Looking back at the men who broke the color barrier in Ivy League golf

Rick Hyde and Burton Smith
Allison Bourne-Vanneck
Burton Smith, left, and Rick Hyde returned to Princeton in the fall of 2009 for the first time since their college days.

At Argyle Country Club in the rolling hills of Silver Spring, Md., the two golfers preparing to tee off aren't wearing aviator sunglasses and they no longer sport afros.

There's no sight of the persimmon Wilson Staff drivers that used to be "clutch," and the fitted white cotton Princeton golf shirts they once wore have been replaced with more colorful ones in, well, different sizes.

After all, it's no longer 1975.

On this brisk autumn day, no Ivy League opponents wait to be taken down, and Princeton Coach Bill Quackenbush is not urging on the two black players who broke the color barrier in Ivy League golf as surely as other athletes had done in other sports much earlier.

But that was more than three decades ago. Today, Rick Hyde (Princeton '75) and Burton Smith (Princeton '77) are simply two guys playing the game they love, the game they've always loved.

Although it has been 33 years, Princeton golf has never entirely left Hyde and Smith, nor should it. While there have been recent stories written about Andia Winslow, an African American golfer at Yale (class of 2004), little has been written about Hyde and Smith, who were pioneers before Winslow was born.

And while much has changed after 33 years, for these Princeton grads some things prove to be eternal: Same swings, same swagger, same chatter — all are evident as a middle-aged lefty tees it up and rips his first shot down the fairway of the 408-yard par-4.

"Just another day at the office," says Smith, twirling his MacGregor driver.

"Don't worry, that's the only shot he's got," says Hyde before bombing his drive down the left side of the fairway.

If anybody would know, it's Hyde, the first African American to play golf in the Ivies.

It's the same shot he witnessed as a Princeton junior back at Springdale Golf Club, home course of the Tigers, in 1974, when Smith was a freshman walk-on.

"Burton was a wonderful breath of fresh air, a ray of light," says Hyde. "Once I realized, 'Hey, there's a brother who can play golf,' I was like, 'Oh, heck yeah!' So we played all the time. And it was cool."

Rick Hyde: An Anomaly

Long before coming to Princeton, a world of privilege and tradition, Hyde was just a black kid in Washington, D.C., beating balls on the courses that let him — black-friendly courses like Langston, East Potomac and Falls Road.

"There were only a few courses we could play," Hyde says. "All the private clubs — no black golfers on them at all. Which was not a big deal. I wasn't like, 'Oh, we can't play these courses — I'm sad.' I was a kid happy to be along with the other big guys."

One of those "big guys" was Lee Elder, who lived in Maryland back then and in '75 would become the first African American to play in the Masters.

"As a youngster, the guys would get me into these betting situations," Hyde says, "but I ain't playing Lee.... I know who you are, Lee Elder. I can't play you. You're going to beat me. I'm not going to just give you money!"

Back then, Hyde was an anomaly — a kid who never took lessons yet shot in the low 70s. He was a 14-year-old playing with a man like Elder and hustling with other "big guys" such as Chuck Thorpe, a long-hitter from Virginia and the brother of Jim Thorpe, a three-time PGA Tour winner who went on to win 13 other times on the Champions tour.

"If I could play with Chuck ... he was the player back then," Hyde says. "These guys were competitive. I wanted to play them. I wanted a match."

That's how Hyde learned to become a competitor — playing against "sharks in the water," he says.

"You learn when you don't have but the four dollars your mother gave you to buy a hamburger and you're in a match for $150, $200," says Hyde, "which was a lot of money back in the '60s, like $2,000 today. You know you can't afford to lose."

From Junior Golf to the Ivy League

The D.C. shark tank was a merciless proving ground, but Hyde showed he could swim in it. He did so well, in fact, that during summer breaks he played against professionals in state opens in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. As a senior in high school Hyde shot a 68 to win the 1970 Metropolitan Schoolboy Championship — and catch the eye of Princeton's Quackenbush. But Hyde admits that he's still not sure how he wound up on the Tiger team.

"I didn't understand the whole dynamics of recruitment back then," he says. "I know I applied to Princeton and got in. I got to Princeton and the golf coach knew all about me and wanted me to play."

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