In 1962, a group of Black women in the Hartford area got together to organize a golf club at Kenney Park. Among them were an artist, a doctor, homemakers, teachers and some self-described “golf widows.”
They called themselves the Keney Links and this year, they’re celebrating 60 years of existence. On Sunday at the Keney Park golf course in Hartford, the club is hosting a fundraising golf tournament and a banquet.
“They were interested in learning how to play, they took lessons, they played the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Edna Jordan of Bloomfield, who has been a member of the club since 2006 and is the club’s current president. “They were very strict when they played. They became great golfers.”
The Keney Links joined the Southern New England Women’s Golf Association and their president, Billie Duval, went on to become SNEWGA’s first Black president in 1965. Because of their membership in SNEWGA, the Keney Links became the first Black female golfers to compete in previously all -white tournaments in both Connecticut and other states.
No doubt the women were inspired when, in 1961, the PGA struck its all-white clause from its bylaws and that year, Charlie Sifford became the first Black golfer to earn a PGA tour card. When Sifford – who was a friend of Billie Duvall and her husband – came to Hartford to play in the Greater Hartford Open (which he won in 1967), he attended a banquet hosted by the Kenney Links. Sammy Davis Jr., a co-sponsor of what would become the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open, headlined their “Golfers’ Ball” in 1973 and Lee Elder would also make appearances at Kenney Links events.
In October of 1972, the Courant wrote a story on its “World of Women” page about the Kenney Links. The women spoke about how the club wasn’t trying to make a social or racial statement – they just wanted to play golf.
“I guess there was a lot of discussion [about the club]but it was never overt,” Duval, a physical education teacher at Bulkeley High School, told the Courant.
Irene Pittman, Nykesha Sales’ grandmother who is now 98 years old, was there when the club started. She was athletic and played golf and bowled.
“When you were home with your husband, it was boring,” said Pittman, of Bloomfield, who golfed until she was 90. “So we used to play but the men didn’t want us to play with them so we organized our own club. They wouldn’t let us play on Sunday. We had to play after that. That’s the way it was.
“We got our time to play. You couldn’t play at certain golf places but being a member of SNEWGA, they let us play. I met a lot of people. We would play every morning and we enjoyed playing with each other. You met a lot of friends.”
Lori Riley can be reached at [email protected]