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Did You Know a Black Dentist Invented the Golf Tee (and Other Golf/Dentistry Connections)?

Posted on: February 12th, 2024 | Categories: Dental History

As we commemorate Black History Month, it’s essential to shine a light on remarkable individuals whose contributions have left a lasting impact on our society. Among these pioneers is Dr. George Franklin Grant, a trailblazer in the fields of dentistry and golf.

Born in 1847 in Oswego, New York, Dr. Grant’s journey towards excellence began early in life. He initially worked for his local hometown dentist, Dr. Albert Smith, where he gained invaluable experience as an assistant. His dedication and ambition led him to Boston at the age of 19, where he continued his career as a dental assistant and eventually gained admission to Harvard Dental School, becoming the second African American to achieve this feat.

In 1870, Grant graduated with honors, setting the stage for a remarkable career that would fuse his passion for dentistry with his spirit of innovation. His most notable invention came to fruition on December 12, 1899, when he was granted U.S. Patent No. 638,920 for the world’s first golf tee. Although Dr. Grant was more of an inventor than a marketer and never commercialized his creation, he generously shared his tees with friends and golfing partners.

The intersection of dentistry and golf continued to evolve in the following decades, with figures like Dr. William Lowell making their mark. In 1920, Lowell, introduced the “Reddy Tee,” crafted from gutta-percha, a material used in dentistry. However, due to its brittleness, he later switched to using white birch. His marketing strategy, which involved paying PGA legend Walter Hagen to use and promote the “Reddy Tee,” propelled the product to $100,000 in sales in 1922 alone.

The influence of dentists in the world of golf extended beyond inventions and innovations. Figures like Emmett Cary Middlecoff, a professional golfer on the PGA Tour, exemplified the seamless transition between dentistry and golf. Despite graduating as a dentist, Middlecoff chose to retire early from dentistry to pursue a career in professional golf, ultimately earning 39 Tour wins and induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1986.

The affinity between dentists and golf is a phenomenon that persists to this day. An online poll of Dentaltown Magazine subscribers have shown that dentists are more likely to play golf compared to the general population, with statistics indicating that over half of respondents engage in the sport regularly, compared to 9% in the general population. Companies like Colgate recognized this connection, sponsoring events like the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic, a tournament on the PGA Tour from 1973 to 1982, further cementing the bond between dentistry and golf.

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