Dr. George Grant: Golf fit him to a tee
My relationship with golf is rather distant. I can enjoy watching but I don’t have the desire to spend my free time on the course or at the range. I’m from the Mark Twain school of golf. Mark Twain described golf as "a fine walk ruined." I couldn’t agree more, but we are witnessing the continued rise of Tiger Woods as golf's reigning king of kings. No other golfer is close to challenging him as the best in the game these days. I have enjoyed watching his rise to prominence. Some 25 years ago I was intrigued to watch footage of Tiger playing golf at 5 years of age with his dad and local sportscaster Jim Hill. As an avid fan of the game, Jim had the perfect human interest story when he showed young Tiger as a precocious preschooler on the golf course. But that was just the start. Tiger has gone on to dominate that sport like no other golfer has. He is poised to pass Ben Hogan for lifetime major wins and he is just 32 years old. But there is another black golfer who is totally unknown and who is responsible for a major contribution to the modern game. His name is Dr. George Grant.
What was golf like before the invention of the golf tee in 1899? Golfers had to carry a bucket of sand from hole to hole. They would scoop the sand out and build a little mound, placing the ball on top like a cherry on an ice cream sundae.
Then along came Dr. George Grant (1847-1910) to completely revolutionize the game by inventing and patenting the modern version of the golf tee. But Dr. Grant was used to being a revolutionary. Born in Oswego, N.Y., this son of former slaves was the first African-American to receive a scholarship to Harvard University Dental School. Two years after graduating, Dr. Grant became the first black faculty member of Harvard, where he was a highly respected professor for 19 years.
His passion for golf led him to invent his tee, a carved wooden peg with a concave top. Dr. Grant did not market his invention, nor did he pursue any moneymaking schemes. He merely gave the tees away to anyone who wanted them. Ironically, it would be another 63 years before Charlie Sifford would become the first African-American allowed to become a member of the PGA tour.
Photo credit: David Cannon / Getty Images, LA Times.