Lee Elder passes away at 87

Racial justice champion became first African-American golfer to compete in the Masters back in 1975
Lee Elder

ESCONDIDO, CA – Lee Elder, a champion of racial justice who in 1975 became the first Black man to compete in the Masters, has died at the age of 87, the PGA Tour said on Monday.

A cause of death was not given. Elder made his historic Masters debut in 1975 but it would be more than a decade later in 1990 before Augusta National — one of the world’s most exclusive clubs — would welcome Ron Townsend as its first Black member.

During his career, Elder won four events on the PGA Tour, including the 1974 Monsanto Open which qualified him for the following year’s Masters, and later recorded eight wins on the PGA Tour Champions.

In 2020, Augusta National announced it would celebrate Elder by adding him as an honorary starter with golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at that year’s Masters.

Elder, who had limited mobility, was driven to the first hole at Augusta National in a golf cart this past April where he was warmly welcomed but did not hit a tee shot.

“For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” Elder said after the ceremony.

“It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

In addition to announcing Elder as an honorary starter, Augusta National said it would establish scholarships in his name at Paine College, a private, historically Black college in Augusta.

The two scholarships will be awarded annually to one man and woman on the golf team.

Elder qualified for the Masters in five consecutive years from 1977 through 1981, his best finish coming in 1979 when he finished in a share of 17th place.