A former intern with the SCGA Foundation is beginning to make her way in the golf world, thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of Maggie Hathaway four decades ago.
As the nation celebrates Black History Month, the SCGA recognizes Hathaway, who fought for inclusion of African-Americans in golf, as well as in entertainment and other aspects of community life. “We called Maggie the First Lady of Golf,” said Doris LaCour, longtime senior deputy to Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
Thornton, a USGA P.J. Boatright intern with the SCGA Foundation last year, recently took over as executive director of The First Tee of South Los Angeles, which is based at Hathaway’s namesake golf course on West 98th Street in Los Angeles.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to follow in the footsteps of someone who did so much to advance racial equality in Los Angeles and in the game of golf,” Thornton said. “There were so many people who were instrumental in that effort, but she’s the one who opened the doors.”
Hathaway, who died in 2001 at age 90, appeared in a number of Hollywood films, including “Quiet, Please!” the Marx Brothers’ “At the Circus” and “Cabin in the Sky.” In “Stormy Weather,” she was a stand-in for Lena Horne, according to IMDB. The website said she “usually portrayed sassy, witty, sexy ladies on screen.”
Hathaway had a lot of spunk off the set, too. “She held a lot of demonstrations to allow blacks to play at Western Avenue GC,” said LaCour (pictured, left, with Hathaway), referring to a facility that is known as Chester Washington GC today. “She broke a lot of ground for black golfers to play in Los Angeles.”
One of them was Thornton, who moved to Los Angeles from her home state of Missouri several years ago. When her nephews and her little brother came to visit her, Thornton said, “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something with these kids.’ I took them to Chester Washington to hit on the range, and a gentleman there said, ‘Have you ever heard of The First Tee?’ After that, they were hooked, and we started spending Saturdays at Maggie Hathaway’s, learning golf skills and the life lessons it teaches not just young people but all of us.” (Her brother is now a member of the junior golf program.)
The three-par, nine-hole course used to be called Jack Thompson GC, but LaCour lobbied to have it named after Hathaway – and the course was newly christened five years before Hathaway died. “It doesn’t make sense to give someone an honor if they can’t see it and feel it,” LaCour said.
Said Thornton: “I’m just proud to carry on Maggie’s legacy by introducing African-American youngsters to golf through The First Tee of South Los Angeles.”