Clyburn charts a different course

Sunday, August 5, 2007

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., hits balls with his grandson A.C. Reed at Woodlands Country Club. The City of Columbia Golf Center will be renamed for Clyburn on Monday. (PHOTO: ERIK CAMPOS/ECAMPOS@THESTATE.COM)No matter how you look at it — historically, emotionally, intellectually — it’s hard to figure out. Jim Clyburn, '61, admits as much.

Why did Enos Clyburn give his 7-year-old son a wooden golf club and rubber golf ball for Christmas, especially since the elder Clyburn, a Presbyterian minister whose second “religion” was baseball, never played golf?

Why did Clyburn, at age 9, work all of nine holes as a caddie — the traditional route to golf for black people in pre-integration times — and then quit, never to return to a job that offered weekly access to what was then an all-white course?

And why would any black youngster growing up in the Jim Crow South, but especially this youngster, embrace a sport that traditionally banned his race from all areas other than manual labor?

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., can’t answer the first question — “I don’t know why my Dad did that” — and is vague about the second. “(Caddying) didn’t fit my personality,” he said.

As for the third ... well, you might as well try to explain love. For the 67-year-old Democrat from Columbia, that’s what golf is: a passion, an obsession — a love affair.

“It’s so individualized, just you against the elements,” he said. “I can go to a driving range, be the only person there, and hit the ball, get out my frustrations that way.

“You can be competitive and not have to rely on others. And I really do believe we reap what we sow, so I think a sport where you’re obliged to call penalties on yourself ... helps mold you into a much better person.”

Fitting, then, that Monday’s 10 a.m. renaming of the City of Columbia’s inner-city golf facility as the James E. Clyburn Golf Center will mark the end of a golf-filled weekend for the legislator.

Today, Clyburn will play in the Rudolph Canzater Memorial Classic, a charity event played on five Santee-Cooper courses that honors the memory of his late friend and fellow “golf instigator,” and has raised $370,000 for scholarships to S.C. State and USC, Clyburn’s alma maters.

Clyburn also played or will play in seven outings over a two-month span, from the July 9 pro-am at the AT&T Championship Presented by Tiger Woods in Bethesda, Md., to the “Grand Clyburn” in Tunica, Miss., on Friday — a Congressional Black Caucus fundraiser named for him — to a competition Sept. 10 pitting Republicans against Democrats, with The First Tee as beneficiary.

Many politicians shrink from the subject of playing golf. Clyburn’s office issues his itinerary.

And that’s just “official” golf. Clyburn said he plays as often as possible, at Fort Jackson Golf Club or Woodlands Country Club in Columbia, near his house in Santee-Cooper Resort and all around the country. He sees the game as a legislative asset.

“Golf has helped me build bridges among my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “I always say if I play a round of golf with a guy, I can tell you a whole lot about him.”

Those who have played with Clyburn say golf shows him to be a fierce, often stubborn competitor who hates to lose. Even to family.


Walter A. Clyburn Reed — A.C. to his family — peeks into the big golf bag that belongs to his grandfather, who hits balls on the Woodlands driving range. Jim Clyburn knows what that means. “Two weeks ago, he talked me out of my Taylormade 580 (driver),” he said.

The two are kindred golf spirits, said Jennifer Reed, Clyburn’s daughter and A.C.’s mother. “We have the picture of A.C. (in his crib) with a plastic club,” she said. “I never had any doubt one day he would have his own clubs.”

Jennifer Reed said she was exposed to golf “from birth. I don’t remember (her father) not being a golfer.” She was his family playing partner until she married Walter Reed. “Then I got kicked to the curb,” she said, laughing. “Dad found a new partner.”

Lately, A.C., 13, has supplanted his father. Clyburn smiles as he tells about playing with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman at the Verizon Heritage pro-am with A.C. tagging along.

“We got held up on one hole, and A.C. asked (Lehman) for his driver,” Clyburn said. “Tom said to me, ‘Does he belong to you?’ But when he saw A.C. hit the ball, he said, ‘Man, he’s got a lot of club-head speed ... that kid has a million-dollar swing.’”

His smile says it all: Lehman might as well have handed Clyburn a million-dollar check.

It wasn’t that way when Clyburn was growing up in Sumter in the 1940s and ’50s. After his father gave him his first club, “I dug holes in the yard and hit that rubber ball from one to the other,” Clyburn wrote in a two-page personal “Golfing History,” available from his Columbia office.

He also played on a home-built “course” at a Sumter church with hand-me-down clubs and instruction from a friend, Roosevelt “Jackpot” Lawson, who caddied at Sumter’s Sunset Country Club. But when Lawson persuaded Clyburn to try caddying — besides the money, caddies could play Mondays when Sunset was closed — the experiment quickly flopped.

Clyburn implies his first and only golfer had little patience, and less consideration or respect, for the inexperienced caddie.

“The (player’s) tone was ... ‘condescending’ would be a kind term,” Clyburn said. “If I had caddied for someone more sensitive to the fact it was my first time, I might’ve stayed out there.”

That didn’t lessen Clyburn’s fascination with golf. At S.C. State, he hit balls on an ROTC drill field. Later, when he taught school in Charleston, Clyburn played at an all-black course, Little Rock Golf Club. His first set of clubs came from a retired judge and friend.

He played his first 18-hole round in 1965 at Charleston Municipal Golf Course, joined by a white co-worker at the S.C. Employment Security Commission. Later, working for Gov. John West (1971-74), Clyburn found golf could advance civil rights.

One day in December 1971, West took Clyburn to play at Santee-Cooper Resort, which had a whites-only policy. Clyburn remembers the club pro’s face — “he froze” — when the group walked in.

“(West) said, ‘We’ve got two foursomes here,’ and we went out and played,” Clyburn said. “John West was always in his own way challenging those things. It wasn’t just about me; it was about the institution of racism.”

Later, as head of the S.C. Human Affairs Commission from 1974 to 1992, Clyburn and his pal Canzater refined West’s method, using American Cancer Society cards that were good for a discount to play. “He would get a white girl to call a club he knew wasn’t integrated and make tee times, then we’d show up,” Clyburn said.

“One time in Dillon, we decided to play Twin Pines. Someone said, ‘They don’t have any black people playing out there.’ I said, ‘They’re going to have some today.’ We walked in, presented the cards ... what could they do?

“When we got back to the clubhouse, two sheriff’s cars were there. So I walked in and said, ‘Sheriff Lee, how you doing, man? I didn’t know you played golf.’ He looked up, said, ‘Clyburn? I didn’t know that was you out there.’”

Clyburn laughed at the memory. “Two sheriff’s cars,” he said.


His first year in Congress, Clyburn said, he “didn’t play at all.”

“I was trying to figure out how to be a good congressman,” he said But when two members of the Legislative Black Caucus discussed a charity tournament, Clyburn told them, “I know a little bit about golf.”

“Alan (Wheat, a representative from Kansas) looked at me in disbelief,” he said. “He was convinced he could beat me at golf,” Clyburn said with a grin. “I relieved him of a lot of ‘cabbage.’”

That’s also the word on Clyburn from those who play with him: Golf without a friendly wager is no golf at all.

Ollie Johnson, a longtime playing partner, said the two have had the same wager for 25 years. “But he’s improved faster than I have,” said Johnson, 71. “Now he beats me pretty regular; he gives me strokes to make it (fair).”

The book on Clyburn’s game: He hits the ball straight, not as long off the tee as he’d like, with a deft touch around the greens. “I’m the longer driver, but he’s more skillful with chips and putts,” said S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, his cousin and occasional foe. “He’s very competitive with himself and everyone.”

Recently, that competitiveness sent Clyburn to Fort Jackson instructor Kurt Sokolowski for help. Clyburn’s lack of distance is due to swinging mostly with his arms, without much lower-body action, Sokolowski said.

“Lack of a turn, picks the club up, swings outside a bit,” he said. “But if he worked on his swing, he could be under a 10 (handicap).” Clyburn said he was as low as a 9 when he first arrived in Washington.

The final word on Clyburn as a golfer comes from a longtime friend and mentor — in politics and business more than golf — who has access to the No. 1 golf destination in the world.

Former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, who worked with Clyburn to end segregation in banking, several years ago invited Clyburn and the late M. Maceo Nance, president of S.C. State, to play at Augusta National. Johnson discovered what he expected: a fierce competitor.

“I don’t remember what his handicap was,” Johnson said, laughing, “but he took $5 off me.”

Like Clyburn, Johnson believes golf, with its frustrations and hard-won rewards, reveals a person’s true character. So what did he learn that day?

“It confirmed what I already felt I knew,” Johnson said. “That he was a gentleman in every way.”

And one who hates to lose.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.


Calvin Peete, a trailblazer for black golfers in the 1980s, tops the lineup for Mondays 10 a.m. dedication ceremony to rename the City of Columbia Golf Center for U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.

Golf clinic: Peete, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour and two-time member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1983 and 1985, will conduct a clinic at 7:30 a.m. for youngsters in The First Tee program based at the golf center.

Others attending: Along with Cly-burn and city officials, the U.S. Army Brass Band from Fort Jackson, the C.A. Johnson High Junior ROTC honor guard and the Richland 1 honor choir will appear prior to the hour-long dedication.

What is the center? The 11-acre golf center, at 2091 Slighs Ave., was built in 2002 at a cost of $400,000 and serves an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 players each year, 75 percent of them juniors. Clyburn, the U.S. House ma-jority whip and an avid golfer, had the original idea for the center and helped obtain money to build it.

If you go: Parking for the dedication, expected to draw about 750, will be at C.A. Johnson High. Buses will shut-tle spectators to the center. For more information, go to or call (803) 545-3020.

Bob Gillespie


U.S. Rep. James Clyburns list


Congressional Golf Club, Bethesda, Md.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Manassas, Va.

El Conquistador, Las Croabas, Puerto Rico

St. Andrews, Old Course and New Course, Scotland

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Peb-ble Beach, Calif.

In S.C.

Fort Jackson Golf Clubs Old Hickory and Wildcat courses

Woodlands Country Club

Santee-Cooper Resort Country Club

Dream foursome

Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Calvin Peete and Clyburn

I would love to play referee between Phil and Tiger. I dont think theres any bad feeling between them. The media has done that. But they are rivals. Youve got to have a No. 1 and a No. 2.

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