managed the desegregated Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C. from 1978-81, where he hosted after-school programs aimed at educating youngsters about the game, while also giving them a safe place to spend their afternoons. – USGA, Feb 2019

At 84, Lee Elder was named the 2019 Bob Jones Award winner, the first Black golfer to earn the USGA's highest honor. “Lee’s perseverance, positive attitude, and generous spirit personifies the ideals that the Bob Jones Award represents,” said USGA CEO Mike Davis. “His grace and humility demonstrate his extraordinary character, and his work at the community level has paved the way for generations of future golfers.” – Golf Digest, Feb 2019

Elder at the 1975 Masters

After winning the Monsanto Open in late April 1974: “The PGA Tour’s tournament director, Jack Tuthill, directed me to a police car. That surprised me, because I expected the trophy presentation would be outdoors. I said, “What’s going on, Jack?” Jack, a former FBI man, explained that death threats had been coming in all morning and that it would be safer if the presentation was indoors, back at the clubhouse. Jack said driving there in a police car would be safer than a golf cart. I agreed and understood the situation. It wasn’t the first time a Black athlete had received death threats, and it wasn’t the last. But I was thrilled to win.” – Lee Elder (GolfDigest, Aug 2019)

When Elder won the 1974 Monsanto Open, he finally got the Masters invitation from then-chairman Cliff Roberts. “I can’t say for sure right now,” said Elder, making Roberts cool his heels. But eventually Elder accepted and played with indomitable spirit and gracious élan, as he always did. – GolfDigest

After years of having invitation qualifications changed to keep him out, Elder finally became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975. – The Florida Times-Union, Feb 2017

“I didn’t feel they were making much of an effort to get Black players in when they could have found a way. It sometimes felt just the opposite was true.” – Lee Elder (Golf Digest, Aug 2019)

“Months before that Masters, the death threats started coming in. I wasn’t concerned about anything happening to me at the club, because security was excellent. It was the time away—driving in my car, especially—that worried me. So I rented two houses. Every night, I switched houses. I felt better, but even then there were lots of racist shouts while we were in traffic, cold treatment at local stores, the usual stuff."

"Nothing could have prepared me for that week at the Masters. On Monday, there were so many photographers, reporters and TV people wanting time individually, I squeezed in only six holes. Finally the club arranged a Tuesday press conference in the hope of taking care of everything all at once. The conference lasted three hours. The attention reinforced that I wasn’t representing just a country, but an entire race of people. It was nearly overwhelming.” – Lee Elder (Golf Digest, Aug 2019)

At every green, both days, the receptions were incredible. The applause was so sincere and respectful, and lasted so long. What amazed me was the number of Black people who showed up to watch me play. I couldn’t begin to guess how many there were, but it was far more than I’d seen at a golf tournament before.” – Lee Elder (Golf Digest, Aug 2019)

Lee's Invitation to the 2021 Masters

Elder has been invited to be one of the three honorary starters at the April 2021 Masters, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. (Announced Nov 9, 2020 by Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley)

Two scholarships in Elder's name will be awarded annually to both a man and a woman on the golf teams at Paine College, a historically Black college located in Augusta. –, Nov 2020

"The courage and commitment of Lee Elder and other trailblazers like him inspired men and women of color to pursue their rightful opportunity to compete and follow their dreams. But in reality, that opportunity is still elusive for many. We have a long way to go, and we can and we must do more." - Fred Ridley, Augusta National News Conference