Sports

Scotch Hills Country Club Hosts John Shippen Youth Academy Tournament

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John Shippen was the first American golf pro. He spent many years at the Shady Rest, America's first black-owned golf course in Scotch Plains. (It is now known as Scotch Hills).
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Young participants in the 2015 John Shippen Golf Tournament in Scotch Plains. Credits: Courtesy of Joann Glover
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SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – The 9th Annual John Shippen Youth Golf Academy Tournament was held on Saturday, August 8. 

The John Shippen Memorial Golf Foundation was established to commemorate the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club (now known as the Scotch Hills) and John Matthew Shippen, the first America's first golf pro. From 1931 to 1964, he stood as Shady Rest’s greens keeper and head professional.

The foundation sponsors the John Shippen Youth Golf Academy, providing funds for the academy’s amateurs to participate in local youth golf tournaments, as well as awarding scholarships to minority high school students who demonstrate a passion for golf and academic achievements.

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John Matthew Shippen, Jr. (1879-1968) was born the fourth of nine children of John, Sr., and Eliza Spotswood Shippen on Dec. 12, 1879, in Washington, DC. 

Shippen's father was a Presbyterian minister and pastor of a church on the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton, New York. Around that time, Scotsman Willie Dunn bought 80 acres in the area to build a golf course, Shinnecock Hills, that opened for play in 1894. Under Dunn's watchful eye, John Shippen became a caddy and an accomplished golfer who gave lessons to some of the club members by the age of 16.

In 1896, he was encouraged to enter the second U.S. Open, scheduled at Shinnecock, along with the English and Scottish golf pros. Several of the European professionals confronted USGA president Theodore Havemeyer and threatened to withdraw if Shippen played.

Considering the times, Havemeyer’s response was enlightened. He informed the protestors that the tournament would be played as scheduled -- with or without them. Everyone arrived for their assigned tee times when the Open started the next morning. Shippen shot a 78 in the first round, tying him for first. In the second round Shippen he shot an 11 on hole number 13, thereby ending any chance for the trophy. He finished in 5th place and won a $10 prize.

After Shippen in 1913, no African-Americans played in the U.S. Open again until Ted Rhodes in 1948, when a suit was filed against the PGA for its “Caucasians-only clause.” In 1961, the “Caucasians-only clause” was finally eliminated from the PGA’s bylaws. In 2009, the PGA of America bestowed posthumous membership upon three African American golf pioneers -- John Shippen, Ted Rhodes, and Bill Spiller -- who were denied the opportunity to become PGA members during their pro careers.

John Shippen played in the U.S. Open six times, and his best finish was in 1902 when he again finished fifth. He later worked for the National Capital Golf Club, a black club in Maryland. In 1924, he came to Scotch Plains and became the golf pro at The Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, the first such club owned by African Americans. He remained there until his retirement in 1960. He died in 1968.

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