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March 26, 2008

Dr. George Grant: Golf fit him to a tee

Kareem_tigerwoods(Tiger Woods for the WGC CA Championship at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, in Miami.)

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.


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Hello Mr. Jabbar. I saw your blog and really look forward to reading more of what you write. You are truly one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, and will always be considered that way.
Hope to hear from you,


I wonder if Tiger knows this...

Abogada Adelante

My siblings and I often refer to ourselves as golf orphans due to my father's love of golf. When he wasn't playing he monopolized the only television in the house to watch golf tournaments. He should have been the first brown pro but had no sponsors. We have many of his trophies including a silver box with his name engraved for his first hole-in one. He could never afford the fees and others paid for him to play so the team could win a trophy. He begged to teach my sons to play when they were in grade school but they refused and wanted to play basketball instead. Needless to say, we are all now huge fans of Tiger Woods and watch golf tournaments when he is playing. My sons forever regret the opportunity lost by not allowing their grandfather to teach them the game.

The D

That's really cool. I imagine it took Grant a lot of focus, determination and thick skin to get through his formal schooling, esp. under the circumstances of the era. For other obviously bright people, such experiences frequently yield a "straight and narrow" worldview at the expense of curiosity and joy.

I find it uplifting that despite enjoying so much success by virtue of striving and clarity of direction, Grant had enough pure wonder left within him to follow a separate passion and to do something inventive with it.



I've always been a huge fan of yours, not just for your outstanding basketball skill, but more for your character and integrity you've demonstrated over the years. Being a fellow New Yorker who remembers Power Memorial, I am always reminded the kids in my basketball program to go home, google people like you and learn a little bit more about the game and the world that the game was built around.

Being an avid golfer I truly appreciate your article on Dr. Grant. I will think of him and you, each time I put a tee in the ground.



Kareem, your posts on black athletic history demonstrate that you are not only one of the greatest in your sport ever, but also similarly perched as an eminent cultural historian. Among athletic figures, throughout all of American sport, only Arthur Ashe comes to mind as achieving something comparable. Thanks so much!

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

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