By John Reger
It’s been an exciting life for Beverly Johnson, a pioneer in the fashion world for more than three decades. In 1974, at the age of 21, she was the first African-American supermodel to grace the cover of Vogue, and since, she has appeared on more than 500 magazine covers, from Glamour and Cosmopolitan to Essence and Ebony. The 57-year-old Johnson is now an avid golfer who lives at PGA West in La Quinta, and when she’s not working, can usually be found out on the golf course.
You’ve been called the Jackie Robinson of the modeling industry. Being a female golfer, did you find similar challenges when you started playing golf?
Jackie Robinson’s quite a legend — he broke the color barrier in baseball and I did the same in the fashion world. Being a female in golf wasn’t quite as difficult. It wasn’t intimidating to play, but it was challenging to gain respect. I had to stand my ground. It was really interesting because there was this sort-of male domination of the sport. I remember there were times when guys were hitting right over our heads before we even got off the tee. We would have to go up and have a few words. Once you start playing at a certain level, though, you gain respect of guys.
Where did you learn the game?
I played at Rancho Park in Los Angeles, and I was very fortunate that I had a teacher right off the bat who taught me the game every day for two years. I love playing the municipal courses. I joined a team there; we played all over California. I’m playing to an 18 handicap right now but have been down to a 10. I haven’t been playing like that recently. I am reconstructing my swing and revisiting some things I used to do.
You were also an accomplished swimmer growing up and just missed qualifying for the 1968 Olympic Games.
I swam competitively when I was in high school. I did a lot of Junior Olympic and AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) meets; our swim times were put in and it was exciting that a couple of us came close.
What’s your favorite California golf course?
I live on the 10th hole of The Stadium Course at PGA West; it’s just my dream place, it’s such a challenging course. We also have five other courses, so I’m very fortunate to have six amazing places I can play. My other favorites are Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, which I love.
What’s your best moment in playing golf?
My best experience was when I went to Scotland. My whole game changed, including my understanding of it. It was an awesome experience. I got to play the Old Course at St Andrews; it was very incredible. You get the sense of the history of the game and the courses. I was thinking around the golf course; you really get an understanding of how to play the game.
What are some courses you would like to play?
I don’t even know where to begin! I want to play Bethpage Black, a number of private courses, and some places in Oregon. There are so many amazing courses, it’s hard to choose. I’d like to go back to Scotland, and I want to go to Ireland and Australia.
Have you had any embarrassing golf moments?
Every time I go out. I’ve actually hit the ball off the tee up in the air and into my shirt pocket. You want to talk about people laughing! You could never do that. Tiger couldn’t even do that.
You have a very successful hair products company. Are you ever able to mix golf and business?
My work definitely gets in the way of my golf. I am lucky, though, that I can do those things from home office. I play every day if I’m home.
Have you ever had to play fashion police to some guy wearing checkered pants on the course?
I have an ongoing critique out here with some of the members with how they dress. I would imagine my friends and I are the fashion police of PGA West. We have a lot of fun with it though.
What’s more important on the golf course — playing well or looking good?
Playing well, but I have to look good to play well. I have to look a certain way, but the most important thing to me is if I am putting well I am feeling good.
Who’s in your ideal golf foursome?
I would definitely love to play with Tiger Woods. I’ve seen him play, but would love to play with him. I would also like to play with Annika Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus. I think that would be a lot of fun.
What is one thing you’d like to accomplish on the course?
I want to shoot par. I shot 75 several times when I was playing well, and when I was playing in my municipal league I was consistently in the 70s, but I would like to shoot par. I have never done that and it’s one of my goals.