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Charleston Port City Golf Club History

 

Charleston Port City Golf Club was founded in 1971 by Ernest Middleton, Johnny Middleton, Chris Pinkney, Emmet Sadler, and James White.  The purpose of the club was to integrate Charleston Municipal Golf Course to create access for all people to play golf in Charleston and the region.  

 

Charleston Municipal Golf Course opened in 1929 on 120 acres of donated land by developer C. Bissell Jenkins.  The course was intended to be enjoyed by all Charlestonians but maintained a Caucasian only policy through its early years.  Many of the early members of Charleston Port City Golf club were first exposed to golf through caddying at the course.  It wasn’t lost on them at the time that they could work at the course but couldn’t play there.  Not only that, but their tax dollars were also being used for the benefit of the course as well as other public spaces in Charleston.  

 

One of the few places black golfers could play during this time was a course named Little Rock.  Little Rock was designed and built by Richard Smalls in 1953 on 8 acres of land he acquired at Grimball Farms on James Island.  Smalls built this 6-hole course from knowledge he gained caddying at Country Club of Charleston and Charleston Municipal Golf Course.  Several current Charleston Porty City Golf Club members; Benny Robinson, Clyde Smalls, James Forrest are among many that honed their skills at Little Rock, which gave them even more desire to take those skills to courses where they caddied. 

 

One of the early attempts at integrating Charleston Municipal Golf Course occurred in 1956 when Gordon Brown, Ernest Crumbwell, John Cummings and James Forrest – future Charleston Port City Golf Club member, were refused access to playing the course.  This would lead to Gordon Brown joining 13 other black golfers in suing the city of Charleston in 1958.  In 1961 a federal judge ruled in favor of Brown and others ordering Charleston Municipal Golf course to integrate.

 

Similar to other institutions that were segregated at the time, achieving full access and integration would take more work beyond the orders of federal judges and legal cases won.  This is where the founders of Charleston Port City Golf Club would pick up where Gordon Brown and others left off in getting full access to Charleston Municipal Golf Course.  

 

After its chartering in 1971, there were three obstacles that continued to create barriers for black golfers in Charleston.  The first was being denied status as a sanctioned golf club by the South Carolina Golf Association.  Second, decision making on the Charleston Municipal Golf Course governing body, which included two members from the Jenkins Links.  Lastly, access to the Charleston City Amateur Tournament hosted at Charleston Municipal Golf Course.

 

In May of 1974, Charleston Port City Golf Club initiated legal action through the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, against the South Carolina Golf Association.  In a follow up letter penned by founding member Ernest Middleton, status of actions to remediate the request to be a full club member of the South Carolina Golf Association was requested.  Charleston Port City Golf Club would receive full membership later that year with the assistance of FBI agent Charles Pouty, who was assigned the case.  Once Charleston Port City Golf Club became an official member of the South Carolina Golf Association, it was determined that both clubs, Jenkins Links and Charleston Port City Golf Club could consider Charleston Municipal Golf Course their home course.

 

Nearly two years later in 1976, founding member Johnnie Middleton worked with Charleston Municipal Head Pro Al Esposito to add two Charleston Port City Club members to the Charleston Municipal commission, its governing body.  These two members were John Chisolm and Benjamin Wright.  With two seats on the commission, Charleston Port City Golf Club would have input on activities and policies that govern the golf course.

 

Perhaps the most notable event Charleston Port City Golf Club is known for is its Memorial Day weekend tournament.  This tournament was initially created due to black golfers not being permitted to play in the Charleston City Amateur Tournament which was held the week before.  With the first tournament being held in 1974, golfers from around the region and other mostly black clubs supported the 2-day stroke play tournament.  This tournament has been conducted annually except for the 2 years of the pandemic, which coincided with the major renovation of Charleston Municipal Golf Course.  This tournament has not only served as a premier competitive amateur event, but it has also financially fueled Charleston Port City Golf Club’s charitable donations to many organizations in Charleston and youth clinics over the years.

 

Charleston Port City Golf Club has had a remarkable influence on access to golf and civil rights in Charleston and beyond.  Charleston Port City Golf club members have taken their activism beyond Charleston, one of those members is my father, Angus B. Jenkins.  In 1979, Angus Jenkins was denied membership to Cedarwood Country Club in Charlotte, N.C.  Angus Jenkins sued Cedarwood Country Club and was granted full membership, thus opening access to Cedarwood for countless golfers.  Mr. Jenkins has maintained his membership at Cedarwood for 45 years serving in many leadership and decision making roles as a member.  It is through the activism of Angus Jenkins, that I, his son have been a direct beneficiary.

Written by Toby Jenkins

Port City Golf Club 

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