In 2009, the PGA of America bestowed PGA Membership posthumously upon Shippen, with his grandson, the late Hanno Shippen Smith of Washington, D.C., accepting, and Thurman, representing the The John Shippen Memorial Golf Foundation in attendance received an original of the PGA card and the posthumously certification.
John Matthew Shippen, Jr.
Who was John Matthew Shippen, Jr.? What was his contribution to the world of golf? Our journey to unearth John Matthew Shippen’s contribution to the world of golf began as a challenge from an article in the Star Ledger, a New Jersey syndicated newspaper written by the well renown sportswriter, Jerry Izenberg during African American History, February 1991. From the Izenberg’s article, as a student in Professor Lawrence Hogan’s African American Studies class, the class was given the assignment to attend a meeting by the Mayor and Council Members of Scotch Plains to discuss John Shippen’s contribution to the world of golf. As Scotch Plains is my hometown, I asked my husband, Thurman to escort me to the meeting at Town Hall. Little did I know at the time, that Thurman and I would be on a journey to unearth the historical
significance of John Matthew Shippen, Jr. , the first American born and the first African American to play in a U.S. Open in 1896, This was our beginning…
Through my research, I submitted the following paper as my college assignment on the history of John Matthew Shippen, Jr.; the first African American and the first American to play in a Profession Golf Association (PGA) tournament.
John Matthew Shippen, Jr.
Born John Mathew Shippen Jr., on Dec. 5, 1879, in Long Island, New York, he became America’s first home-grown golf professional. Shippen was a pupil of Scotsman Willie Dunn, owner of Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, NY. Shippen served as a starter for tournaments, repaired clubs and assisted the maintenance crew, all at age 16. He became a star caddie, then an assistant to Dunn and moved into giving lessons to some of the club members. At age 16, Shippen, earned an assistant professional post at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club where he began giving lessons to some of the club members and became an accomplished player in his own right. In 1896, Shippen’s golfing ability was so evident that members encouraged him to enter the second U. S. Open which was played at Shinnecock. Shippen entered the championship over the protests of several English and Scottish professionals in the field. He finished fifth in the championship and went on to compete in five more U.S. Opens, the last in 1913.
In 1896, his golfing ability was so evident that members encouraged him to enter the second U. S. Open, scheduled to be played at Shinnecock. With the club’s support, Shippen entered the Open which led to protests from several of the English and Scottish professionals. They confronted USGA President Theodore Havemeyer, threatening to withdraw if Shippen, an African American and his friend, Native American Oscar Bunn, were allowed to compete. Havemeyer informed the objectors that the tournament would be played as scheduled, even if Shippen and Bunn were the only players. Shippen demonstrated his skill by posting a 78 in the first round, leaving him in a tie for the lead. Shippen’s title hopes ended on the 13th hole of the second round, when his wayward drive found a sandy road. He recorded an 11 on the hole and finished tied for sixth. He earned a $10 prize. Oscar Bunn finished in 21st place.
In 1900, Shippen was employed as the greenkeeper at the Marine and Field Club in Brooklyn and went on to compete in the 1900 U.S. Open, finishing tied for 25th; he competed in six U.S. Open, the last in 1913. No African American played in the Open again until Ted Rhodes in 1948. . He served as golf professional at several clubs with his last stop being the Shady Rest Golf Course in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, in 1924, where he remained until he retired in 1960.
Ruby L. Simmons
Union County College
Prof. Lawrence Hogan
John Shippen at Shady Rest Golf and Country Club (date unknown)
Appalled that the life and historic achievement of the man who was this country’s first American born golfer professional had no monuments erected in his honor, Thurman P. Simmons, Chairman of the John Shippen Memorial Golf foundation purchased and place a granite headstone at the grave of John Shippen
JOHN SHIPPEN’S GOLF CLUB
Golf Club Made by John Matthew Shippen, Jr.
The John Shippen Memorial Golf Foundation received a surprising donation, an antique golf club from Robert Kuntz of Dayton, Ohio. The significance of the club is its age, made in 1900 by John Shippen, and the original owner, who competed in the 1896 U. S. Open at Long Island’s Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
The History Detectives completed researched and confirmed its authenticity. The program aired on Season 2, Episode 12 - 2004 produced by History Detective: by Elyse Luray and Gwen Wright. The video is not available; however, for the complete transcript log into: www.pbs.org - John Shippen Golf Club