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Horton Smith's name removed from Detroit Golf Club tournament

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Arguably the state's most prestigious and exclusive amateur golf tournament, the Horton Smith Invitational is getting a new name.

Held annually at Detroit Golf Club as a tribute to the club's former head professional and inaugural Masters champion, the tournament, effectively immediately, will be called the Michigan Medal Play, the tournament committee told the club this week.

Detroit Golf Club.

The committee's decision follows the PGA of America's early July announcement that it was removing Smith's name from one of its top annual awards because of Smith's staunch support of whites-only membership while PGA president in the 1950s.

The PGA of America had a whites-only clause from 1934 through 1961.

"In renaming the Horton Smith Award, the PGA of America is taking ownership of a failed chapter in our history that resulted in excluding many from achieving their dreams of earning the coveted PGA member badge and advancing the game of golf," PGA president Suzy Whaley said in a statement earlier this month — in fact, the statement was made July 2, which happened to be the first day of the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, Smith's home course. "We need to do all we can to ensure the PGA of America is defined by inclusion. Part of our mission to grow the game is about welcoming all and bringing diversity to the sport."

In a letter to Detroit Golf Club's board of directors obtained by The News on Monday, the tournament committee said: "In support of the recent decision by the PGA to change the name of the Horton Smith Award to the PGA Development Award, the Horton Smith Committee will remove Horton Smith’s name from our championship. Effective immediately, the tournament will be the Michigan Medal Play at Detroit Golf Club."

The invitational is held in the spring, and has taken place at Detroit Golf Club every year since 1964, the year after Smith died.

In 1971, the tournament merged with the Michigan Medal Play — which was played at a rotating series of Metro Detroit clubs — and is a 72-hole stroke-play championship with a 36-hole cut.

Smith won the first Masters in 1934, won it again in 1936 and had 32 PGA Tour wins. He's a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.

Smith was head pro at Detroit Golf Club from 1946 until his death. He was president of the PGA of American from 1952-54. 

One notable exception to the whites-only rule Smith trumpeted during his tenure as PGA president came in January 1952, when Detroit legend and boxing great Joe Louis — who picked up golf in retirement, notably at Rackham in Huntington Woods — was allowed to play in a tournament in San Diego in 1952.

Multiple times in the last several weeks, The News has reached out to Detroit Golf Club officials to inquire about the future of the tournament's name. General manager Derek Jacques and head professional Josh Upson didn't return messages, and club president Mark Douglas declined to comment on the matter, saying the tournament isn't officially run by the club but rather a committee.

"We are just the host course," Douglas said.

The tournament, which was canceled this year because of COVID-19, was the biggest annual event at Detroit Golf Club until two years ago, when the club landed the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984