A Legacy of Perseverance: State Senator Steven Bradford Follows in the Footsteps of Legends
When opening day arrives for the fully renovated Maggie Hathaway GC, two miles east down Century Blvd. from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, there will no doubt be speeches and ribbon cuttings by dignitaries. They will all laud the multimillion-dollar project and its expected positive impact of bringing new players, particularly children of color, to the game in one of L.A.’s most diverse regions.
Among the people most important to the cause is California State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat whose 35th District includes the Maggie Hathaway course, who will likely feel the rush of emotion that comes with one of life’s full-circle moments. As a child growing up in Gardena, Bradford, now 63, was encouraged by his parents to play golf, and he recounts that his first-ever round was played at the nine-hole, par-3 layout then called the Jack Thompson Golf Course — renamed for African American singer/activist/writer and enthusiastic golfer Maggie Hathaway in 1997.
“I was totally intimidated,” Bradford says with a laugh. “I hadn’t taken a formal lesson at the time. Playing Maggie for the first time, I thought it was going to be an easy game. I quickly learned that it was far more than swinging a club.”
Young Steven emerged undaunted from that first trip and an interest in golf took hold. Bradford eventually played for Gardena High School’s boy’s golf team, and he had hopes of competing in college when he went to San Diego State on his way to eventually graduating from Cal State Dominguez Hills. But a stark reality hit when he inquired about playing for the Aztecs, whose squad at the time included future PGA Tour pro Lennie Clements. “I thought I knew how to play golf, only to realize that even the college level was a whole lot different from what I’d been playing,” Bradford says.
The disappointment made him put down the clubs for a while, but Bradford eventually came back and has enjoyed the game ever since. He says he once played to a single-digit handicap while working as an executive at companies such as Southern California Edison and IBM, but he laments, “I’m lucky if I’m a 16 now,” primarily because of his all-consuming service in government — as the first African American City Council member in Gardena, then in the California State Assembly and as state senator since 2016. (Bradford is set to term out in 2024.)
“The rumors of all elected officials playing a lot of golf aren’t true — unless you’re that other guy who left the White House,” Bradford says, chuckling. “I play very little golf, but I do play great courses.”
He said in the last year he’s played Pebble Beach three times, along with other marquee courses such as Spyglass Hill and Torrey Pines. Near home, Bradford enjoys Rancho Park and Los Verdes, and when the invite comes, Wilshire CC is a favorite. He’s played the iconic Riviera CC, but there are uneasy memories there, too. Bradford says he once showed up for a high school tournament at Riviera, only to be pointed to the caddie entrance. “It was an awakening to me that there were still biases held in the game,” he says.
Two Los Angeles courses where the color of your skin wasn’t an issue were the Chester L. Washington GC (formerly Western Avenue), just north of Gardena, and Maggie Hathaway. Chester Washington was the frequent playground and game hustling spot for many of golf’s greatest Black players, including SoCal Golf Hall-of-Famer, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Bill Spiller and Teddy Rhodes. Jim Brown and Joe Louis also showed up to play on occasion, as did Earl Woods with his young son Tiger.
Bradford was fortunate enough to see most of those guys in person, and one of his greatest memories in golf is playing in a pro-am with Sifford, the first African American player to earn his PGA Tour card. “As I tell folks, Mr. Sifford didn’t teach me a damn thing about golf,” Bradford says. “He taught me about perseverance, about picking yourself up and overcoming challenges. That’s what he exemplified more than anything.”
In the person of Maggie Hathaway, Bradford experienced a completely different role model. As a boy, he was fortunate enough to be around the Jack Thompson course when Hathaway was frequently there. He remembers a tall woman who always wore a head scarf and had a commanding presence. Hathaway, who died in 2001 at the age of 90, arrived in Hollywood with an acting career in mind, but instead made her mark as a singer and later a civil rights activist. She took up golf on a bet with Joe Louis, had a newspaper golf column and was a leading voice in pressing for Lee Elder’s inclusion in the 1975 Masters and for integration at local golf courses. Hathaway also was the founding president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood NAACP.
“Maggie was the connective tissue” in bringing pro golfers, celebrities, other athletes and activists together, Bradford contends. Which is why is he so thrilled that the course she so loved is finally getting a massive makeover that will send a message to the entire community that golf can provide an avenue to life success.
“I think it’s critical,” Bradford says. “It shows where there is a priority, especially in a community of color, that these courses are important. We have this opportunity to not only save a course, but to preserve it and bring it to new conditions and standards. That speaks volumes right now.”