Northern Trust Open announces exemption for minorities

Just 24 hours before the inauguration  of America's first black president, the Northern Trust Open has annouced a special exemption for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.

Highlighting the pivotal role Charlie Sifford played in breaking down golf’s “Caucasian only” rule more than four decades ago, the Los Angeles tournament announced today a groundbreaking new feature of the tournament: the Charlie Sifford Exemption.

"It's something that should have been done a long time ago," Sifford said in a telephone interview. "This is a wonderful thing. It will give someone a chance."

Sifford won the Negro Open five consecutive years before becoming the first black to join the PGA TOUR in 1961, winning two tournaments including what is now known as the Northern Trust Open.

He wrote an autobiography published in 1992 titled "Just Let Me Play,” and in 2004 became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Each year, beginning with this year’s tournament on Feb. 16-22, 2009, the Northern Trust Open’s Charlie Sifford Exemption will offer a sponsor exemption to a top golfer who represents the advancement of diversity in golf and wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to compete in the event.

The recipient of the new exemption is scheduled to be recognized by Rick Waddell, president and chief executive officer of Northern Trust, Northern Trust Open Tournament Director Tom Pulchinski and Sifford himself on Feb. 18 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.

“This is a fitting honor for Charlie Sifford, who 40 years ago overcame great obstacles to win what we now call the Northern Trust Open,” Waddell said. “Our hope is that the Charlie Sifford Exemption will raise awareness of Mr. Sifford’s achievements while continuing to broaden the game’s appeal. Our company's principles of service, expertise and integrity align perfectly with the PGA TOUR's goal of making golf fun, challenging and rewarding for everyone regardless of background.”

“This is a great day,” Sifford said. “I always just wanted to get a chance to play, and with the help of many I was able to pursue my dreams as a professional golfer. I am honored beyond words to see this exemption help the next generation of top golfers.”

Candidates for the Charlie Sifford Exemption were identified by a variety of sources, including the PGA TOUR, PGA of America through the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, Nationwide Tour, The First Tee, World Golf Foundation, United States Golf Association and the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association. The exemption will go to a golfer who advances diversity and demonstrates both high character and ability.

Candidates for this year’s Northern Trust Open will be selected by Pulchinski with input from the PGA TOUR and Northern Trust.

“This is a special day to reflect on the life of Charlie Sifford and those who supported him over the years,” Pulchinski said. “It’s also a day to look ahead as we seek talented rising stars who normally would not have the opportunity to play at the Northern Trust Open.”