Tiger Woods is the first individual donor to a new University of Maryland Eastern Shore scholarship fund that will honor the memory of Dr. Charlie Sifford, the late professional golfer.
Woods is joining with the university to pay tribute to the man who broke the color barrier on the PGA Tour in the early 1960s.
Woods’ personal gift of $10,000 will launch the Sifford Fund, which UMES is creating to “provide need-based scholarships to highly talented students who demonstrate a passion for the game of golf … and who are from populations underrepresented in the golf industry.”
UMES is the nation’s lone historically black university that offers a bachelor’s degree in professional golf management accredited by the PGA of America.
“The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is honored to accept this generous gift from Tiger Woods to support our professional golf management program and to partner with us in acknowledging Dr. Sifford’s role as a sports pioneer,” UMES President Juliette B. Bell said.
Sifford died Feb. 3 at the age of 92, a passing that prompted the golf and sports worlds to pause and reflect on what he accomplished. Many looked to Woods, who called Sifford “the grandpa I never had.”
“Without Charlie Sifford, and the other pioneers who fought to play, I may not be playing golf,” Woods said. “My Pop may not have picked up the game, and maybe I wouldn’t have either.”
UMES paid tribute to Sifford with a Capitol Hill reception Nov. 24, the day he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony. Sifford joined Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Sifford and his extended family expressed delight that evening in meeting UMES students, many of them African-Americans, pursuing careers in the golf industry.
Billy Dillon, UMES golf management program director, said the feeling was mutual among his students.
“It was a special moment for a lot of them,” Dillon said. “Some knew about what Mr. Sifford accomplished, and when others learned why he was being recognized, I think they realized the importance of the moment.”
Back in the limelight just weeks before his passing refocused attention on Sifford’s difficult journey as a 20th century athlete of color attempting to play a sport professionally that was segregated.
Encouraged by the turnout at its tribute reception for Sifford, UMES immediately began exploring ways it might “honor the life and legacy of Dr. Sifford, and further his aspirations for the sport that he loved.”
In Sifford’s autobiography, “Just Let Me Play,” he wrote:
“I want golf to reach out to people from all walks of life and to be the sport that puts itself above issues of race and class and economic levels,” Sifford wrote. “We should give everybody equal access to the game, with equal facilities to play and we should give them the same opportunities to pursue the game throughout their lives.”
Using Sifford’s words as inspiration and its distinctive platform, UMES is not only preparing diverse leaders for careers in the golf profession, but is also expanding involvement in golf among populations currently underrepresented in the industry, including women and minorities.
UMES’ professional golf management program currently enrolls 44 students, more than half of whom are women and minorities. Upon graduation, they will be positioned for careers in recreational or competitive golf, business, marketing, media and hospitality.
On Woods’s Twitter account after learning of Sifford’s death, Woods wrote: “We all lost a brave, decent and honorable man. I’ll miss (you) Charlie.”