Golf was a source of conflict in her marriage especially when she reckoned her husband’s love for the sport deprived her and child of his time but when Ann Moore Gregory’s navy husband was sent to World War II, she started playing more eventually becoming a champion.
In the end Ms. Gregory’s amateur golfing career spanning 45 years saw her emerge as “the first black woman to compete on the national scene and, arguably, the best;” with 300 sanctioned golf tournament wins under her belt according to Rhonda Glenn in The Illustrated History of Women’s Golf.
Gregory didn’t start playing golf early on though. She was introduced to the sport by her husband Leroy Percy Gregory. “He introduced me to golf before he went into the [navy],” she told the Chicago Defender.
She was in her early 30s in 1943, when, she first picked up a set of clubs. Within three years, she was good enough to win the all-black Chicago Women’s Golf Association Championship. And less than 10 years after that, in 1956, she became the first African-American player to compete on the national stage, at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, in Indiana. African-American men since 1896, had competed nationally albeit infrequently.
“During the time he was in the [navy], I began playing more often. I entered that first tournament to prove to him that I had advanced during this absence,” Gregory noted.
The Professional Golfers’ Association prior to 1934 did not see color however in 1934; it introduced a bylaw stating that it was only “for members of the Caucasian race.”
The Caucasian only regulation with exception of specific black players stayed on till 1961 when the ban was lifted.
From 1936, African-American women had the opportunity to play, with the launch of the Wake Robin Golf Club in D.C. The United Golf Association (UGA) was launched in 1925, helping bring together female golfers who came to the sport as adults. It hosted multiple amateur golf tournaments every year, across the country which saw Gregory participating.
Aside being a married woman, mother and golfer, Gregory was also the only and first, African-American on the board of the local library. She also worked as a caterer, did volunteer work, and made regular hour-long commutes to Chicago to play with the African-American Chicago Women’s Golf Club, which had scouted her after seeing her play.
Being the only African-American person in these tournaments was sometimes troubling, she said later. “The galleries were just beautiful to me, but I was lonely. For a whole week I didn’t see any black people,” said Gregory. “My neighbors drove up from Gary to see me play the final round and, when I saw them, that’s the only time I felt funny. It just did something to me to see my black friends among all those white people, and I cried.”
Gregory faced racism on and off the course. Her tactic was to either confront it or ignore.
“It was better for me to remember that the flaw was in the racist, not in myself,” she said.
Likeable, humorous and compassionate, Gregory nonetheless was iron willed.
“After playing at the Gleason Park segregated nine-hole golf course in Gary, Indiana, for some years, one day in the early 1960s, she made up her mind to play the public—whites-only—18-hole layout. She walked in, placed her money on the table, and told them she would be playing there today. “My tax dollars are taking care of the big course,” she is said to have told them, “and there is no way you can bar me from it.” She suggested they call the police if they had a problem with her playing. Shortly afterwards, she teed off.”
In 1959 at Bethesda, Maryland, Ann Moore Gregory ate a hamburger while other players in the United States Golf Association Women’s Amateur tournament enjoyed the traditional players’ dinner at the Congressional Country Club.
Gregory, the only African-American player in the tournament, was barred from the clubhouse just for being Black. Nonetheless Gregory noted she was “happy as a lark. I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t. I just wanted to play golf; they were letting me play golf,” adding “So I got me a hamburger, and went to bed.”
Gregory was born Ann Moore in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 1912. She was cared for by a local white family, the Sanders and though she worked as their maid, they supported her education through to the end of high school.
Gregory’s pioneering role in African-American women’s golf is undisputed. In the African-American newspapers of her time, she was celebrated, and hailed as “The Queen of Negro Women’s Golf.”
Gregory is said to be the best African-American female golfer of the 20th century. She took home over four hundred trophies.
She played right up to the end of her life, at age 76. In 1989, a year before her death, she won gold at the U.S. Senior Olympics.
A granite marker in Gregory’s memory stands at the sixth hole of the South Gleason Park Golf Course in Gary, Indiana. She was inducted into the United Golf Association Hall of Fame in 1966, the African American Golfers Hall of Fame in 2006, the National African American Golfers Hall of Fame in 2011, and the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.