Written by Staff Writer
Thomas Roberts, the first black professional golfer to play on the PGA Tour, died Thursday aged 86.
“Thomas Roberts is the first man who was able to break the color barrier in professional golf,” the prestigious PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem told the Associated Press.
Roberts was playing pro golf on the invitational New York Golf Association Tournament in the early 1950s when he noticed whites on the player’s list had titles, addresses and phone numbers and African Americans had none.
He asked the organizer how he could get his name on the list. The answer was simple: because he is white.
The tour didn’t have the credentials to officially certify him and until a few years later the non-white players were rarely admitted.
Related: Remembering World War II pinball champ Barbara Collins
“Fascinated by the segregation and the gender discrimination, Roberts got a group of friends together and started a tour to promote friendship and, at least, make a point in providing an opportunity for African Americans to play,” wrote the Golf Channel in a tribute.
It wasn’t easy to get on the tour, he later explained.
“Some were going slow, some were going fast and some were playing with pros, but the reality was it just got close to being impossible for them to get on the tour,” he said in an interview with South Florida International University (SFUI) in 2011.
Related: Meet the 17-year-old genius playing US Opens
Roberts had a stint playing with pros at the Palmer Course in the Florida Keys, which in a part of the country with very little golfing expertise has made a name for itself.
“Many of my friends back in Chicago, New York and all over the country would stop by and say: ‘We’re here to play golf, and we heard your story,'” Roberts said.
His story and story of African Americans who had paved the way for him is the subject of an upcoming feature film titled “Remember the Titans,” set to be released in 2015.
Roberts was a member of the PGA Golf Hall of Fame, and when it was announced that his museum in East Haddam, Connecticut would be closing because of declining membership, members gathered to raise $1 million to save it.