Jimmie DeVoe, PGAUnheralded pioneer in the growth of the game of golf
James R. “Jimmie” DeVoe was an unheralded pioneer in the growth of the game of golf, and among the generations of African Americans who were denied equal opportunity in all aspects of social life, not to mention civil rights. His career exemplified the fundamentals of growing the game more than 80 years before The PGA of America promoted its Golf 2.0 initiative.
DeVoe was born in 1888 in Dowagiac, Michigan. Most notably, he became the first African American to gain PGA of America membership after the “Caucasian-only Clause” was abolished in 1962. At 74, he also became the oldest to be elected to the Association.
In the 1930s, DeVoe partnered with John Shippen and operated a golf school in the basement of a drugstore in Harlem. Throughout the 1940s, he traveled between New York and Los Angeles before settling down in the Southland, becoming a popular teacher and prominent player.
In 1944, DeVoe became the first African American to compete in the Los Angeles Open. His respect for the history of the game and its traditions coupled with his reputation as a skilled instructor attracted some notable students, including Bill Spiller, Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson. He was also highly praised for promoting etiquette and courtesy while teaching underprivileged youth.
At age 65, DeVoe finished fifth in the United Golf Association Championship in 1953. In 1959, he was hired by PGA Professional Harry Bassler at the former Fox Hills Country Club in Culver City as an assistant club professional. He would eventually become California’s first African American head professional at a country club.
DeVoe passed away in 1979, five days before his 91st birthday. Nothing exemplifies his extraordinary career more than still having lessons booked at the time of his passing.
DeVoe was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2013.