Six towering figures in Oklahoma golf history were inducted into the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame Oct. 25. The ceremony took place at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
The first Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame class includes legendary amateur golfer Charlie Coe, course architect Perry Maxwell, former Oklahoma State golf coach and current athletic director Mike Holder, civil rights pioneer Bill Spiller, 25-time Champions Tour winner Gil Morgan and former U.S. Amateur, British Amateur and multiple Tour winner Bob Dickson.
Also recognized on this special night were the 21 previous inductees into the Oklahoma Women’s Golf Hall of Fame, which has since merged with the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame.
Charlie Coe (1923-2001)
Ardmore native Charles Robert “Charlie” Coe stands alongside Bobby Jones as one of the great amateur golfers in U.S. history. He won the U.S. Amateur in 1949 and 1958 and was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in a historic battle in 1959.
Coe, a three-time Big Seven Conference champion at Oklahoma, also won the 1950 Western Amateur, was runner-up in the 1951 British Amateur to Dick Chapman, won the Trans-Mississippi Championship four times and played on six Walker Cup teams.
McAlester native Robert B. Dickson won both the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in 1967, the first man to do so since Lawson Little in 1934 and 1935. Dickson learned the game from his father Ben Dickson, the professional, greenskeeper and manager of McAlester Country Club. By high school, Bob was good enough to win the Class 2A state championship three times for Muskogee High School. A two-time All-American at Oklahoma State in 1965 and 1966, he also won the Oklahoma State Amateur in 1965 and 1966 and the Oklahoma Open in 1966 and 1971.
The current Oklahoma State athletic director, Mike Holder set a standard that will likely never be challenged during his 28 seasons as head coach of the Cowboy golf team. Taking over for Labron Harris Sr. in 1973, Holder coached the Cowboys to eight national titles and 24 conference championships. He coached 101 All-America selections, 20 conference individual medalists and five individual national champions. Every Holder squad made it to the Championship and made the cut.
Perry Maxwell (1879-1952)
The genius of Perry “Duke” Maxwell was his ability to divine the natural ebb and flow of any particular site and, using primitive earth-moving equipment, let his course routings take every advantage of what Mother Nature provided.
Without Maxwell’s handiwork, Oklahoma would be bereft of many of its greatest golf course treasures, including Southern Hills, consistently ranked among the top-25 courses in the United States, and site of three U.S. Opens and four Championships. The former Ardmore banker left an indelible legacy on our state.
Gil Morgan could be in the Hall of Fame of humble. It’s hard to imagine a nicer, more unassuming superstar than the Doctor of Optometry from Wewoka via East Central State College.
The long-time member and resident of Oak Tree National, Morgan has enjoyed one of the most incredible “second chance” careers of all time. A seven-time winner and consistent performer on the Tour from 1977-90, Morgan’s consistent ball striking and unflappable demeanor proved a magical elixir when he moved to the Champions Tour.
Bill Spiller (1913-1988)
Tishomingo native Bill Spiller fought valiantly for equal access on the Tour for African-American golfers and, though he never really got to enjoy the fruits of his victory, his efforts were crucial in paving the way for Charlie Sifford and others to finally integrate the tour.
“Bill Spiller is a hero, but unappreciated,” said national golf writer Al Barkow, who wrote the definitive story on Spiller’s integration efforts for Golf World in 2008.
“Charlie Sifford gets a lot of the credit for breaking the racial barrier, but Bill Spiller paved the way.”
Spiller moved to Tulsa at age 9 and eventually moved to Los Angeles and took up golf around age 30. He started competing and winning blacks-only amateur golf tournaments during the 1940s. After being denied entry in the 1948 Richmond (California) Open by the of America, Spiller spent many years challenging the segregation policy of the of America.
Spiller sued. In 1952, the sponsors of the new San Diego Open invited Spiller, unaware of the “Caucasians only” clause. This time he was assisted by fellow invitee and former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Both men were excluded by Horton Smith, president of the of America.
In 1960, Spiller’s cause came to the attention of California attorney general (and future California Supreme Court justice) Stanley Mosk, who told the of America it would not be allowed to use public courses. At the time, most tournaments were held on public courses.
When the of America replied that it would restrict itself to private courses, Mosk promised to stop that as well. Furthermore, he began contacting state attorneys general around the country. Spiller finally won his cause in 1961, but he was well past his prime by then. Every African American who has played on the Tour since owes Spiller a debt of gratitude.