While so many are focused on the movie 42 which highlights the struggles and accomplishments of a Major League Baseball first, Jackie Robinson, Hollywood may soon turn it’s lens to examine the life of a PGA first, golfer Ben Davis who passed away recently at the age of 101. Davis was the first African American in the Michigan PGA and occupies a revered spot in the Michigan Sports Hall of fame
Erellon Ben Davis, born Feb. 19, 1912 in Pensacola, Fla., was gifted golfer as a youth and it’s that talent and drive that paved the way for so many golfers of color, i.e., Tiger Woods. Opportunities in the 1920’s for African-Americans in golf were virtually non-existent and more along the line of a Bagger Vance, the great caddies that made white golfers even greater.
Davis moved to Detroit in 1925 where he attended and graduated from Northern High School. He began his professional golf career in 1936 at the Pine Crest Driving Range in Ferndale, MI. Davis taught golf at Rackham Golf Course, in Huntington Woods, MI in 1952 where he would go on to teach for more than 50 years and become a Class A Head professional in the process. And in 1968, Davis would earn the distinction of being the first African American Head Golf Pro at a municipal golf course in the United States. Although he began teaching golf in Michigan in 1936, it would be 30 years before Davis would break the color line at the Michigan PGA.
Ben Davis held the course record at Rackham for eight years and became the first African American admitted to the Michigan PGA in 1966. In 1974 the famed golfer won the Michigan Senior PGA Championship in and later the U.S. National Senior Tournament in 1979 in Las Vegas.
Davis was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 1992. The Ben Davis Youth Golf Tournament was established in 2000 by the Detroit Recreation Department. In 2012, he was inducted into the African American Golfers Hall of Fame and over his expansive career Davis’ many students included such athletic elites as boxing legend Joe Louis and Detroit Piston’s Hall of Famer Bob Lanier.
For information on funeral services for Ben Davis please contact James H. Cole Home for Funerals at 16100 Schaefer Hwy.