Meet the first black golfer who brought color to the sport at the 1896 US Open

John Matthew Shippen Jr. The first African American professional golfer. Source:

Golf is perhaps one of the oldest white male privilege sports in history considered a preserve for the rich and elites. U.S. President Donald Trump remarked in 2015 that only the rich should be allowed to play golf.

Before Tiger Woods – one of the most successful golfers of all time – was born, a black caddy, instructor, and repairman at a golf course entered the US Open in 1896 at the age of 17.

John Matthew Shippen Jr. became the first African American professional golfer and one of America’s golf pioneers.

He was born on December 5, 1879, in Long Island, New York, and was introduced to golf in 1894 by Willie Dunn, a Scottish golfer, and owner of a new golf course built near the Indian reservation in Shinnecock Hills.

Dunn taught local youth the sport including Shippen who worked with the maintenance crew on the golf course.

His entry into the US Open together with the first Native American golfer Oscar Bunn stirred controversy among many Scottish and English golfers who threatened to withdraw from the event.

Some withdrew, but the historic event was held and Shippen finished 5th place winning a $10 prize. He competed in five other US Opens as a professional golfer while he continued to work at the golf course until he retired from the competition in 1924.

John Matthew Shippen Jr. moved to New Jersey where he worked for the Shady Rest golf course until 1960. He designed and sold custom-made golf clubs marked “J.M. Shippen”.

The pioneer golfer was never granted membership in the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) until 2009 when he was named a posthumous member. He died in Newark, New Jersey in 1968 at the age of 89.

The next black golfer to compete in the US Open after Shippen was Ted Rhodes in 1948. Despite Shippen’s role in opening up the sport for minorities, the demographic divide is still huge.

This article by Ismail Akwei was published on

Published by Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei is an international journalist, digital media and communications professional, editor, writer, arts, culture and tourism advocate, human rights activist, pan-Africanist, tech enthusiast and history buff. He has worked with multinational media companies across Africa and has over a decade’s experience in journalism.

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