CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Visitors to Charlotte for the PGA Championship planning on bringing their clubs along should know about a hidden gem that local golfers would rather keep to themselves.
Tucked within a middle-class neighborhood right off Interstate 77 and about three miles from downtown Charlotte, the Dr. Charles T. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park is a nine-hole municipal course with an equal-opportunity profile.
“A lot of people think African-American golf history started with Tiger Woods, and they don’t even know about Charlie Sifford,” says Mike Craft, a course regular. The course is named after the Jackie Robinson of golf, Charlie Sifford, who broke the PGA Tour color barrier by becoming a member in 1961.
Sifford was born in Charlotte in 1922 and honed his skills as a caddy for 60 cents a day on the city’s whites-only golf courses. He routinely told the story that 50 cents from his looper earnings went to his mother and the remaining dime went to buy a cigar, which became his signature look later on.
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The World Golf Hall of Fame member won twice on the PGA Tour — in 1967 at the Greater Hartford Open Invitational and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. He also won the 1975 PGA Seniors' Championship. In three PGA Championship appearances, his best finish was a tie for 33rd at Laurel Valley Golf Club on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pa.
A year before his death in 2015, Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his impact on the game.
The course was originally named Bonnie Brae and opened in 1929 as Charlotte’s first municipal golf course, but it also had a land deed with a strict whites-only policy. The course stayed that way until an African-American policeman named Ray Booten tried to play there in 1951. That triggered years of court battles and in 1956 the course was desegregated and renamed as Revolution Park. It became an affordable place for everyone to play and learn the game.
In 2008, a $1.5 million makeover saw a course renovation and the addition of a First Tee facility, practice area, new clubhouse and fitness center. The course was officially renamed after Sifford in 2011.
The course receives a constant flow of golfers of various ages and levels, whether it’s the Wednesday ladies’ league or downtown workers playing lunchtime hooky.
Craft singles out one area: “it’s such an underrated practice facility, because young or old can really sharpen their game there.” The practice area features an ample-sized putting green, all-grass range, and two short game target greens.
As for the nine-hole course, a golfer can walk as easily as ride. Expect green fairways, nice views, and challenges — no matter the skill level — for under $30 a round. The par-35 layout features two par 3's, one par 5 and only four holes with bunkers. A deceptive downhill par-3 seventh hole is especially tricky as the green drops off sharply at the back. If it’s not crowded, expect less than two hours to play.
And worth a read before every tee shot are the educational markers about the history of how today’s course came to be, the values of the First Tee program, and of course, the story of Charlotte’s Sifford.
DR. CHARLES T. SIFFORD GOLF COURSE AT REVOLUTION PARK
Location: 1225 Remount Road, Charlotte, N.C.
Shannon Reichley is a Charlotte-based TV producer and freelance writer who gets sidetracked by sports, good food and drink, and trying to crack 100 in her golf game.