By Ken Hamilton
NIAGARA FALLS —
Golfer Bob Taylor is as familiar with golf courses as is anyone is in the city. He ought to be. Not only is he a tremendous player, he has also been one of the chief consultants in the turnaround of Niagara Falls’ own Hyde Park Golf Course. For many years, he has been gently nudging that course towards the standards of many of the better, privately owned courses in the region.
And if that wasn’t enough, through a free program sponsored by the city, Taylor has spent a great deal of time encouraging and teaching others to gain an interest in learning the game. He has also been teaching some others to improve their skills and he enjoys providing heads-up challenges to some of the area’s best golfers, so that they may become even better.
Taylor readily admits that while his passion for the game is in teaching children and novices the correct form and attitude necessary for attaining success in golf, but he also admits that he is intently bent upon his dream of getting more minorities out on the links.
There wasn’t always a Tiger Woods. Taylor and others like him were once restricted to playing on segregated courses. When Taylor and friends first began playing, blacks were not allowed on white courses except as caddies, groundskeepers and wait staffers in the club houses.
Because of Taylor’s own golfing career, it could be expected that he would want to see those who, only a generation ago, would have been restricted.
It was only in 1990 that the Professional Golfers Association resolved to adopt a policy of holding their events only at clubs that allowed minorities and women to become members.
Taylor gives great praise to African American Charlie Sifford for being a key to opening PGA tournaments to blacks.
“It used to cost Charlie $8,000 to enter some of those tournaments,” Taylor said. “And that was back in the fifties. He would drive from tournament to tournament, driving the big boy’s cars (chauffeuring successful white golfers), and when he got there, he would have to eat out of a brown paper bag.”
Taylor went on to say that Sifford was only permitted to play in only eight tournaments a year, and they called him racial names at some of them. But because of him,” Taylor said, “we are able to do what we do today.”
Even then, Sifford won tournaments; and the 1922-born professional golfer entered the World Golf Hall of Fame at the age of 82, becoming the first African American to do so.
So inspired, and despite the exclusions, Taylor and his friends played excellently anyway. And with each swing of their golf clubs, they were mowing a smooth fairway whereupon those like Tiger Woods would one day be welcomed.
Taylor makes no excuse for his efforts in helping all who asks, but his working especially hard on encouraging African Americans to become involved in the game that he loves is understood. What he teaches is that golf is like life — “... in that it is a game that can be played on a team, but what you are really doing is playing against yourself, to make yourself better.”
In that vein, Taylor makes no excuses for African Americans if they fail to excel in golf, or in any other opportunity that has become available to them — including life. Taylor says that, “Things are not like what they used to be; and all kinds of doors are open for our people; if we just do what is necessary to qualify. If people don’t do that, then they have no excuse.”
One of Taylor’s protégés wholeheartedly agrees with him. Thirteen-year-old Abate elementary school student Willie Bradberry is a bright, but sometimes distracted boy. He says that through the training that Taylor gives him in golf lessons, he has learned to set goals and to accomplish them.
As Sifford was to Taylor, Bradberry says of him, “He opens gates for kids and for me who normally would not be doing anything. We do things that we wouldn’t have done.”
While both Taylor and Bradberry anxiously await the spring opening of the course at Niagara Falls, it will be some time before Bradberry can hope to have the past experiences of a Tiger Woods — or of a Bob Taylor.
Taylor is a regular at many tournaments, including the Buffalo Bills Alumnae Golf tournaments, and other great tournaments around the country, with the likes of the former-Buffalo, NY golfing great, Jim Thorpe.
But Bradberry sees Taylor more personally.
“I love him as an instructor and a friend,” Bradberry said. “If you are around him long enough, you’ll see him as he is — a gentleman.”
Ken Hamilton is a contributing writer to the Gazette. Contact him at email@example.com.