Charlie Sifford. Western Open. Photo: Laura Ptaszkiewicz

The Forgotten Man In Golf’s Integration

How Stanley Mosk quietly changed the pro game

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Peter May’s new book, Changing The Course: How Charlie Sifford and Stanley Mosk Integrated the PGA

In November of 1960, the Professional Golfers of America held its annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. Among the items on the agenda was the awarding of the 1962 PGA Championship to Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles. It passed easily. There was another proposal, this one from the Southern California and Metropolitan New York chapters, to eliminate the organization’s Caucasian Only clause, a section of the PGA’s by-laws which limited membership to golfers “of the Caucasian race.”

The PGA members considered the item, which had been in effect since 1934, and soundly rejected it by a vote of 64-17. The PGA would remain a closed shop, prohibiting talented Black golfers such as Charlie Sifford from becoming members. While all the other major professional sports had integrated to various degrees by then, the PGA remained, in the words of Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, “the recreational arm of the Ku Klux Klan.”

One year later, the delegates gathered in Hollywood, Florida, and, once again, there was a motion to eliminate what became known as the Caucasian Only clause. This time, the motion was advanced by six chapters, including the one that covered Alabama and Georgia. The measure passed unanimously.

What had happened in the previous 12 months to prompt such a sea change? Stanley Mosk had happened. And it is long past time that this man, the crusading attorney general for the state of California and an ardent civil rights champion, be recognized and appreciated for the critical role he played in integrating the PGA. 

Stanley Mosk
Stanley Mosk (center) with Robert (left) and Ted Kennedy in 1960. 

Stanley Mosk was a tennis player. He enjoyed playing at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, a mostly Jewish club which opened its doors to non-members (like Mosk) regardless of race (Mosk was white) or religion (Mosk was Jewish.) Elected by a landslide in 1958, Mosk had revolutionized the California attorney general’s office, establishing a Division of Constitutional Rights, to be led by civil rights attorney Franklin Williams. A lifelong, unabashed liberal, Mosk had been the only Jew in his high school class of more than 400. He had helped elect the first Democratic governor in California in four decades and served as his executive secretary for four years. In 1947, while sitting as a Superior Court judge, Mosk was asked to uphold a racial covenant in an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood. The judge denied the motion, ruling that racial covenants were unenforceable and, as he put it, “un-American.’’ The following year, the United States Supreme Court reached the same conclusion.

“Stanley Mosk ruled for racial equality before the rest of the nation moved forward,’’ said one of his California Supreme Court colleagues. 

But Stanley Mosk knew nothing about the PGA and its codified racism until September 1959, when he was introduced to Charlie Sifford at Hillside. The chance meeting was prompted by Billy Eckstine, the singer and band composer, who had been Sifford’s friend, travel companion and financial backer for more than a decade.

Mosk knew that Sifford was a championship-caliber golfer. But when the attorney general asked why Sifford wasn’t playing regularly on the PGA, the golfer told him the reason. It was because of the color of his skin.

“You mean to tell me that they actually have that in their organizational by-laws?” Mosk asked incredulously.

They did indeed. 

The years of indignities that Charlie Sifford suffered on and off the course forced him to develop thick skin and an instinct to fight for what he thought was his. “The things he went through did not go down well with him,” Sifford’s friend and fellow pro Larry Mowry told Golf Digest. “Let’s be honest: Charlie could be difficult.” So when he did smile, as in this photo the week after his first PGA Tour victory at the Greater Hartford Open, it was a genuine event. Photo: Old Golf Images/SBM
Charlie Sifford (pictured above in 1973) was the first Black man to break professional golf’s color barrier. It may never have happened without the help of Stanley Mosk. Photo: Old Golf Images/SBM

Over the next year, Mosk and Williams went to work. Mosk threatened to enjoin the PGA from holding any of its tournaments in California. He urged other attorneys general to do the same. In part due to Mosk’s pressure tactics and Sifford’s resilience, the PGA awarded the Black golfer what was then called Approved Player Status in March 1960. It would help Sifford get into more tournaments. It did not make him an official member of the PGA.

Mosk convinced the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to withdraw as a sponsor for the 1962 PGA Championship. It was particularly galling to the attorney general that the PGA was scheduling its signature event in his state while he was fighting to remove what he rightly called “this obnoxious restriction” from its by-laws.

The attorney general then demanded that a California professional tournament which had been limited to PGA members be canceled unless it opened it up to anyone who could qualify. Mosk won that one.

But the November 1960 vote in Arizona had infuriated him. Nearly 80 percent of the PGA members had voted to keep the Caucasian Only clause. A month later, he dispatched Williams to Washington DC to meet with one of the PGA’s attornies, Thurman Arnold. Williams was optimistic in that Arnold had been a trust-buster while serving in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s justice department. But he came away from the meeting utterly disillusioned after Arnold had asked him, “well, why do colored people want to go where they’re not welcome, anyhow?’’

Williams had heard all this before in his career as a lawyer for the NAACP. He had worked with Thurgood Marshall in Washington before becoming the head of the western office of the NAACP. He was one of Mosk’s first hires as attorney general. When Williams returned to California after his meeting with Arnold, he and Mosk agreed that there might be no resolution short of taking the PGA to court.

While Sifford played in some tournaments in 1961, including a groundbreaking appearance at the Greater Greensboro Open, the PGA decided it was easier to move its 1962 championship out of California rather than deal with Mosk. It did just that in May. The event was rescheduled for Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philadelphia, and the club drew immediate criticism from the local chapter of the NAACP. Sifford did not qualify for the tournament, although the PGA went to great lengths to explain Sifford’s absence had nothing to do with his skin color.

Ben Hogan surrounded by fans, Los Angeles Open, Riviera Country Club. (Photo By Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Premium Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Ben Hogan on the first tee at Riviera during the 1950 Los Angeles Open—a full decade before the PGA abolished its Caucasian Only clause.

Neither Mosk nor Sifford bought that one.

“I don’t see any reason for them moving the tournament at that late a date after having made preparations for the tournament to be held in Los Angeles, if not for the fact that they were going to exclude Charlie Sifford and others who might be Black,” Mosk said.

While Mosk publicly berated the organization, and had the legal power to actually do something, he also had plenty of help from others. The PGA was hammered in newspaper columns by Jackie Robinson, who had broken the color barrier in baseball in 1947. Boxing great Joe Louis, himself a very good golfer, had demanded the PGA allow Sifford to become a member. The magazine Sports Illustrated said the PGA was “far behind the times if it thinks that racial segregation has a place in sports.” Other Black golfers such as Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes, who had sued the PGA in 1948 over the Caucasian clause, continued to make their voices heard. 

The 1948 litigation might well have ended racial discrimination on the PGA had it been on the docket of Superior Court Judge Stanley Mosk in Los Angeles. But it was filed in northern California. The two golfers withdrew the suit after the PGA promised to open all its tournaments to Blacks. It did no such thing. It instead allowed tournaments to become “invitationals” and most chose not to invite Black golfers.

But as 1961 progressed, so, mercifully, did the thinking of those few at the time who could be construed as the PGA’s wiser heads. The organization said it would propose to eliminate the Caucasian Only clause at its November meeting in Florida. Mosk and Sifford were not optimistic. Hadn’t that same body upheld the clause by a 4-to-1 margin the previous year?

 A PGA official told the delegates that failure to eliminate the clause would result in an injunction against the organization and that both New York and California would not allow the organization to operate in its state. And the delegates listened. Twenty-four years of codified racism ended with their unanimous vote.

That is not to suggest that institutional racism ended on the tour. It would be years before Sifford could feel comfortable playing in tournaments in the south. But he became the first Black golfer to be an official PGA member and was rightfully inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. Stanley Mosk deserves to be there as well.

Mosk served 37 years on the California Supreme Court, the longest in state history. State buildings in Los Angeles and Sacramento, as well as an elementary school in suburban Los Angeles, are named in his honor. It was his unwavering persistence as the attorney general of California that forced the PGA to confront its ugliness.

“The Caucasian clause tumbled not because the rule was so inherently racist and wrong,’’ Sifford said. “It tumbled because I happened to meet a bright, liberal Jewish man who had a real problem with discrimination. Within two years, Stanley Mosk accomplished something that no hot putter or public image could ever do.”