TV review: ‘Uneven Fairways’

“I saw people making money, and I couldn’t make any money because I was black.”

Charlie Sifford’s righteous anger is evident in that remark as he recalls the decades when he and other gifted black golfers were barred from playing in PGA tournaments because of a Caucasian-only clause. In response, these men traveled the country playing on hardscrabble munis in the United Golf Association – golf’s answer to baseball’s Negro League.

Their stories are told in their own words in “Uneven Fairways,” a documentary that was to debut Feb. 11 on Golf Channel. All of the interviews are set against a stark white background, ensuring nothing will distract from what these men have to say. Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates, but Sifford and Jim Thorpe steal the show with moving stories that always underscore their passion for the game.

Thorpe recalls whittling down tobacco sticks into golf clubs and playing with old balls “as brown as my skin.” Emphatically, he adds, “You just played!”

“Uneven Fairways” has an understandable dearth of archival footage. And ironically, the documentary’s momentum stalls on the few occasions when Tiger Woods comes on screen.

His presence, while perhaps obligatory, feels forced, interrupting the compelling memoriesof the men who actually were there.

Moxie Pictures director Dan Levinson has been on a crusade to make “Uneven Fairways” since reading Pete McDaniel’s book of the same title seven years ago. Last year he finally found a partner when Golf Channel came on board.

“These are stories that should be told,” Golf Channel’s Keith Allo, the project’s executive producer, said in an interview. Sifford and others, he noted, weren’t “making a political statement. They just wanted to play golf.”

– Martin Kaufmann

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