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This Masters week, Paine College to salute golf legend Lee Elder

Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 10:41 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga (WRDW/WAGT) - Leading up to the 85th Masters Tournament, Lee Elder will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree for lifetime achievement.

Elder, the first African American man to compete at the most prestigious golf tournament, will be honored with a reception Tuesday at historically Black Paine College in Augusta.

The college in December conferred an honorary doctorate on Elder during a virtual commencement convocation.

This time, the college will re-enact the occasion with a hooding ceremony in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to humanity.

The Augusta National Golf Club has invited Elder to serve as an honorary starter for the 2021 Masters Tournament, and he’ll Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to tee off the tournament Thursday.

The organization also plans to establish endowed scholarships in honor of Elder and underwrite 100 percent of a new women’s golf program at Paine College.

Winning the 1974 Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Fla., earned Elder an invitation to compete in the 1975 Masters Tournament. He was the first African-American to compete in the 1971 South African PGA during the Apartheid era upon receiving an invitation from Gary Player. He was also the first African-American to play in the Ryder Cup in 1979.

Lee Elder, the first African-American player  to play the Masters, will be honored through a...
Lee Elder, the first African-American player to play the Masters, will be honored through a scholarship at Paine College.(Augusta National Golf Club)

Elder’s relationship with Paine College began 41 years ago in 1975 when he accepted an invitation from the college’s then-President Julius S. Scott to attend a reception in his honor.

Michael Thurmond, now the college’s board of trustees president, was then Student Government Association president and welcomed Elder during the festivities held at Paine House.

“As soon as I arrived on the campus, I immediately knew I had come home,” said Elder, recalling the warm reception from the Paine College Family.

“I departed Paine College and Augusta with a sense of knowing that I had made a difference and carried with me an extended family. It is my vision that the Augusta community and the world will embrace Paine College just as Paine embraced me 41 years ago. My hope is that philanthropists and the corporate community will support this Historically Black College that continues to generate opportunities for many students who otherwise would not have the chance to get a college degree.”

Tuesday’s reception will be hosted by Thurmond and college President Cheryl Evans Jones. Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, will join the college in paying tribute to the golf pioneer, and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. is also on the guest list to extend honors.

The invitation-only event will be held on the front lawn facing 15th Street. Invitations are non-transferable.

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