Vincent Ballentine, PGA, Golf, Racism in Sports, Wyndham Resorts and Hotels, Art, Culture, Sports,

Gillespie Golf Course Honors Legacy of the Greensboro Six

The Greensboro Six, led by Dr. George Simkins, made history in 1955 by playing at the then whites-only Gillespie Golf Course in North Carolina.

While golf might be a delightful way for some to enjoy sunny days, it represents a substantial industry in the United States. In 2022, the value of the U.S. golf course industry alone exceeded $26 billion, and the overall golf industry was worth an impressive $84 billion. 

Of the U.S.’s approximately 24 million recreational golfers, less than 3 percent are Black. Yet research reveals that this analysis, as is its history, is equally deceptive and incomplete.

The game’s history is inseparable from the tactics and appeal of white supremacy. The crown jewel of golf, Augusta National, where every year crowds ascend upon the Masters Tournament, is rooted in segregation and supremacy. “As long as I’m alive,” Clifford Roberts once said of his course (Augusta National), “all the golfers will be white, and all the caddies will be Black.”

In a powerful fusion of art and history, Wyndham Rewards, in collaboration with the City of Greensboro and First Tee–Central Carolina, has commissioned artist Vincent Ballentine to create a commemorative mural honoring the Greensboro Six at the historic Gillespie Golf Course.

Ballentine, a multi-disciplined visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York, earned a degree in film and education from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and continued study in film at Cleveland Institute of Art.

This project commemorates the bravery and impact of these civil rights pioneers and highlights Gillespie’s ongoing significance to the community.

BLACK ENTERPRISE sat down with Ballentine, Chris Simkins, the son of Dr. George Simkins Jr., leader of the Greensboro Six; and Ryan Wilson, president of First Tee Carolina, to discuss the significance of the Greensboro Six on golf and the impact Ballentine’s commemorative mural will have on the city of Greensboro and around the world. 

Historical Significance

The Greensboro Six made history in 1955 by playing at the then whites-only Gillespie Golf Course, challenging segregation and enduring arrest and jail time. Their actions set the stage for desegregation and paved the way for the Greater Greensboro Open to welcome its first Black player, Charlie Sifford.

“My father and the other five men took a courageous stand that went beyond golf,” Chris Simkins says. “They challenged the status quo and fought for equality, paving the way for future generations.” 

USGA tournaments often excluded Black golfers, and the PGA had a specific rule prohibiting Black players from participating. The PGA’s white-only clause remained in place until 1961, 10 years beyond the integration of most other major American sports leagues.

“This mural honors their bravery and educates and inspires us all to continue the fight for justice,” shares Simkins.

Inspiration and Activity

Ballentine’s mural is more than a historical recount. “I wanted to include moments of movement because the act of golf is doing things, moving your body, which is equally important,” he explains. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, free and enslaved Black Americans played a pivotal role in designing and maintaining golf courses across the United States. Despite their invaluable contributions, they were primarily barred from playing on these courses. Dr. George Grant, an African American inventor of the golf tee, faced racial discrimination that prevented him from playing at courses in Boston.

“We must continue to move towards progress and equality. We are still living in a current moment where things will continue to happen, so take time and appreciate our present, but be aware of where we are,” Ballentine says.

Community Impact and Future Generations

First Tee–Central Carolina, headquartered in Gillespie, continues to honor the legacy of the Greensboro Six by providing life-changing opportunities through golf to local youth. The course also hosts PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), which serves veterans and offers programs for players with disabilities.

“I’ve already enjoyed walking around the grounds, seeing mixed groups of people enjoying the game together. In a world where things are equal, they should feel more natural,” Ballentine says.

This sense of natural integration and unity is a testament to the progress initiated by the Greensboro Six. “Seeing diverse groups of people coming together at Gillespie is a realization of my father’s vision for equality,” Chris Simkins says. “This mural will remind everyone of our strides and the work ahead.”

A Lasting Tribute

The mural, to be unveiled August 5 ahead of the 85th Annual Wyndham Championship, is poised to be a lasting tribute to the Greensboro Six.

“What set him [Ballentine] apart was that we only had one picture of the Greensboro Six,” Wilson says. “And that was outside of a courtroom. Here, he shows up and gives us this image that portrays these six men in a way that nothing’s ever been done before. This will last for lifetimes and remind us that many have endured similar circumstances at golf courses worldwide.”

Ballentine’s mural at Gillespie Golf Course is a powerful homage to the Greensboro Six, celebrating their courageous stand against segregation and enduring legacy in the fight for equality. Ballentine captures a story of resilience and progress, which will inspire current and future generations to appreciate and continue the journey toward inclusivity and unity. 

“This mural is not just a piece of art,” Chris Simkins says. “It’s a beacon of hope and a reminder of the progress we’ve made thanks to heroes like my father and the Greensboro Six.”