In 1955, when Maggie Hathaway, an African-American social activist, applied for membership to the course’s Women’s Golf Club. The Caucasian-only group denied her application and Hathaway brought up the matter with Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Hathaway argued that the association was not allowed to discriminate based on race when practicing on County-owned land, which she and other minorities paid taxes to help maintain. Hahn agreed, and the group was expelled from the golf course. He extended the ban throughout the County, forcing all-white golf groups to diversify and admit people of color. Sixty-five years later Chester Washington Golf Course became the only historical landmark in Los Angeles County’s golf portfolio because of these and other inspiring events that took place on the property.
In addition to leading the way in integrating the County system, Chester Washington also boasts as the home course of Dr. Charlie Sifford. One of the first two African-American Golfers to play in a PGA tournament. The portion of 120thstreet that the property rests has been renamed Charlie Sifford drive in his honor.
There course was formerly known as Western Avenue Golf Course:
Bill Spiller lived on 122nd Street in South Los Angeles during the 1940s, just north of the Western Avenue Golf Course. Spiller, an African American, took up the game in 1942, and developed into more than just an avid golfer; he aspired to join the Professional Golf Association tour.
He became one of the standout players at the course, along with his friend Ted Rhodes. Charlie Sifford, the first black regular on the PGA Tour, told the Los Angeles Times in 1997, “He was a great golfer, one of the best ever, black or white.”
But Spiller’s dream to join the pro tour was stymied when he found out about Article 3, Section 1, of the PGA’s constitution while attempting to enter a pro tournament in Richmond, Va., in 1948. The rule, added in 1943, stated that PGA members must be “of the Caucasian race.”
That year, Spiller had finished the second round of the Los Angeles Open tied with Ben Hogan for the lead. (The L.A. Open ignored the PGA’s exclusionary rule.) A year earlier, in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers had broken baseball’s color barrier with Jackie Robinson.
Spiller fumed, knowing that he had the talent to play on the tour. He made it his life’s work to overturn that ruling, beginning with a 1952 protest at a San Diego tournament that stopped play, and continuing throughout the 1950s.
Finally, in 1960, Spiller’s complaint came to the attention of California Attorney General Stanley Mosk, who initiated legal action against the PGA. The PGA dropped the rule in 1961.