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January 31, 2010

Black Women's Champ Ethel Funches Dies

At a time when black golfers were not welcome at country clubs and whites-only professional tournaments. They played in something called the United Golfers Association, a black golf league that started back in the 1920s.

The women who played in the UGA didn't get to play for money, they played for pride. And Mrs. Ethel P. Funches won more UGA championships than anyone in history.

Ethel Funches, center, at a trophy presentation in 1953.

As Levelle "Reds" Anderson, 94, who played at Langston Golf Course in Northeast Washington for decades put it, "She used to whip all the other women."

Legend has it among old-time golfers that Funches occasionally beat men, too: One such whipping occurred against a man who disliked female golfers, apparently she had a string of five consecutive birdies and shot a 1 under par. And she shut him up (hopefully forever).

The South Carolina native learned to play after marrying Eugene Funches, an elevator attendant at the National Geographic Society. He played golf, and she quickly learned.

Mrs. Funches joined the Wake Robin Golf Club, in the early 1940s. This club may be the oldest black women's golf club in the country. In 1963, the first black woman, Althea Gibson, went on the LPGA Tour. A woman that Funches had beat a couple years earlier in the quarterfinals of a tournament.

Funches did not have the money needed to go on the LPGA Tour and by the time Gibson had gone on tour Funches was already 50 years old. Ethel stopped playing golf in 1996 after the passing of her husband.

Ethel Funches passed away on January 6, 2010 at the age of 96.

I can only imagine how difficult it was for a black woman to play golf, and become so competitive during the time period she played. All I can say is that from what I have read - she was an incredible woman.

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