Golf Sports

Golfer Jim Dent overcame a segregated South on his way to a stellar career

'The experience was extremely tough,' says golf legend

PALM HABOR, FLA. – Jim Dent is content and living a happy life.

His extraordinary accomplishments and perseverance have helped him enjoy retirement.

Dent won four PGA Tournaments and a dozen Senior Tour events. In a career spanning 40 years, he earned US$9,583,989, almost all of it after he turned 50. Not bad for a golfer whose skin colour might have been his greatest obstacle.

“It was hard for us to play on the tour back in the day, you know,” Dent said while watching practice Wednesday at the Valspar Tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla., not far from his home near Tampa. “I had a lot of fun golfing. But I enjoy playing this game, and I dreamed about playing with big boys.”

Pursuing your dreams and goals in the segregated South wasn’t easy. Dent wasn’t allowed to play on many of the same courses he caddied on.

“Extremely tough. The experience was extremely tough, I started golf as a caddy, I wanted to learn the game. I struggled immensely to get on tour until I grinded enough to make it,” Dent said.

At first, it was difficult to find places to play. The four Armed Forces golf courses in his native Augusta, Ga., permitted African Americans to play only on Mondays if they caddied there.

Despite his passion for golf, Dent decided to accept a football scholarship to Paine College in Augusta, but after a year his urge to play golf was too great. He spent the next seven years learning the game, waiting tables and playing in events hosted by the black United Golfers Association.

He made it to the PGA Tour in 1970, nine years after it had been desegregated. In 1972 he was the runner up in the Walt Disney Invitational.

“My best moment,” Dent said. “I finished second to Jack Nicklaus. … in a three-way tie (with Bobby Mitchell and Larry Wood).”

In 1976 he won the first of three consecutive Florida PGA Championships. His final PGA win was 1983 Michelob-Chattanooga Gold Cup Classic. After 20 years and US$ 561,008 he joined the Senior Tour in 1989 where he won 12 events, the last one the 1998 Home Depot Invitational.

“The Senior Tour was gravy,” Dent said with a laugh. “You didn’t have to worry about making the cut. We knew we were going to get a paycheque every week. (On the PGA Tour) you don’t know if you’re going to get paid… I had a lot of fun on the senior tour, I really got to enjoy it.”