Brown’s historic feat of first black golfer to win on PGA Tour (1964 Waco Turner Open) to be celebrated with May 1 jubilee

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By Barbara Sessions

Burneyville, Okla – Pete Browns historic victory 60 years ago in the PGA Tour’s 1964 Waco Turner Open in Burneyville will be celebrated and remembered in a May 1 press conference and jubilee at the Falconhead Resort course. With a clutch one-putt par on the 72nd hole, Brown became the first African-American Tour member to win a sanctioned PGA event. He was 29 years old.

Black golfers had been barred from PGA membership prior to 1962. Brown joined the Tour in 1963. He overcame racism and a year-long bout of polio at age 19 to persist in his goal of playing professional golf.

Pete had a strong will. He was the most determined person I ever knew,” said Margaret Brown, his wife. The Waco Turner Open was played from April 30-May 3, 1964. Brown also won the 1970 Andy Williams San Diego Open.

Browns breakthrough at Burneyville paved the way for future black golfers, from Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, and Jim Dent, up to Tiger Woods, to experience success at the highest level of mens golf.

A national celebration, the Pete Brown Jubilee, is set for noon Wednesday, May 1, 2024, to mark the 60th anniversary of Browns milestone win. The site will be the 18th green of Falconhead Resort and Country Club (formerly Turners Lodge) in Burneyville. Falconhead Resort is at Exit 15, Marietta, on Interstate 35, then 12 miles west on State Highway 32.

Brown, who died in Augusta, GA in 2015, will be represented by his wife and other family members. I would give anything in the world to stand on that 18th green,” Margaret Brown, 84, said about the Jubilee. She was at home caring for the couples young children in 1964.

Pete called and told me he won the tournament. I didnt believe him at first. Stop kidding around,I said. He said, No, I mean it. I won and I did it for you because you always told me I was good enough to win on the PGA Tour.’”

The May 1 program will include presenters from the world of golf and African American golf history. A special exhibit, Life and Times of Pete Brown,” will open that day in the Turners Lodge Pro Golf Museum in the Falconhead Pro Shop.

Afterward will be the Pete Brown-Waco Turner Tribute 72nd Hole Scoring Contest. Open to all, the goal is to make a par 3 on the uphill, 232-yard #18, like Pete Brown did to win the Waco Turner Open outright and avoid a playoff with Dan Sikes. To add authenticity, players will hit with the late Waco Turners personal set of 1950s Wilson golf clubs.

Turners Lodge was the name of the Falconhead course from 1958-1968. Burneyville oil millionaires Waco and Opie Turner built the course and between them sponsored an amazing six mens and womens Tour stops in the smallest community ever to host professional golf.

The LPGA Tour formally opened the Turners Lodge Course with the 1958 Opie Turner Open won by Mickey Wright, and returned in 1959 (Betsy Rawls the winner). The PGA Tour played four Waco Turner Opens from 1961-1964. The champions were Butch Baird, Johnny Pott, Gay Brewer, and Brown.

Falconhead Resort is open to public play. It is the rare opportunity for any golfer to play a pro tour course on which both the LPGA and PGA held official events.

In the final threesome with Brown was his friend and traveling companion Charlie Sifford, the PGA Tours first Black member. The two Black golfers had been tied for second after three rounds. Sifford finished in a tie for sixth place.

A large field of 150 golfers came to Burneyville the first week of May each year, while the Tournament of Champions was going on at the Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas for the 25 or 30 pros who had won Tour events the prior year.

Sifford also played in the 1962 Waco Turner Open, finishing in a tie for 21st. It was the first integrated PGA Tour stop in Oklahoma.

Brown grew up caddying on a golf course in Jackson, Mississippi. Though a public” course, Black players were not allowed. Late in the day, Brown would sneak onto the course to play a few holes with a left-handed 3-wood and a right-handed 5-iron he had fished from a lake.

Prior to admission to the PGA Tour, accomplished Black golfers formed their own tour and played on courses that permitted them. On the United Golfers Tour, Brown won two National Negro Opens in a row, 1960 and 1961.

He and his wife operated the Madden Golf Course in Dayton, Ohio from 1981 until 2004.

In 1986, Brown was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in Decatur, GA.

In 2019 the Jackson, Mississippi course was renamed Pete Brown Golf Facility. In 2020, Brown was inducted posthumously into the Mississippi Golf Hall of Fame.

Barbara Sessions is a historian and curator of the museum dedicated to the professional golf events at Falconhead.


 

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