Chris Pinckney: A Story of Grit & Determination

Mr. Chris Pinckney pictured with wife Beatrice, granddaughter Megan, and great-grandson Teagan.

February 22, 2023 | Local Spotlight

Mr. Chris Pinckney could be described as a “usual suspect” at the Charleston Municipal Golf Course. In fact, Charleston City Paper wrote an article on the subject in 2021 to celebrate renovations to the beloved course. In that article, we learned that Mr. Pinckney has been playing the Muni’s citywide amateur golf tournament since 1962. He even won the city title in ’79 and ’83. The now 79 year-old James Island native still plays the course two or three times a week, a freedom that he hasn’t always enjoyed.

As a youth (13 or 14) in the late 50s, Mr. Pinckney worked as a caddy for the Muni. He wasn’t allowed to play the course until 1961, when it became the first in South Carolina (public or private) to successfully integrate.

As an organization that exists to promote access to golf and all the intrinsic and extrinsic opportunities that go along with it, we found ourselves wondering… How does a young man without course access learn to play (and learn to play extremely well)?

We decided to give Mr. Pinckney a call to find out.

Mr. Pinckney told us that he was one of the first black golfers to play the Muni in 1961. He was 17 or 18 at the time and had already learned a great deal about the game as a caddy and from his older brother, Irvin Pinckney. The Pinckney family lived on a plot of land off Riverland Dr that had been purchased by Chris and Irvin’s grandfather. Irvin made a few golf holes on the property, and Chris recalls school friends stopping by to play. The boys also sharpened their game at the Little Rock Club on Grimball Road, a homemade 6-hole course designed by Richard “Lunk” Smalls in the 1950s. That course and military bases would have been the only facilities open to black golfers in South Carolina prior to integration of the Muni. Mr. Pinckney would eventually gain access to base courses when he went to work as a welder and machinist, first for the Naval shipyard and then the Air Force Base.

Competitive Play Inspires Port City Golf Club

Fast forward to 1961. Mr. Pinckney is an adept golfer with ambitions of competitive play, but tournament entry presented yet another stumbling block. “[In the 60s] these guys could play the course, but they couldn’t get a handicap because our course isn’t a club…” says Marshall Ormand, Charleston Municipal Golf Course Manager. “That’s why they [Mr. Pinckney, Johnny Middleton, and a few others] started the Port City Club. When that didn’t work, they started the Port City Classic Golf Tournament. It’s an incredible story.”

“Golf has been really, really good to me. It keeps my mind sharp… And the Muni has been good to me. It’s allowed me to qualify for tournaments all over.”

– Chris Pinckney

Mr. Pinckney has competed in a variety of public links tournaments. He’s traveled to Florida, Maine, Arizona, and Hawaii to play. In Phoenix, he finished 4th in the nation.

Mr. Pinckney’s bride, Beatrice, accompanied him to tournaments in Florida and Hawaii. She has fond memories of annual trips to North Carolina where the couple made lifelong friends… “Golf opens doors… You meet a lot of nice people on the golf course,” she says.

Golf seems to be keeping Mr. Pinckney young, a good thing now that he has grandchildren and one great grand to enjoy. He looks forward to teaching his great grandson to play one day, and Mr. Pinckney’s granddaughter, Megan Pinckney Rutherford (who also happens to be Miss South Carolina USA 2013) is eager for her son to carry on her grandfather’s legacy…

“His is a story of grit and determination and deserves telling. Can you imagine loving something so much, and being told that you can’t be a part of it because of the color of your skin, but then going on to be successful at it anyways? Growing up we all knew how much the sport meant to him; he spent most of his free time on the golf course… but it wasn’t until I was older that I could understand why. He had been denied access to that course so, in a way, it was like he was making up for lost time.”

– Megan Pinckney Rutherford

Mr. Pinckney Meets Our Game Changers

Earlier this month, Mr. Pinckney, Mrs. Pinckney, and Megan met our Game Changers at Topgolf. We talked about what it means to persevere, and the kids asked Mr. Pinckney about tournaments, traveling, and his shoe size (for the record, he wears a 12). We also discovered that Mr. and Mrs. Pinckney attended Gretchen Meggett High School where they were taught by Coach Johnson’s grandmother.

Mr. Pinckney can still drive a ball over 200 yards, and the kids were eager to watch.

When asked if he had any advice for young golfers, Mr. Pinckney said, “You just got to get out there and do it.”

We hope our young people will take that advice to heart—on and off the golf course. When life is hard, when others doubt, when a system is unfair… We hope they will remember Mr. Pinckney, who, despite incredible odds, became one of Charleston’s greatest golfers.