Teardrop or not, Louis Willie's forced admission to Shoal Creek broke barriers that extended well beyond Birmingham. Deane Beman, commissioner of the PGA Tour, which stages 118 tournaments a year but not the PGA Championship (it is run by the PGA of America), said of the upheaval in Birmingham, "Looking back, it was inevitable that racism in golf would become an issue, but we were not preparing for it. We never saw this coming. Black players never complained about their treatment at clubs, and no civil-rights groups were complaining. We weren't focused on it at all. But the Tour's position is very clear now."
Last week, the PGA Tour announced it would not hold tournaments at clubs that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin, threatening that "in the event a golf club indicates that its membership practices and policies are nondiscriminatory but there is information that raises a question as to such practices and policies (e.g., all-white membership), the staff is authorized to require on a case-by-case basis that as a condition of hosting an event, the applicable golf club take appropriate action to encourage minority membership."
This seemed to draw the line so sharply that any private club that continues even a hidden practice of excluding minorities cannot expect to host a PGA tournament. The policy would appear to apply even to clubs that have had an historic association with the Tour, such as the Cypress Point Golf Club on California's Monterey Peninsula. Since 1947, Cypress Point has been one of the three superb courses (the others are now Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, both public) on which the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (formerly the Bing Crosby) is held. But Cypress Point's membership is exclusively white, and past president William Borland said of the PGA's ultimatum: "That's a strong and difficult statement. Under the circumstances, that could make it difficult to hold the tournament at Cypress. What we do, I don't know."
Many—indeed most—other famous private clubs, including some booked for future U.S. Opens (Hazeltine '91, Baltusrol '93, Oakmont '94, Shinnecock Hills '95) and PGA Championships (Crooked Stick '91, Bellerive '92 and Aronimink '93), have no black members at this point, either. Several of them have announced their willingness to accept black members if only some who can afford it will apply. Even Augusta National seems to be abandoning the old plantation mentality. The club's crusty chairman, Hord Hardin, a former St. Louis banker and lawyer, announced last week from his Harbor Springs, Mich., summer home that his 300-member, hyperexclusive, all-white club was expecting to add a black member, the first since Bobby Jones founded the club in 1932. Hardin was not happy that many people assumed he was only reacting to the ruckus in Birmingham.
"We have been discussing it for about a year," he said. "Yes, we concluded at least a year ago that there were more black people playing golf, more black people climbing the business ladder, more climbing the scientific and educational ladders, and we realized that there were people in that group who would enjoy being with the people we have as members. I don't want to create the impression that all of our members are enthusiastic about this. Shoal Creek perhaps expedited something that we would have liked to do in our own way. The ideal way, to my mind, would have been that we would bring in a black with no announcement, just as we bring in all of our members. And then, two or three years down the road, someone would come up to me and say, 'You mean you got a black member and he's been in two years and you never told anyone?' " Hardin said invitations to new members usually go out before the club reopens in October.
One extraordinary aspect of the Shoal Creek affair is that so much seems to have changed so fast with absolutely no dictates from the courts and no major civil-rights protests to threaten the old order. Nor has there been any significant grassroots concern by the American public-black or white—over racism in American country clubs. Nor was there even the hint of a voluntary rush to equality by the golf establishment—players, commissioners or clubs in general. Everyone came too reluctantly or too late to be able to claim any credit for creating this breakthrough. So why did it happen at all?
Ironically, it was American business that created the climate for the revolution. ESPN and ABC Sports are televising this week's tournament, and as the echoes of Thompson's words spread across the tees and greens of the land, slowly but surely corporations that were expected to advertise began to reconsider. Early in July, IBM refused to buy time on ABC's Shoal Creek telecasts, saying that "supporting, even indirectly, exclusionary activities is against IBM's practices and policies." That started a stampede for the exits, and by last week five more companies had said they could not in good conscience pursue any commercial connections with Shoal Creek. Toyota "recommended" that its paid endorsers, players such as Lee Trevino, not wear the company logo during the tournament. The networks, Shoal Creek and the tournament executives watched in horror. Jim Awtrey, executive director of PGA of America, said last week, "It was disappointing to see the corporate sponsors distance themselves from us so fast. We thought it would have been nice if they had given us a little time to resolve the issue before they pulled out."
Of course, the laughable part of the situation is American businessmen's rushing to distance themselves from exclusionary clubs, when in fact the structure of racism, sexism and all-around white male chauvinism in these institutions is primarily the handiwork of—who else?—American businessmen. And it is worth noting that even though corporations were quick to run away from Shoal Creek, there were no broad directives telling executives to resign their company-subsidized memberships at clubs guilty of the same practices.
Nevertheless, business's high-profile rejection of racism in golf was gratifying. Grant Spaeth, president of the United States Golf Association, which represents 6,800 golf clubs and courses and runs the U.S. Open, said, "Corporate America fuels a big hunk of golf in the U.S. by supporting private clubs as well as sponsoring tournaments, and it was good to see them in the middle of this issue. This will have a very beneficial impact on private clubs, and I, for one, hope American business continues to be tough about it. It is a wonderful blending of profit and altruism."
Of course, one of the more bizarre aspects of all this is the great white hunt for blacks to join country clubs that was bound to ensue. Whereas a black was formerly a pariah because of his pigmentation, now he is sought out for precisely the same wrong reason. O.J. Simpson is a member of several clubs in Los Angeles, including the enlightened, multiracial Riviera Country Club, but in just the past two weeks he has been invited to become a charter member of the Sherwood Country Club, a lavish new layout with a Nicklaus course in Thousand Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles. Simpson accepted but said, "I must admit I wondered about why I was asked to join and why my name came up in a board meeting now, and then my mind went to the Shoal Creek situation. I would imagine that virtually every club in America must be having conversations about who to tap for minority membership."