In 1947, the Fir State Golf Club is founded by a racially diverse group of 15 men and women who, because of their race, are not welcome in the existing golf clubs in Seattle at the time. As the first African American golf club in the city, they help pave the way for more minority acceptance on golf courses of the region. The club later creates the Fir State Golf Foundation to promote youth participation in golf and in the community.
Born of Bigotry
By 1947, African Americans around the country were becoming more active on the golf course, but they were still not welcomed in traditional clubs. Although black golfers were allowed to play individually at public courses in the Seattle area, tournament play required membership in a recognized club, and blacks were denied membership to city clubs of the period. A group of 15 men and women joined together and founded the Fir Sate Golf Club in 1947 in an effort to give African Americans access to local tournaments.
Founding member Henderson Quinn puts this event in historical perspective:
“The Fir State Golf Club was born out of ignorance, bigotry and racism. In 1947, World War II had only recently ended, and the official classification for Black Americans was still Negro or Colored. Rosa Parks had not yet been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man [the action which started the civil rights movement in the United States]. This wouldn’t occur for another eight years, in 1955. The 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution [the Civil Rights Act] was seventeen years away. So, having colored people interested in and playing golf was just not heard of, or considered practical. Negroes were not allowed to join the established city golf clubs. Fir State Golf Club was born in order for Blacks to play on the public golf courses” (Club History).
Strength and Determination
Pat Francis, another founding member, suggested naming the club after a fir tree, as a symbol of “strength and determination” that is native to Washington state. In the beginning, the club held monthly meetings at Shannon’s Barbershop or the Cleaning Shop on 12th Avenue and Jackson Street, but eventually the meetings grew so large that a larger space was needed. The club began renting a room at The Royal Esquire Club, a private club for African American men.
Although the main purpose of the club was to give minorities a means to participate in local tournaments, the Fir State golf club was banned from public King County golf tournaments until 1952. Until then, the club traveled to Wenatchee or Portland for tournaments. Fir State Golf hosted its first club tournament at Inglewood Golf and Country club, a privately owned club, in 1950.
In 1952, Fir State Golf Club joined the U.S. Golfing Association and King County opened its courses to minority groups, but African Americans were still barred entry to City of Seattle courses. The club appealed to the Seattle City Council, stating that several members had been rejected from public courses for being “Negroes.” In response, parks superintendent Paul V. Brown responded that, although the Parks Department had no official connection with any golf clubs, he could recommend that when any club reserved a public course they must welcome all citizens, regardless of color, at their tournaments.
In the following years, Fir State Golf Club members became regulars at Jefferson Park Golf Course, among others. In 1977, the Fir State Golf Club purchased a clubhouse on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. Funds were obtained from $100 donations from each of the clubs 51 members (Club history).
The Fir State Junior Golf Foundation was established to encourage young people to get involved in golfing, as well as to promote community leadership and education. This nonprofit organizes classes, tournaments, and free instruction for African American youth. In 1992, a young Tiger Woods hosted the annual fundraising tournaments. The foundation also provides golf scholarships to college students.
In 1997, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary with free community workshops taught by long-time members. Today (2010), Fir State Golf Club members are fixtures at Jefferson Park Golf Course, a multicultural course that welcomes all people.