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Lee Elder Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Paine College

December 17, 2020

Paine College President Cheryl Evans Jones, Ph.D. headed the school's virtual commencement program that presented legendary golfer Lee Elder with an Honorary Degree. Assistant General Secretary of the Black College Fund Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson served as the keynote speaker at the December 5, 2020 program.

Excerpt from President Jones' speech: Robert Lee Elder made history as the first African American to play in the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  Mr. Elder developed an interest in golf at a young age while working in pro shops and caddying.  He served in the US Army from 1959 to 1961. Following his discharge, he joined the United Golf Association (UGA) Tour for Black players and had a dominant stretch winning 18 of 22 consecutive tournaments. He earned his PGA Tour card in 1968.

In 1971 he accepted a personal invitation from Gary Player to participate in the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was the first integrated tournament in the country's history.  In 1974, he earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the Monsanto Open which qualified him for the Masters here in Augusta.

In 1975, Lee Elder was the first African American to play in the prestigious Masters.  Throughout history, he qualified 6 times for the Masters and had 16 professional wins.  Mr. Elder will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as Honorary Starters for the ceremonial first tee shot at the 2021 Masters in Augusta.

In 1970, Lee Elder became the first African American to qualify for play in the Ryder Cup, a member of the notorious 1979 United States team.  Mr. Elder has used his career in golf to effect change and create opportunities for young golfers of all backgrounds.

In 1974, he and his wife established the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund to support low-income men and women attending college.  He has actively promoted summer youth development programs, raised money for the United Negro College Fund, served on advisory boards of Goodwill Industries, and supported the golf team of Paine College.

On November 9, 2020 the Augusta National Golf Club honored Lee Elder with the announcement of the Lee Elder Endowed Scholarship for a male and female golf player at Paine College.  The Augusta National will sponsor the female golf program at the college. 

Mr. Lee Elder, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Paine College Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon you the Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities, thereto appertaining.

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