There was a time back in the late ’80s when no one in golf knew or cared that African-Americans held the mantle of most accomplished African-American professional golfer to that point. But Bob Jack, who was neither of those things — an African-American nor a pro golfer — played the game and carried himself like one at the highest level and made golf more welcome and inclusive.
Bob Jack’s life and career figures to be the subject of a documentary airing Sunday on the Golf Channel. “Bob Jack: The Donor Heart” is narrated by Bob Saget and begins at noon on Golf Channel. Viewers will see the scene at Winged Foot Golf Club in 1991 when Jack was inducted into the Greater New York Open Hall of Fame. A photo of Black and Jim Furyk on the podium seems a bit incongruous with the others, except Jack is holding a list of names on the side. Jack is a retired Air Force captain who retired to become a major donor for the creation of the Greater New York Open. That’s a worthy contribution, but one that doesn’t make for easy viewing.
Willie Hutchinson, founder of The Hutchinson Organization, which recruits promising Black golfers and offers them professional help, told me it was actually harder to find work after he was inducted into the Class of 1991. That year, Jack and PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman also donated cash to the Golf Hall of Fame to establish a Black Professional category.
The problem, Hutchinson said, was that African-Americans in golf are no longer accepted into professional tours but instead stuck at designated senior levels, restricted to amateurs and only players who had been members of the PGA for five years. Hutchinson took over the Hutchinson organization from his father, one of the founders of the first Black junior amateur golf program. “Bob Jack was one of the key elements of why golf has become open to all people,” Hutchinson said. “They had to take him to the next level of the PGA Tour, but now other Black golfers don’t want to go because it’s not safe any more.”
Jack never made it to the Tour (he didn’t even make the AJGA qualifying school), but he did win numerous events and was recognized in golf circles for his contributions. His son Robert, a former PGA Tour golfer, said that if Jack had had the opportunity to play the sport in any of the five decades that he’d lived, the 60-year-old said he’d have competed in “every event and televised every event on television.”