Established in 1946, the Lone Star Golf Association has been an advocate for civil rights through the sport of golf. The organization was founded by four friends – Charles M. Washington, Eugene Harrison, Lee Powell and Howard McCowan – who had recently returned home from World War II and wanted to pursue their passion of playing golf.
Unfortunately for them the City of Houston did not have a public golf course that African- Americans could play on. On June 19, 1946 the city allowed the “colored” group to play a half- day tournament. Known in its early days as the Houston Golf Association, the group changed to Lone Star Golf in 1952.
Current association president Johnnie McFarland recounted the early days.
“Our story is similar to other predominantly African-American associations in America,” McFarland said. “After our World War II veterans returned home…they wanted to enjoy the benefits of being an American. They simply wanted to come home and play golf.”
McFarland said the founders’ desire was to host an annual golf tournament at a municipal course in the city.”
Not everyone within the city’s political structure wanted to aid the organization in hosting a tournament. Yet the organization was fighting to gain access to municipal courses which their tax dollars helped to operate and maintain. After a considerable amount of resistance and subsequent political arm-twisting, Mayor Oscar Holcombe finally gave the group the authority they needed.
With permission granted to play their annual tournament in Memorial Park, Lone Star Golf gained a national reputation attracting the top Black talent and celebrities of the day.
“Lone Star has a very storied history, a who’s who of participants in the tournament over the years,” McFarland said. “Because Blacks could only play in certain places in certain cities and were not allowed in the PGA, Lone Star sponsored the Negro Open Golf Tournament, which was a staple on the Black Golf ‘Chitlin’ Circuit.’
“Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Ted Rhodes, Pete Brown and Willie Brown, to name a few, all played in our tournaments,” McFarland said. “That’s not to mention celebrities like Jim Brown, Joe Louis and other top Black entertainers and athletes of the day. At one time Lone Star was the only organization in Houston if you were an African-American golfer and there were no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
The association has remained viable and will hosts its 73rdtournament in June. In addition, members have been actively involved in training the next generation of young golfers.
“Around 1985 we had a president Joe Solomon, who helped create our Lone Star Jr. Golf program,” McFarland said. “From what I’ve been told, when the First Tee program first came to town they actually borrowed some of our kids to help get their program started because we had so many young people.”
Lone Star Golf now partners with the First Tee youth development organization to help train young people. The group also awards scholarships to young golfers.
For their contribution to African-American sports history in Texas, the founding four members of the golf association were recently inducted in the 2019 class of the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame.
“The induction is really huge for us,” McFarland said. “The Black Hall of Fame is basically a who’s who of Black athletes who are from Texas or made a career in Texas. Many are in the halls of fame from their respective sports as well. It’s a tremendous honor that acknowledges the contribution of our founders and what Lone Star Golf has meant to not only the city of Houston, but the state of Texas as well.”