Before there was Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller or Lee Elder, there was John Brooks Dendy, the self-made golfer from North Carolina who made a name for himself in the 1930s.
Dendy grew up in Asheville and fell in love with the game of golf at an early age. He had scuffled around and found some discarded club heads with no shafts. He whittled down broom sticks, fitted them in the heads and began playing whenever he could. He also began caddying at Asheville Country Club and by his early teens had developed a game that was hard to beat. Some of the members of the club took notice and quietly encouraged him.
At 18, Dendy had completed high school and was preparing to head to Paine College in Augusta, Ga. to play football. Because of his golfing prowess, a few members of the country club extended Dendy the financial assistance to enter the Southern Open at Lincoln G &CC in Atlanta and to the chagrin of homegrown heroes Howard Wheeler and Hugh Smith, Dendy won. During the awards ceremony, Dendy relinquished his amateur status and accepted the $50 prize money for first place.
Excited by his good fortune, his family encouraged him to compete in the 1932 United Golfer’s Association – Negro National Open in Indianapolis. Dendy had never been that far away from home before and was only comfortable on the golf course. The virtual unknown whipped his competitors with ease earning the trophy and the $100 prize money.
In the pre-tournament “Calcutta,” Dendy had been purchased for $400 and the bettor won big so he gave his man a $500 bonus for winning, five times the amount of the winner’s check. On his long trip home, Dendy never slept for fear that someone may attempt to rob him. He would go on the win National Open in 1936 and successfully defended in 1937. He also won the Southern Open again in 1934 and 1936 after breaking through in 1932.
One of the most legendary stories told about John Brooks Dendy occurred in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1933. He had been invited to participate in an 18-hole exhibition and was pressed for time because the bus that he was on developed problems along the way. He arrived at the course, went to the first tee, and without warming up, cut the dogleg with his drive on the 342 yard opening hole. When he got to the green, he found his ball in the cup for a 1. He then played the next three holes 2-3-4, all of them birdies and finished the day with a score of 59. The 1-2-3-4, six-under par start, made Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
By 1940, Dendy hadn’t made any headway financially playing golf, so he opted to take a job as a locker room attendant at Asheville CC and later worked at Biltmore Forest CC where he served until he retired in 1980. He didn’t play much golf in his later years and died in 1985. Throughout his storied career Dendy won 52 tournaments, including three National and three Southern Open Championships. He was also a friend of heavyweight champion Joe Louis and the two often partnered successfully in money matches in Chicago and across the country. “Lest’ We Forget.”