Tiger Woods wouldn’t be born for another 14 years.
And 38 years later, Macon elected -- and then re-elected -- a black mayor.
But back in 1961, neither Woods nor Jack Ellis would have been welcome to play golf at Bowden Golf Course, Macon’s public golf facility.
Back then, only the white public was allowed to use it.
“For about seven years, groups of black golfers on and off would petition the City Council to open up Bowden on some basis to play golf,” said Sam Macfie, who helped start the Macon Golf for Kids program in 2006. “ ‘Can we play golf on Monday when it’s closed?’ In 1954 and ’55, they weren’t real aggressive.”
Another movement to integrate the course took form in April 1961, and Macon City Council voted two months later to open the public course to black golfers.
Friday morning, Mayor Robert Reichert will join members of the local golf community -- including some of those first black golfers of 1961 -- when he reads a proclamation noting the 50th anniversary of Bowden’s integration in a ceremony at the course.
James Hill will be there. Of course, as the course marshal, he’s always there, and he often sees many of the players who helped integrate the course so long ago.
“It’s really like a community course,” said Hill, 79. “Some of those boys grew up on that course. They caddied there and played there. Everybody grew up around it.”
LaVerne D. Lockett was secretary of the Negro Bibb County Citizens Association, and she filed a petition with the city in early April 1961.
After that, there was a familiar political response.
“I do feel that this petition needs study,” Robert Wade, chairman of the city’s recreation committee, said in a story in the April 5, 1961, edition of The Telegraph. “We will have to call a meeting of the committee to discuss it and then make a report back to the entire council.”
Former Mayor Ed Wilson weighed in as well.
“I am sure that this committee will give this matter careful study before making recommendations to City Council at a later date.”
Among the points made in the petition, as reported in that edition:
“Relations between the white and Negro races in our community have been good over a period of many years and we want to keep them that way, as we sincerely believe that you do. We make no threats in our request for the rights which the courts have said are ours under the law.
“But we make no apology whatever for our insistence that steps must be taken to grant to Negro citizens rights and privileges which others have long enjoyed.”
After meetings and talk of hearings and inquiries from the city attorney, it turns out there was no law prohibiting black players from the course.
The Telegraph reported: “As to status of the Bowden course in past years, City Attorney Buckner Melton said he searched Macon records and ‘failed to find any local law or ordinance whatever’ barring Negroes or any other race from using it.”
It also added that Melton could find no evidence that any black residents had tried to use the course since its opening about 20 years earlier.
Days before the City Council vote, Macfie said a group of black golfers informed the council that they intended to play at Bowden soon.
“It was a statement, not ‘May we play? What would happen if we played?’ ” said Macfie, who moved to Macon in the 1990s and met some of those groundbreaking golfers and became fascinated with their stories. “ ‘We’ve waited long enough.’ That was sort of a statement of notification.”
The report filed to the council by Wade and signed by recreation committee members Hubert Hamilton, Gus Bernd and Fred Davenport stated: “The committee has reached the conclusion that the City of Macon cannot legally prevent use of Bowden Municipal Golf Course by the Negro citizens represented by the petitioner.”
And so on June 6, 1961, two years before Mercer University admitted its first black student and years before the full integration of Bibb County’s public schools, Bowden became an actual public course -- and reportedly the first venue in Macon to integrate.
A few days later, the foursome of Walter Worthen Sr., Robert Reed and Oscar and Freddie Vinson played at Bowden, without incident.
“They knew who the guys were because they had been caddies,” said Macfie, noting that former PGA tour member Worthen is the only member of the foursome still living, and he resides in Michigan. “They knew how to play. It wasn’t confrontational. They were known and liked and respected for their golfing ability.”
When Hill moved from Macon in the late 1950s, he couldn’t play at Bowden. After moving back a few years later, he could.
“Change was coming,” Hill said. “Pretty soon, it was there. It was like magic.”
To contact writer Michael A. Lough, call 744-4626.