After 63 years, Tiretown Golf Club shows no sign of slowing down.
It’s mission is simple: keep the game growing.
A group of black golfers formed the organization in 1950, when blacks were denied access to most private and public golf courses. Only city-owned Good Park in Akron was open — by statute — to all races.
“Back when I joined in 1956, golf was a new game for blacks, and we were only allowed to play on the one golf course. That’s why we formed the group in the first place,” said Johnny Bell, 86, one of the pioneers of the club. “We thought if we were in greater numbers golf course owners would look at us in a different light. Our motto was to be well-dressed and well-behaved, and that’s the way we carried ourselves — to this day.”
Tiretown Golf Club, which has 53 members, is open to all races and provides many opportunities to play the game, mostly through league and tournaments. They meet to play once a week at various golf courses within a 25-mile radius of Akron.
Bell said there were only six Tiretown members when he joined. In fact, he purchased a set of clubs before he knew anything about the game.
“It’s the only game that I know where you are playing against yourself at all times. In other sports, you compete against each other, different teams,” Bell said. “In golf, the course already has its scores, with its pars, that’s established. You have to go out and try to beat that. By that I mean shoot that score or lower.
“There’s no cheating in the sport. If you cheat, who are you cheating ... no one but yourself,” he said. “It’s so different. It’s a personal challenge.”
Bell served as a past president and also was Tiretown’s tournament director for more than 30 years. He described the job as the person who schedules the outings and is the first one at the golf course and the last to leave. He and two other pioneers, Wilbur Turner and Bob Jeter, will be honored this weekend at the club’s annual tournament for their longevity and their efforts to change attitudes and provide more opportunities for the minority community to play the game.
One of the main goals of Tiretown is to attract young golfers. The group works closely with First Tee of Akron, a chapter of the national organization dedicated to teaching young, mostly urban players, about the sport and about life. Some Tiretown members serve on First Tee’s board.
“They’re our biggest group of volunteers and our biggest supporters,” said Ryan Maxwell, a First Tee golf and life skills coach. “A core group of the Tiretown members, 12 to 15, are here Mondays through Thursdays to help coach the kids. They are skilled and know the rules. It really helps us out because the kids get a familiarity with each of them, which helps build relationships between the coaches and students.”
Maxwell said the Tiretown members help the First Tee program maintain a 6-to-1 student-to-coach ratio, sometimes better.
Only Maxwell and the executive director, Vincent King, are paid staffers of First Tee, which blends golf training with such life skills as sportsmanship, courtesy toward others, respect and honesty.
“The game really is based on both golf skills and the way you conduct yourself in life. If we can teach kids at an early age how to be honest and commit to something, that’s the gratification I get from teaching,” said Joe Patterson, this year’s Tiretown tournament director, who volunteers at least twice a week at First Tee. “We love the sport and want to give back to the young folks. They are the people who will carry on the game when we are gone.”
Tiretown members have been volunteering since the beginning of First Tee at Mud Run in 2003. Maxwell said the group also is visible anytime First Tee needs help with fundraisers.
Tiretown is involved in other philanthropy. It established a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors. The organization partners with the Akron Urban League and its scholarship program and with Akron Public Schools’ BECOME scholarship program. It also sponsors the Buchtel High School golf team.
The main source of funding for those efforts comes from an annual tournament. This year’s Tiretown Tournament is scheduled for Saturday at Mayfair Country Club in Green.
The four-person scramble, which has an 8 a.m. shotgun start, has a registration fee of $85 per player, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Golfers can register at the door, beginning at 6:30 a.m. Local businesses can sponsor holes for $100.
Other donations are always welcome.
Tiretown members say they are always looking for more members and encourage younger men and women to join to keep the organization moving forward.
“You don’t have to be a great player to join, or even know how to play the game, just have a desire to play,” Patterson said.
Anyone interested in joining Tiretown, can contact Patterson at 330-666-1946 or Willie McCall at 330-836-2018 or visit the club’s website at www.tiretowngolfclub.net.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.