(Photo by Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News)
The top amateur golf tournament in Michigan, previously named after the former head golf pro at Detroit Golf Club, will follow the lead of the PGA of America, which has changed its Horton Smith Award to the PGA Development Award. Both changes reflect backlash against honoring Smith, the inaugural Masters champion who staunchly supported whites-only membership in the PGA during his tenure as the organization’s President in the 1950s.
The Horton Smith Invitational, arguably the most prestigious and exclusive amateur golf tournament in Michigan, is getting a new name, The Detroit News reported, as another response to backlash against Horton Smith, who staunchly supported whites-only membership in the PGA of America during his tenure as the organization’s President in the 1950s.
Held annually at the Detroit (Mich.) Golf Club as a tribute to Smith, who was the club’s former head professional and the inaugural champion of the Masters, the tournament, effectively immediately, will now be called the Michigan Medal Play, the tournament committee has informed the club, the News reported.
The tournament, which was canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, was the biggest annual event at Detroit Golf Club until two years ago, the News reported, when the club landed the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The committee’s decision follows the PGA of America’s early July announcement that it was removing Smith’s name from one of its top annual awards, as another step in moving away from honoring Smith’s part of the PGA of America retaining a whites-only clause from 1934 through 1961, the News reported.
“In renaming the Horton Smith Award, the PGA of America is taking ownership of a failed chapter in our history that resulted in excluding many from achieving their dreams of earning the coveted PGA member badge and advancing the game of golf,” PGA president Suzy Whaley said in a statement on July 2nd when that change was announced.
“We need to do all we can to ensure the PGA of America is defined by inclusion,” Whaley’s statement, which was issued on the first day of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, continued. “Part of our mission to grow the game is about welcoming all and bringing diversity to the sport.”
In its letter to Detroit GC’s Board of Directors, the News reported, the tournament committee said: “In support of the recent decision by the PGA to change the name of the Horton Smith Award to the PGA Development Award, the Horton Smith Committee will remove Horton Smith’s name from our championship. Effective immediately, the tournament will be the Michigan Medal Play at Detroit Golf Club.”
The invitational is held in the spring and has taken place at Detroit Golf Club every year since 1964, the year after Smith died, the News reported. In 1971, the tournament merged with the Michigan Medal Play—which was played at a rotating series of clubs in metropolitan Detroit—as a 72-hole stroke-play championship with a 36-hole cut.
Smith won the first Masters in 1934, won it again in 1936 and had a total of 32 PGA Tour wins, the News reported. He is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. He was Detroit GC’s head pro from 1946 until his death, and President of the PGA of America from 1952-54.
One notable exception to the whites-only rule that Smith trumpeted during his tenure as PGA President came in January 1952, the News reported, when Detroit legend and boxing great Joe Louis, who picked up golf in retirement, was allowed to play in a tournament in San Diego in 1952.