SAN ANTONIO — Lee Elder, who spent much of his life being a golf trailblazer, is set to make history once again. This summer, the 84-year-old will become the first African American to be awarded the USGA’s Bob Jones Award, the association’s highest honor.
Elder will be given the award, which recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, at Pebble Beach Golf Links in June during the week of the U.S. Open.
“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. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to honor his incredible sportsmanship in the game.”
The youngest of 10 children born in Dallas, Elder was orphaned at age nine after his father was killed in World War II and his mother died three months later. His schooling was interrupted, and Elder began to work at a nearby golf course, which sparked an affinity for the game. As he moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt, he continued to work in pro shops and started caddieing.
Elder turned his love for the sport into a competitive career, dominating the United Golf Association for African American golfers before eventually qualifying for the PGA Tour in 1967. He would win four PGA Tour events, and eight PGA Tour Champions titles.
His maiden PGA Tour victory, the 1974 Monsanto Open, also earned him a spot in the 1975 Masters, where he became the first African American to play in the major championship. In 1979, he was also the first African American to play in the Ryder Cup.
Elder also help provide playing opportunities for younger golfers. He was involved in desegregating Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C., and created the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund to offer financial aid to low-income men and women to attend college.
“It’s a great honor to receive this award and be recognized in the same vein as Mr. Jones, who did so much for golf, and many others that I’ve admired who have positively impacted the game,” Elder said. “I felt that by setting the right example and serving as a mentor, I would have the ability to leave a lasting impression on people. Even if I could only reach a few of them, I wanted to give all youngsters a chance to learn the game and be a part of it.”