History professor wins award for book on African-Americans in golf


It was one Google search that led history faculty member Lane Demas down the rabbit hole, which resulted in him spotlighting the history of African-Americans in golf.

The United States Golf Association awarded Demas the 2017 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for his book “Game of Privilege: An African-American History of Golf.”

Demas said the book narrates African-Americans in a game he said is “traditionally considered white, privileged and considered something that has little to do with black history.”

Demas arrived at Central Michigan University in 2008. In 2010, he wrote the book “Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football.”

Central Michigan Life spoke with Demas about his latest book and what he hopes readers will take from it.

CM Life: Why do you think it is important to write books on subjects that haven’t been covered?

Demas: You either want bring a fresh perspective to an issue that people are aware of and try to have your own take or unique analysis — or you want to find stories, individuals and historical events that people are perhaps unaware of and you want to introduce those stories to people. With this project, I was doing that more. I was really introducing new people, new events and new stories that had perhaps never appeared in print before.”

Was there a moment or event that happened that made you choose this subject?

When I was working on my previous book about race in college football and (when) you reach a point in any sort of book project, (there was a point where I thought) — did I choose the right topic? I was thinking about what to do next, and golf was on my radar. I had a major database of African-American newspapers in front of me and I typed in golf on a whim — out popped 10,000 hits. 

My first thought was (this computer is) broken. The biggest initial push for me was when I discovered how much material there was.

I also looked to areas where I felt like there was room for me to make a contribution. I wanted my next project to be more of a new territory.

What did you discover during your research?

A lot of things — most people are interested in the professional game. They’re interested in black players on the PGA tour before Tiger Woods. Those are interesting stories. There’s 20 or 30 black men and women who competed on the PGA and LPGA tours before Tiger Woods. Those stories are valuable and interesting to me. The things that really got me going were little tidbits that were just remarkable. 

I came across an old WPA report from the late 1930s — a New Deal report — where someone was writing about the poorest black neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. They wrote: “The public schools are not really offering recreation after school, so here is what the kids are doing in the streets. They’re playing baseball, basketball and golf.” Things like that would jump out at you — golf showing up in a place where you never thought it would show up.

We think of golf as manicured separate space and you build a golf course. In the early days of golf history, golf was something simple. You can drop a ball anywhere and you can hit it, you can stick a flag in the ground.

What do you want people to take away from this book?

I hope people are stimulated to learn more African-American history though (this book). If golf brings you to the book, I hope that what you take from the book is a desire to learn more African-American history. I have always considered myself, even though I write about sports constantly, not really a sports writer. There’s not a lot of fandom in what I write. It’s an outsider using sports to present what I feel most comfortable in and what my training is in, which is African-American history.