In 1943, at 13, Matthew Bacoate, Jr. found work caddying at the Biltmore Forest Country Club. At the time, African Americans were not permitted to join the club, but he and his friends absorbed the intricacies of the game while hauling golf bags for the course’s white players. On occasion, Bacoate recalls, golfers would give the young caddies equipment to take home.
But Bacoate’s initial exposure to the game was brief. The same year he began caddying, his parents moved the family out of the South to pursue better work opportunities in the North.
In 1951, at 21, Bacoate was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in Korea. Three years prior, President Harry Truman had signed Executive Order 9981, desegregating the country’s armed forces.
Nevertheless, Bacoate says, “The people who were in charge went beyond the call of duty to make things difficult for the Negro. But I was determined that I would not allow the meanness to get to me. I overcame it by being positive and doing everything properly. It got the attention of those who were otherwise mean, and I gained their respect all the way through the military.”
After serving, Bacoate returned to his hometown in 1956, intent on making a positive change. “I got involved in civil rights and have been here ever since,” he says.
Three years later, the Skyview Golf Association was formed by Charles Collette, Sam Chavis, Raymond Bland, John Dendy, Sam Quick, Tommy Lee Nance, Boyce Layton, and Jesse G. Ray Sr. — some of whom, Bacoate points out, caddied with him back in 1943. According to the SGA website, the nonprofit was created “to promote golf competition among African American golfers throughout the United States.”
The following year, the association launched the inaugural Skyview Golf Tournament at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course. Bacoate was approached by the organizers to help promote the tournament, as well as manage the scoreboard.
Inspired by watching the great golfers at the 1960 competition, Bacoate picked back up the sport. Since then, he’s been a regular on the greens, where he connects with friends and business associates alike.
The 62nd annual Skyview Golf Tournament takes place Tuesday-Thursday, July 12-14, at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, 226 Fairway Drive. As in years past, Bacoate has helped organize the event.
Xpress recently caught up with Bacoate about his continued interest in the sport, the importance of Skyview Golf Association and how his military service informs who he is today.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Xpress: What keeps you returning to the golf course?
Bacoate: One thing that I’ve learned from playing is that when I’m concentrating on trying to hit the golf ball straight and arc properly, my mind is devoted only to that mission. I also notice that after I play golf, my mind is refreshed. It’s a therapy and also gives me an opportunity to be physical.
I also make it a little harder than it actually is. Even if I don’t hit a ball out of bounds on a hill, I will purposely run up and down the hill in order to strengthen my body. It’s a body and mind proposition with me.
Can you speak to the historical significance of the Skyview Golf Association?
Skyview Golf Association is one of 32 such organizations that helped launch Negro golfing. The Skyview is, to our knowledge, the only one left of those 32 that has a three-day golf tournament. Over 70% of the Negroes that went on to the PGA Tour cut their teeth coming to Asheville. Renowned players such as Chuck Thorpe and his brother, Jim Thorpe, as well as Lee Elder and Jim Dent all became high winners on the PGA Tour. Joe Louis [the famed boxer and avid golfer] even came here and played the Skyview one time.
Skyview was part of the Chitlin Circuit back in the ’60s and early ’70s. Folks would leave from New York or wherever they lived, travel here mostly by vehicle and bus, and stay with people whom they had met. When we were not allowed to stay in hotels, I recall the golfers who traveled here stayed in their cars. Several of the golfers even had their own cooking utensils so they could warm up their baked beans and their hotdogs. And those guys continued playing. They honed their skills and they became good at it. They went on to show up great for the Negro community at the top levels of golf.
Do you have a favorite memory from the tournament?
The latest one is [Harold] Varner. He is one of three Negroes on the big PGA Tour. He has been playing awesome the past three months. He’s won two tournaments. He played the Skyview as a youth and played the Skyview as a pro in 2014. And I had a chance to talk with him and be with him as he was ascending to the PGA.
Otherwise, it’s just being around golfers who made it to the PGA Tour — in particular, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent and Nate Stark. Just being in their presence here, sharing conversations as guys do is a great memory. And the fact that they played so well.
How does your military service support the work you do today?
It helped develop a discipline that I still use because my work requires a lot of time. I work the entire year promoting Skyview, and I work with three other nonprofits: YMI Cultural Center, LEAF Global Arts and the African American Heritage Committee. Daily, I’m motivated because of the good that I feel and see coming in as a result of my labor in making Skyview the golf presence that it is today — not only in Asheville but across the country.
As a veteran, is there a particular moment of recognition for your service that stands out?
I went on the Honor Flight in 2017 to Washington, D.C. One of the most awesome one-day excursions that a veteran could ever participate in. You board a plane and fly to Washington, D.C., and you’re carried by charter bus all over to historic sites, and then you assemble at the Vietnam, Second World War and Korean memorials.
During my trip there, I was chosen out of 1,200 soldiers to lay the wreath at the Korean Memorial — a big deal and a humbling experience. And the only training you get is to remember how you’ve seen the president do it. It was just surreal.
When I was told that I had been chosen, my mind went to the other 1,200 people that came from all over the country. It could have been any one of those gentlemen. But here I am from Asheville, North Carolina, chosen to lay the wreath.
I’ve had many humbling experiences. I’ve been invited to the White House twice, by President [Richard] Nixon in 1970 and President [Jimmy] Carter in 1980. I’ve had experiences working and traveling with [former N.C.] Gov. Jim Hunt. But nothing felt like that day in Washington, D.C., when I was chosen to lay the wreath.
For more information on how to observe or participate at this year’s 62nd Skyview Golf Tournament, visit skyviewgolfasheville.com.