Known as Charlotte’s “hidden gem” and home to The First Tee of Greater Charlotte Learning Center, Revolution Park Golf Course has a remarkable history. Today, it is a beautiful 9-hole course known as the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course. In 2008, The First Tee of Greater Charlotte remodeled the practice area into one of the best in Charlotte. We also remodeled the old clubhouse into a cozy, bright, and inviting learning center. The new clubhouse, which is separate from us, stands on the corner of the lot connected to a Park & Rec Center which boasts a fitness center and boxing ring.
To understand the revolution of the course, we have to go back to 1929 when the Barringer family donated the land to the city for recreational use. A municipal golf course named Bonnie Brae was built, but the deed for the land included a very specific requirement: for use by white people only. In 1951, a former African-American police officer named Ray Booton tried to play the the course and was denied. This moment set into motion a lawsuit lasting 5 long years which resulted in the North Carolina Supreme Court desegregating the golf course almost thirty years after it first opened. James Otis Williams was the first African-American to play the Bonnie Brae Golf Course. He was 17 years old and shot a 37. Shortly after, city officials voted to purchase the golf course.
In this same year, my friend James “Slim” Bouler (age 65) legally played Revolution Park for the first time. Slim was, and still is, a regular patron of the golf course. I had the pleasure to sit down with Slim and his good friend, Leroy Roseboro (age 70), to hear their stories.
Growing up in Charlotte, golf was a significant part of Slim’s life. As a boy, he started out caddying, and he instantly fell in love with the game. By 12 years old, he found himself a club to play with and a spot to practice. I say “a” club because he literally practiced with one 4-iron in the field behind Dilworth Elementary School. The first course he played was Revolution and he shot a 72. By 8th grade, Slim earned a spot on his junior high golf team. Although he was much better than most of his teammates, he was unable to play in the tournaments due to racial tensions.
Slim’s account: “The courses that my team played on would not let blacks play. My coach said, if you can accept it we’ll have a golf team, and if don’t accept it then we won’t have a golf team. I wanted to play but I didn’t want to hurt the other guys on the team. You have to understand, if we had the opportunity, there would have been more players like Tiger Woods. We just didn’t have the opportunity.”
Even though Slim did not have the same opportunities as his Caucasian peers, he definitely made a name for himself in the Charlotte golfing community. Slim shared countless newspaper articles with me in which his name is in the headline. For Slim, his most significant accomplishment was taking the inaugural Black Hall of Fame Golf Tournament title. Below is the article from the July 21, 1986 Enquirer Journal. (You’ll notice they spell his name incorrectly). In the article, Slim states, “The Title means more to me than anything else because it was the first Black Hall of Fame to ever be played. It’s like a dream come true.”
Leroy Roseboro had a similar experience growing up in Charlotte as his friend Slim. Leroy started out as a caddie at Eastwood Golf Course. When he wasn’t caddying, Leroy practiced with one left-handed club (he is not left-handed by the way). He lived over at Brookhill, and he told me that he and James Black would make up their own course with holes going from one side of the street to the other. He would use his one, left-handed, club to play their makeshift course. What he has always most enjoyed about playing with Black was “James Black was always humble.”
James Black is a legend around the Charles L. Sifford Golf Course. It seems almost every patron that comes into The First Tee of Greater Charlotte Learning Center asks about James Black. Mr. Black regularly stops by the course and our office to tell stories from his playing days and to offer words of wisdom to both staff and participants. In the late 1950’s he joined a caddie club at Revolution Park. This allowed him to make honest money and learn the game of golf. As a junior golfer, there were no tournaments in the Carolinas Golf Association (CGA) that he could play in; that did not stop him. The United Golf Association (UGA) was a group of African-American golfers who operated a separate series of events. This tour became a way of life for Mr. Black to play competitively. The golf courses that they played on were not manicured, and almost unplayable, but it taught him to play better. Mr. Black is a strong believer in the rules of golf and maintaining integrity at all times which is an important lesson The First Tee teaches.
Growing up in this time period of turmoil when golf was probably the hardest sport for a young African-American to play in Charlotte, I asked Slim, “Why didn’t you just play something esle?” The answer was quite simply, “I loved it.”
On May 3, 2011 Revolution Park Golf Course was renamed the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park. Now, the course where The First Tee of Greater Charlotte proudly stands is named for the man that led the way for African-American golfers. Sifford, along with men like Slim, Leroy, and Mr. Black, personify perseverance. They are examples that by maintaining your values and abiding by the rules of golf, one can succeed. What better example to set for the participants of The First Tee of Greater Charlotte?
As our chapter continues to grow in the number of youth participating, volunteers, and staff, our learning center will continue to evolve. We currently have plans to expand the learning center by 40% to accommodate for more indoor programming space for our kids. Ground breaking is tentatively set for June. Many community supporters will be invited to this event. Three special guests will most certainly be Mr. Black, Slim, and Leroy.
Personally, my hope is that the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park and The First Tee of Greater Charlotte Learning Center will leave a legacy of unity. I hope that it will remain a place where children and adults from all socio-economic backgrounds, race, religion, and even skill level, will come to enjoy the game of golf. I hope that the patrons of the course and the participants of The First Tee will continue to set an example to the community by upholding The First Tee Nine Core Values, specifically respect and integrity. And I hope that we can remember the past, learn from it, and move forward towards a brighter future.
Slim Bouler, Charlotte, NC
Leroy Roseboro, Charlotte, NC
Ike Grainger, Charlotte, NC