Eastmoreland was the spawning grounds for the community where caddies could come to play and prove themselves champions. Twenty-five years later, three brave black pioneers lead by Mr. Vernon Gaskin, who worked on Union Pacific railroad company for decades created the first African-American golf club. The summary of the history from the Leisure Hour Golf Club website:
In the early 1940’s very few blacks could be found on public golf courses. Vernon Gaskin sought to remedy this situation by forming an organization to create power in numbers. Others who were instrumental in the formation of Leisure Hour Golf Club were, the late Stephen Wright, Walter & Gladys Ricks and Shelby Golden.
Current leaders of the Western States Golf Association of which Leisure Hour was a founding club: Bob Williams, vice president for the Pacific NW of Western States Golf Association; Dr. Granville Brown, president of Western States Golf Association; James White, the association’s incoming tournament chair; and Vicki Nakashima, chair of the City of Portland Golf Advisory Committee Credit The Skanner; Helin Silvis
I often say golf is the great equalizer - as the course and the ball will treat everyone the same. And while having an economic advantage, say your family is member of a private club where you can play for 'free' all day long with regular professional lessons. The essence of what makes a great player has always been a combination of talent, tenacity, form and grace and when players are out there on the course, everyone is equal. One of my favorite ways to explain this to non-golfers is to have them look at PGA tour - there are guys like Rory Mcilroy and Rickie Fowler who crush drives over 300 yards yet barely stand over 5'9" and can go to to tow with guys like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson at 6'4". There are skinny short guys like Corey Paven and larger round guys like Angel Cabrerra. In the LPGA we see the very same type of body size diversity - Michelle Wie is 6'1'' and Mi Huyn Kim the one they call "peanut" is just 5'1".
The first Yet the race barrier was truly only broken when Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in 1997 and forever changed the game with dominance and intensity that rivals one of his golfing buddies Michael Jordan. Soon after the LPGA started to change complexity adding many foreign born nationals to it's ranks. To this day, there is still a lack of diversity for professional golfers than one would expect simply based on U.S. population.
Golf is the great equalizer - the course and the ball will always treat everyone the same.
But while the game itself may be the great equalizer - the people who run the golf courses, private clubs and the associations for many, many years were certainly not on the side of equality. The PGA tour did not permit black golfers until 1961. The USGA though represented as association for all golfers (which it is today) at it's start only represented the private clubs. In fact, the US Public Links Amatuer - which was played at Eastmoreland in 1933 was tournament specially created because the U.S. Amatuer would only allow members of private clubs to compete. (This fact that this rule remained until 1971 shocks almost all golfers I speak to and does go to show that the "silk stocking" reputation of golf referenced by Parks & Recreation Commissioner Paul Keyser was an accurate reflection)
But while the game itself may be the great equalizer - the people who run the golf courses, private clubs and the associations for many, many years were traditionally not for equality
It's a tribute to Portland and the Parks & Recreation leaders that Eastmoreland appears to be one of the very few golf courses where african americans could play in the 1930' and 1940's "In the 1920', 30's and 40's, many Blacks had learned the game of golf as caddies. It was virtually the only way they could play on private and public courses. Estimates show that of the more than 5,000 golf facilities in the United States in 1939, fewer than 20 were open to Black players." See African American Registry.
So in 1944 when Veron Gaskin sought to help connect african american golfers to one another and new players to the game, he created the Leisure Hour Golf League and held that first tournament in 1944. I recently watched "This History of the Leisure Hour" documentary film produced and directed by James Winters and narrated by Garfield Wedderburn which traces the history of this pioneering club that made history here in Portland. As described above this club sparked a movement that was also beginning in other western cities like San Diego, San Francisco and LA that would join forces to create the Western States Golf Association.
In future articles I plan to highlight Vernon Gaskin and the other founding members - as they helped record home movies that at this time, appear to be the only film record of the course dating to the 1940's and 1950's. I also plan to dig deeper into the history of municipal golf and civil rights in America, for while Eastmoreland shows some promise of equality - it's clear this was the exception rather than the rule of the times. With more research and digging into history can we discover what it would have been like to walk in their shoes on those first summer days in 1944.