George Roddy – Trailblazer on the Tee

The following feature on George Roddy first appeared in “Golden Harvest. Iowa’s Rich Golf History”, written by 11-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year Rick Brown and commissioned by the Iowa Golf Association. The story of George Roddy in Iowa also celebrates Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. 

George Roddy’s family couldn’t afford a bus ticket to send him from Keokuk to the University of Iowa in the late 1920s. So he packed his bags, put his golf clubs on his shoulder and hoofed it.

Born in 1908, Roddy was the first African-American member of the golf team at Iowa. He also became the first black captain and letterman in program history.

Roddy, who lettered in 1930 and 1931, ran into plenty of obstacles during his career. He wasn’t allowed to play in some meets, including the Big Ten championship, because they were held at exclusive clubs that closed their doors to blacks.

Roddy saw very little varsity action as a sophomore in 1929, even though he was medalist in the varsity-freshman meet to start the season. He also won the All-University Championship, beating Marc Stewart in the title match, 2 and 1. Roddy received both the Howard L. Beye traveling trophy and the Rudolph A. Kuever cup for his victory.

When Iowa opened the 1930 spring season against Grinnell, Coach Charles Kennett had Roddy as his No. 1 man.

“A star negro golfer from Keokuk, George Roddy, seems likely to head the attack against the Pioneers,” the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported on April 15, 1930.

In a dual with Minnesota on May 11, Roddy shot a Finkbine course-record 72 the hard way – 31-41. He defeated the Gophers’ William Fowler, who had won the North Dakota State Amateur championship in 1927 and 1929.

The Hawkeyes played just four matches that season, repercussions of a football slush fund scandal that had shut the door on any competition against Big Ten schools. A Big Ten faculty committee lifted that suspension on Feb. 2, 1930. The Minnesota dual in May was a late addition to the schedule.

Roddy also won the All-University Championship for a second time.

According to the 1930 “Hawkeye,” the University of Iowa’s yearbook, “George Roddy repeated his performance of a year before when he outplayed all competition to win out in the all-university tournament in the spring. Roddy plays with a style that few teams could cope with and went through the season without once tasting defeat. In most cases he won his matches by quite comfortable margins. The late return of Iowa into the Western conference accounted in part for the scheduling of but four matches.”

The Big Ten Championship was played at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette, Ill. Roddy was not allowed to play because of the color of his skin. Teammate Fred Agnew couldn’t play because the two-day event conflicted with his senior law exams. Both Roddy and Agnew had gone through the regular season undefeated.

“Too bad about George Roddy and Fred Agnew not getting to take in the conference golf meet next week in Chicago,” Press-Citizen sports editor Jack Patton wrote on May 17, 1930. “Agnew is busy with senior law exams, while Roddy’s color bars him from the Chicago links. Roddy wasn’t used at all last year in spite of his being all-university champ, and cut loose this year with three wins and a university course record. He’s Iowa’s most serious threat in conference golf history. No one has ever played on Finkbine field who has more golf etiquette than Roddy.”

Without their two best players at the Big Ten meet, Iowa was in last place after the first day of 36-hole competition. The Hawkeyes trailed ninth-place Chicago by 44 strokes. Iowa withdrew before the second round.

The Hawkeyes won the 1931 state collegiate championship in Roddy’s senior year, but the highlight was a 10-8 victory over DePaul in Iowa City. Roddy led the winning effort by shooting 73. It was DePaul’s first loss in two seasons. Roddy had a hand in six of those 10 points with victories in both his singles and doubles matches.

Roddy was denied a third all-University crown, falling in the semifinals. He did win the University of Iowa team championship.

Race ended Roddy’s season and Hawkeye career prematurely.

“The Hawkeye team won three of its seven dual meets,” the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported on May 19, 1931. “Absence of George Roddy, No. 1 man, weakened the team in the (University of) Chicago and Northwestern duals of last week. Roddy, a Negro, was barred from playing on the metropolitan club courses because of his color.”

In his final competition as a Hawkeye, Roddy helped Iowa defeat visiting Iowa State, 11-7. Kennett decided not to enter the Big Ten Championship, played in Ann Arbor, Mich.

George Augustus Roddy received his engineering degree from the University of Iowa on July 16, 1931.

Roddy, The Des Moines Register reported, “is rated as the best Iowa golfer of all time and is the present record holder on the university’s Finkbine course.”

Roddy came to Des Moines a week after graduating and won the inaugural Midwestern Negro Golf Tournament at Grandview. He was also the National Minority Amateur champion in 1930 and 1937.

Roddy became an educator and coach. He started out as an instructor and golf coach at Arkansas State College from 1931 to 1933. Then he went to North Carolina A&T, where he was the golf coach and also an auto mechanics and mathematics teacher until 1948. He moved from there to Indianapolis, Ind., where he was an industrial arts teacher and started the golf program at Crispus Attucks High School.

Roddy won the Indianapolis city golf title twice. The first came in 1963. He also won in 1967 when he was 57 years old. Roddy passed away in 1988 at 80 years of age.

Roddy was the first African-American elected to the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.

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