by George Kolb
McAdams Golf Club: A History Worth Recording
McAdams Golf Club has a history rich with cultural and community heritage. It started in 1920 something. No one knows the exact date or event that started this journey. Who knows? A group of young black men decided they wanted to fellowship through playing golf. Where they learned about golf since there was no radio or TV is a mystery. We suspect they were caddies at a local golf course and they picked up the game as so many others back then did. Some say that they picked up the game through working on the railroad. Wichita back then was a true railroad town and it was the main source of employment in the Black community. Who knows? But, due to the era of segregation and Jim Crow, they recognized they couldn't play on the local courses and collectively decided to do something about it. They formed the McKinley Park Golf Club around the time of the 1929 stock market crash.
In those days, McKinley Park was the designated park for the Black community. Therefore, it seems quite logical that the McKinley Park Golf Club approached the City of Wichita and asked that a three hole golf course be built in McKinley Park for their enjoyment.
The first recording of any golf course activity was June 26, 1929 at a regular meeting of the Parks Commission. Park Board members included W. A. Vincent, Water J. Parrott and its chairman, L. W. Clapp. According to the minutes of that meeting, "Mr. McDonald (Parks Director at that time) recommended that the Board lease vacant property owned by Mr. J. T. Pottorff, north of Fifteenth Street from this date until March 1, 1929 at a rental price of $67.50 for the term. This property to be used to locate three Golf holes for the use of colored residents of the City. Recommendation was approved, and Mr. McDonald was authorized to make the necessary arrangements with Mr. Pottorff for the use of the ground."
Shortly thereafter, three golf holes were constructed with sand greens. In 1930, McKinley Park Golf Club held its first tournament with participants playing the three holes three times. No record as to who won the first tournament exists. McKinley decided to make the tournament an annual event.
After a few years, it became apparent from records of Park Board Commission minutes, that the three hole course was not enough. Players were beginning to understand the game and the challenge of three golf holes was not enough to satisfy the players desire to replicate the true game of golf. Especially if they were to continue holding tournaments and inviting guests.
In May of 1940, the minutes of the Board of Park Commissioners recorded the following:
"It was also reported that representatives of the colored golf players at McKinley Park had met with the officers of the Board and had requested that something be done towards enlarging the 3-hole golf course at McKinley Park. Lester (H.D.) moved that the representatives of the colored golf players be invited to attend a Board meeting on Friday May 17 at 8:45 P.M. at which time a hearing will be held on the matter. Motion carried."
On Friday, May 17th, MGC met with the Park Commissioners. the meeting was recorded as follows:
"Messrs. Charles Pierce, Paul H. Steward and others appeared before the Board requesting the enlargement of the McKinley Golf facilities to nine holes, and recommended that ground adjacent to the present three hole course be acquired for this purpose. It was stated by this group that the colored golf players would be willing to pay a fee of perhaps 25 cents for playing on such a nine hole course."
Mr. Tom Cox presented a plan showing a suggested nine hole course on this tract.
Bergier moved that the officers of the Board conduct further studies looking toward providing a nine hole golf course adjacent to McKinley Park. Motion carried.
At the Board's June 10, 1940 meeting, the results of the investigation were reported:
"At the Board meeting of Friday, May 17 the officers of the Board were instructed to investigate land for enlarging the McKinley Golf Course. MacDonald presented two letters, one from Hardy Hurst, who owns certain land between the Canal and Indiana Avenue and from the Pottoroff Estate, which owns certain land adjacent to the Canal on 15th Street on the west side of the Canal and also on the west side of the Canal extending to New York Avenue. Lester moved that the Park Board officers and Mr Bergier, Park Commissioner be requested to investigate the propositions and see what could be done toward establishing a small golf course on these areas. Motion carried."
Nothing else is recorded in the minutes of the Park Board until October 14, 1940. We can only speculate. Members in the Black community circulated a petition to document their interest in a golf course in the neighborhood. The petition was presented to the Board at that October meeting. The petition was received and filed in a Board motion that also directed the Director of Parks to recommend at a later date the placement and funding requirements for expanding golf facilities.
According to minutes of the two subsequent Park Board meetings in February of 1941 action took place to acquire land, expand the golf course and pay for both. Ironically, the source of paying for the expansion was the federal WPA program.
The expanded nine hole golf course was built shortly thereafter. We believe that the 12th Annual Golf Tournament was probable played there. But, it soon became obvious that nine holes was no longer the challenge for the club. In 1946, after a historic breakthrough, black players were allowed to play the Arthur Sims Public Golf Course. Later, you will read how that breakthrough occurred in Donnie Anderson's account of McAdam's history.
The 1950s brought a cultural revolution and awakening across America. Black Americans asserted their rights to equal protection under the law and in society. The historic Brown vs Board of Education desegregation decision rocked the nation like no other decision before it. Change was coming to America, Wichita and the McKinley Park Golf Club.
The McKinley Park Golf Club determined that the Central States Regional Tournament would be held at one of the City owned golf courses. By this time, Blacks were allowed individual play at city courses. The Parks Board initially denied the Club’s request. In January 1957, Hank Moore and George Wright met with members of the Park Board to discuss the denial. Subsequently, the Park Board reversed their decision and directed that the tournament be held on a city course of the Club’s choosing. That year the McKinley Park Golf Club hosted the Central States Amateur Golf Association Regional Tournament, July 15 -17, at MacDonald Park Golf Course.
In January of 1958, George Wright, then secretary of the McKinley Park Golf Club, submitted a written application on behalf of the club to the Wichita Golf Association (WGA) along with the application fee of $25.00 requesting membership in the WGA. Wright also included the Club’s Constitution and bylaws. Wright never received acknowledgement of receipt of the Club’s application from the WGA. After several inquiries by Wright and Club vice president Gerald Robinson to the WGA, Wright received an envelope inscribed with the WGA logo. Enclosed was the original $25.00 check, Club constitution and bylaws. No letter of explanation was enclosed.
Chester I. Lewis was a renowned attorney in Wichita. At that time, he was President of Wichita branch of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) and a member of the McKinley Park Golf Club. On behalf of the Club and in his capacity as NAACP President, Lewis wrote a letter to the Park Board in May of 1958 protesting the actions of the WGA. An excerpt from the Park Board meeting of May 28, 1958 details the contents of the letter and actions requested:
“…Mr. Lewis protested the use of the public golf courses by the Wichita Golf Association because of the alleged discriminatory practice of not admitting Negroes to the Association, specifically the McKinley Park Golf Club. Mr. Lewis also protested the policy of the Men's and Women’s Clubs operating on or out of the public golf courses in not admitting negroes to their membership. The conclusions reached from Mr. Lewis statement being that the Park Board should withhold and deny the use of the public golf courses to these organizations because of their restrictions on membership.”
Emory Cox, Director of the Park Board asserted that the Men’s and Women’s Golf Clubs were self-organized as is the WGA approving their own constitution and electing their own officers and promoting their own activities. That the Park Board or its employees had no connection with the WGA. Cox acknowledged that Lewis had advised him that the NAACP and the Club were prepared to take the matter to court. The Board deferred the matter to the City Attorney for review.
In 1966, the City of Wichita renamed McKinley Park to McAdams Park in honor of the late Emerson McAdams (1913 – 1965) who was the McKinley Park Director for 27 years. In a similar move, the McKinley Park Golf Club changed its name to the McAdams Golf Club. McAdams had been a member of the Club since its inception.
In 1971, construction began on interstate 135 connecting the I-35 turnpike in Wichita to Salina. The construction route went through the McAdams Golf Course thus eliminating it from the City’s golf courses. By that time, Blacks were playing other area courses and McAdams unofficially adopted MacDonald Golf Course as their home course.
In 1975, McAdams joined the Southwest Regional Golf Association.
This in no way is a complete history of McAdams Golf Club but a beginning. The late Donnie Anderson wrote a history of the club and I incorporate that writing as a finale to this history. It is well written and documents many of the events documented herein. An expansion of this recording is encouraged as long as it is verified as f
A Whimsical Look At Our Past*
Can you think of a number say between seventy-four and seventy-six? YOU said seventy five, right? Seventy five is a good number on its own merits, but when you think of something lasting seventy five years, it’s really quite an accomplishment. Anything of human invention that lasts that long is special. But, if it’s something started by Black Men just after the stock market crash of 1929 when the U.S. economy was in bad shape and people stood in soup lines for hours for a meal, and it had something to do with the elitists game of golf, then surely the best way to describe that thing is to call it AWESOME.
Yes, it was an awesome event when Black Men, in Wichita, Kansas in 1930 organized the McKinley Golf Club. In 1926 residents of the Black community petitioned the Park Department for a golf course at McKinley Park. At that particular time in Wichita there were only two golf courses: the public Sim Memorial Park and the private Wichita Country Club. So how did the gentlemen of color know anything about golf? There are two possible explanations. One is that they became aware of the game by being caddies for white golfers or they were exposed to the game in some other city and brought the
game to Wichita. Please note, many of the early members of the McKinley Golf Club worked on the railroad and they could have easily brought the game to Wichita's Black community. It remains a mystery how these Black men knew of the golf game or how they learned to play, but it is recorded history that they held the first ever McKinley Golf Club Tournament in July, 1930 on the three-hold McKinley Golf course as a nine hole tournament (each hole was played three times).
The three hole course was played on for ten years, then in October, 1940 members of the McKinley Golf Club and the Black community petitioned the Park Board to expand the three hoe course to a nine hole course. On October 14, 1940 the Park Board in responding to pressure from the Black community, approved the purchase of the additional land to expand the golf course. The entire community, working together, had accomplished something that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier. Community unity had accomplished an improvement to the community. Some how over the years, we have forgotten that lesson, thus improvements in our community are always slow in coming.
The nine hole course was built on a relatively small tract of land and measured only 1792 yards which was very shot for nine holes, even in 1940, but it was a substantial improvement over what we had up to that time. The club members soon mastered the course and soon sought more difficult courses to play.
In 1946 history was made when members of the McKinley Golf Club broke the color barrier and played on the Sim Memorial golf Course. Here is how it happened.
According to Dr. Daniel "Doc" Shelton who is the only living survivor of the occasion, Floyd Papin, a light complexioned, proper talking, straight haired member of the club who could easily pass for White, when into the club house and purchased 4 green fees. His playing partners stayed out of sight until it was their time to tee off. When they approached the first tee box all hell broke loose. The course superintendent called the police, the park commissioner and the head pro who tried to keep the Black players off the course. When all of the commotion was over, the authorities decided that because the foursome had paid their green fees and had received a tee time, they should be allowed to play. That history making foursome consisted of Floyd Papin, Doc Skelton, Dunbar Reed and Carl Anderson. Doc told of an angry reaction to their playing there that happened on their second trip to Sim Park. On that occasion when the McKinley men finished their round and returned to their vehicles, Doc discovered that someone had poured oil all over his beautiful green, two-tone, step down 1941 Hudson motor car. There is always pain experienced by trail blazers. Thank you, men for enduring the pain.
The club joined the Central States Golf Association in 1955 and petitioned the Park Department in 1956 to host the tournament in 1957. But the city refused the request to host the Central States Tournament at one of the public courses, then later, recovered itself after meetings between members and park board officials. The club hosted the tournament at MacDonald Golf Course on July 15, through July 19, 1957.
The next major obstacle faced by the club was membership in the Wichita Golf Association. Beginning in January 1958 the club struggled to join the WGA so our members could play in WGA tournament without playing membership fees to the WGA. Membership into the WGA was finally gained in 1976 s the WGA "changed" it policies to permit golf clubs without a home course into membership.
In 1967 the McKinley Park was renamed after it's then deceased former director, Emerson McAdams. The club changed it's name to the McAdams Golf Course in honor of Mr. McAdams.
In 1975 the club joined the Southwestern Regional Golf Association and became a part of the 10 association members. Although the SWRGA has changed over the years and diminished in size, McAdams remains a member in good standing. The SWRGA has a great scholarship program for junior golfers who continue their education by attending college.
The McAdams Club established its junior golf program in 1978 as a joint effort with the Optimist Club of Northeast Wichita. The program has remained strong over the past 27 years because club members have selfishly given of their time and energies to make the program viable. The Optimist Club no longer participates, but the club has been steadfast in its resolve to fulfill the club legacy to pass the long of this game to future generations. In the past, the members individually worked with youngsters to pass the love of this game to the next generation. Today, the club reaches more kids with its program than what was thought possible in years past. We, collectively, realize that these youngsters I our program today, will be the club leaders of the future.
In 2005 the club took another giant step forward when we by unanimous vote, elected to establish the McAdams Golf Club Scholarship Program. As one generation dies off and another assumes its place we hope the club will continue forever.
Now that we are 75 we can see as we look back that the perils of our past reflect obstacles for our future. For instance, MacDonald Park Golf Course is surrounded by people of color, yet has only one black employee who is a concessionaire employee. It appears that now is the time to have a Black golf professional at that course. The benefits from having a Black golf professional would be immeasurable for our community, especially our kids. Maybe now is that time to gain some unity in the community to see if that can happen
What are your ideas for the future? Clearly, we must continue to grow by changing to meet the needs of the golfing public.
*Excerpt from the 75th McAdams Golf Club program marking the 75th anniversary of the club. Donnie Anderson passed away in the September of 2014. This reprint is in honor of his memory.