April 9, 2014 update: Blog reader and contributor Leo “Jake” Murray saw our March 31st update and wrote to me the following concerning African-American golfers and Cobb’s Creek:
Cobb’s Creek Golf Club hosted three UGA Negro National Open Championship – 1936, 1947 and 1956. Howard Wheeler won in 1947 and Charlie Sifford captured the title in 1956. Wheeler was the Negro National Champion 6 times – 1933, 1938, 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1958 (no tournament 1942-1945). Sifford also won 6 times – five in a row from 1952 to 1956 and 1960. Although Wheeler was a local legend I don’t think he’s ever received the recognition he deserves.
As a teenager I knew Howard Wheeler, as I was at Cobb’s almost every day. Unfortunately his playing days were over, as I think he had rheumatoid arthritis. Most afternoons he could be found behind the 18th green of Cobb’s or on the 14th tee of Karakung. In the late afternoon the 14th to 18th holes of Karakung were favorites of the gamblers who had day jobs. It was known as the “Back Five”. I would always say ‘hi’ and make small talk. I always called him Mr. Wheeler. I had heard many stories about him over the years but never any from him. He was quiet and a real gentleman.
I spent time with him at the 1967 Philadelphia Golf Classic, a PGA event, held at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club from 1963 to 1980. Much to my surprise he was known to the pros. I had heard the stories about him and Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Porky Oliver but it wasn’t until recent years that I was able to fully research how great he was. I last saw him in the fall of 1967, as I enlisted in the Air Force and served in Vietnam. Howard Wheeler died on April 25, 1968. He was only 57. He was a World War II veteran and is buried at the Philadelphia National Cemetery.