The golf course’s clubhouse, once closed to black golfers, will bear the name of the Minneapolis great who worked to incorporate it.
MINNEAPOLIS – Solomon Hughes’ passion in life was golf. He loved playing it, loved teaching the sport, and loved taking the courses to study the topography.
And now, 34 years after his death, the name Solomon Hughes will grace the clubhouse at his favorite local course, Hiawatha Golf Course.
“I think his number one love was golf, number two was probably mom and we were probably number three,” said Shirley Hughes with a laugh on Friday as she met her younger brother Solomon Hughes Jr.
The Minneapolis Park Board’s decision to rename the clubhouse Hughes is particularly fitting given that it fought to integrate the clubhouse in 1948. Hiawatha was a public course, but years after it opened to black golfers, the clubhouse was still off-limits to them.
“People of color who used to play on the pitch and couldn’t get into the clubhouse, so we’re very proud that this legacy is being carried over to the clubhouse,” Sol Jr. told KARE.
The Hughes family welcomed Park Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw’s decision to rename the clubhouse.
“I think he would be honored, and I think he would believe his 1948 efforts to finally get blacks into the clubhouse were recognized.”
Hughes grew up in Alabama and learned about the sport while working as a caddy at a local club. By the time he arrived in the Twin Cities in the early 1940s, he had already won many United Golf Association tournaments.
The UGA was the league founded in the 1920s by black golfers because they weren’t allowed to play alongside white men at PGA events.
“The PGA rule had a written rule that only Caucasians could play in the PGA,” said Shirley.
Her father fought to integrate the PGA and moved into the press after he was denied entry to the St. Paul Open in 1948 and 1951.
“I can’t think of any case where he came home and was upset or angry about his treatment, and I believe in his spirit that he let his clubs do the talking,” noted Sol Jr.
Shirley said her father had a gentle personality but was determined to see those barriers come down for black golfers.
“The other thing I like is that people always say of him that not only is he a good golfer but has always been described as a gentleman, which makes us twice as proud,” said Shirley.
Among those who also campaigned for the opening of the PGA was heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, who learned the sport from Hughes and made friends with the family. Louis wanted Hughes to travel the country with him from tournament to tournament.
“Daddy knew Mom didn’t want him to travel around the country, so he recommended his friend Ted Rhodes.
Hughes had been working as a Pullman Porter when he first arrived in Minneapolis in 1943 but eventually became a skycap for Northwest Airlines. But he kept playing whenever he could, and Hiawatha was the closest public golf course to the family home in south Minneapolis.
“He got up every Saturday at 6:00 am to train. I did a caddy for him as a little boy, 19 years old, with the original leather bag, which was very heavy!” Sol Jr. remembered.
And although he carried heavy bags for customers at the airport all day, he could still win trophies in his free time.
“Mother would say she was a golf widow,” Shirley explained. “He was late and she said, ‘What took so long?’ And he said: ‘We decided to play 36 instead of 18 holes!’ “
Sol Jr. still has his father’s personalized golf bag, many of his clubs, and his last pair of golf shoes. He also has clubs that his father cut to make it easier for his son, who was of shorter stature, to swing.
Solomon Hughes Sr. died of multiple myeloma in 1987. And although his hospital room looked out over Meadowbrook Golf Course at Hopkins, he still asked his family to drive him back to see Hiawatha one last time shortly before his death.
“He wanted to see both the front nine and the back nine, so I think it is very fitting that the clubhouse is named after him because he clearly considered Hiawatha to be his home,” said Shirley.
And what would he think of being honored by the Park Board?
“Up in the sky he would probably still look over the course and see how it is set up,” remarked Sol Jr. “And he would be interested in people’s grips and how they stand!”