Thursday, October 11

The Well-Traveled Lee Elder

Lee Elder at Riviera early this week. (Matter, Inc.) 
LIFE DOES NOT SLOW DOWN AT 78 if your name is Lee Elder. Or so it seems. Elder, of course, is a golf and PGA Tour pioneer, the first black to play in the Masters. It is closing in on 40 years since Lee teed it up at Augusta National. He recently said he was “scared to death”—death threats poured in by mail and phone—so he stayed in two different houses in Augusta that mid-April week in 1975, just in case.

I sat next to the trailblazer at breakfast yesterday at the Greater Hickory Classic. I was surprised to see him there, actually, because just the night before while checking email I found a photo of him (at right) playing in an event in Los Angeles. But Lee had hopped on a plane and flown to Charlotte late on Tuesday night to play in the Great Grand Champions pro-am on Wednesday morning at Rock Barn in Conover.

As I said to him, chuckling, Lee Elder has been everywhere in recent weeks. He was at the Ryder Cup in Chicago and then traveled to the USGA headquarters in New Jersey to speak to youth and others and to collaborate with USGA museum staff on an exhibit that recognizes the contributions of African Americans. He also worked with a writer to do research on a book about his life in golf.

From there, it was back to Southern California for the Hilton HHonors Celebrity Golf Series at Riviera Country Club benefiting the City of Hope. And then, North Carolina, where I got to chat with him as he ate an omelette, one small sausage patty and a generous serving of fruit.

Lee no longer has to worry about getting to and from Augusta alive, but he was concerned about getting to Richmond, Virginia, from Charlotte without having to fly through Atlanta or New York City. That was his one question for me, and I didn’t have a good answer for him. There should be a way, I said, but maybe not on Delta.

After his one day at the Greater Hickory Classic, he was on his way to Williamsburg (via Richmond) to be the keynote speaker at a golf symposium. That’s where Lee Elder is today. He has traveled such a long time and distance to get there and to other places in the golf world, opening a few doors for others along the way.

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