With grit and grace, Barbara Douglas championed golf

Barbara Douglas was the first minority leader of the USGA Women's Committee.

Barbara Douglas walked and carried her golf bag until age 66. It wasn’t unusual for those who joined Douglas to get rid of their carts at the turn.

“That’s the kind of effect and influence she had with people,” said Bob Tomisak, Douglas’ closest friend.

Douglas, the first minority chairman of the U.S. Golf Association's Women’s Committee, died Jan. 27 after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer at age 69. She was in line to captain the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship this fall in Turkey.

“Regrettably, she was given another assignment,” Tomisak said.

Douglas, a former executive with IBM, carried herself with an exceptional amount of poise and grace. Friends say she ironed the shirts that came back from the laundry. Her smile was warm, and her voice was soft.

Martha Lang, the current chairman of the Women's Committee, said Douglas spoke with her hands a lot during meetings when she championed causes such as the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program. She always did have beautiful hands.

At the Golf Writers Association of America dinner last spring in Augusta, Ga., Douglas was honored with the Ben Hogan Award, given to an individual who continues to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or illness.

Golfweek editor Jeff Babineau introduced Douglas and choked back tears as he spoke of the courage she’d shown at championships around the world during her quiet battle with cancer. At the dinner table, Douglas lobbied (successfully) to send yours truly to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links last summer at Bandon Dunes.

The WAPL held a special place in Douglas’ heart as she competed in the championship as an adult and later served on the committee. She was a champion of public golf and a staunch supporter of the organization that governs the game.

“The USGA meant everything to her,” said Christi Dickinson, a longtime friend and fellow committee member.

Douglas was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer one month after she was appointed chairman, and she never skipped a beat. Lang said Douglas had doctors change her chemotherapy cycle so that she could work USGA championships – including the 2010 World Amateur in Argentina.

“To do all that and be fighting the odds that she was fighting,” Lang said, “she had more intestinal fortitude than all of us put together.”

Roberta Buldoc captained Team USA in Argentina and said Douglas was particularly ill that week. Still, she insisted on accompanying a group each day to make sure they had snacks and sandwiches. I walked several holes with Douglas that week, chatting away about grow-the-game initiatives. Per usual, she never mentioned her ailments. In fact, she stayed longer than the team to attend meetings and even played golf.

“She was one of those people that she would wake up in the morning, and if she felt good, she’d go play golf,” Lang said. “And if she felt bad, she’d go play golf.”

Judy Bell said Douglas had as much passion for golf as anyone she’d ever seen.

Tomisak, who met Douglas at a golf course, dropped their club membership at Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale, Ariz., after she had cancer surgery in March 2009. He thought golf might be over. In March 2011, Douglas wanted to rejoin.

She played three times a week with Tomisak and once with the girls through last fall. She slowed down in November and backed out of plans to play on New Year’s Day. Douglas had exhausted traditional chemotherapy and tried several clinical trials but never gave up hope.

Douglas was a private person who never whined or complained, though she felt the hospital gowns were “for the birds.” On one occasion, Tomisak said, she clenched her fists, fighting in silence.

Douglas was president of the National Minority Golf Foundation for five years and a member of National Black Golf Hall of Fame, though race wasn’t always at the forefront of her mind.

“It wasn’t about color,” Bell said. “It wasn’t about gender. She was a golfer who loved the game.”

Tomisak was with Douglas when she slipped away in her sleep at her Glendale home. Her friends are planning a celebration in her honor at one of the public-access courses in the Phoenix area at a later date. Dickinson said Douglas loved white flowers.

Tomisak recently heard a line about golf in heaven that he thought suited his beloved friend.

“She probably got to the pearly gates and said, ‘Before I go in, I want to look at the golf course,’ ” Tomisak said with a chuckle.

Oh, how she loved the game.

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