SI Vault
Edited by Craig Neff
July 09, 1990
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July 09, 1990


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"This is an embarrassment for golf," said a PGA of America official last week. He was referring to the fact that the club hosting this August's PGA Championship, the Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, has no black members and—worse—seems unreceptive to even the idea of having black members. "That's just not done in Birmingham," Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson said when asked about accepting blacks into the all-white club. He added that "the country club is our home, and we pick and choose whom we want." Thompson later said he was sorry he had made the remarks, but he did not retract them.

Discrimination by private golf clubs is a complex subject. In effect, most country clubs discriminate; they invite only certain hand-picked individuals to join, and turn away everyone else. Even though few clubs have written policies barring specific groups (e.g., blacks, women, Jews and Hispanics) from membership, many—if not most-clubs remain male, white bastions, sometimes because of unwritten discriminatory policies, sometimes because the members simply don't have any close friends of different colors or religions to invite in as members. In some cities and states, private clubs are legally barred from discriminating, but the laws vary. For example, some pertain only to clubs of a certain size, some only to clubs that are regularly used for business purposes.

In selecting the site for its annual championship, the PGA of America (an organization of club pros that is separate from the PGA Tour) has generally dodged the discrimination issue and based its choice primarily on the quality of a course. The USGA, it should be noted, operates the same way in choosing a site for the U.S. Open, as do most other golf organizations that hold championships at a different site each year. "From our standpoint, if you set a policy against those private clubs [that do discriminate], it would significantly narrow down the number of clubs available at which to hold the tournament," says Jim Awtrey, the PGA of America's executive director and chief executive officer.

Besides being a sad comment on the extent of discrimination that exists, those words understate the potential influence of the PGA, the USGA and the PGA Tour. These bodies could do a lot to combat discrimination—and, incidentally, save themselves from future Shoal Creek-type "embarrassments"—if they declared that in considering tournament sites, they would favor clubs that have outstanding courses and open-minded membership policies.


The event was billed as "a unique look at the country's future engineering leaders," and unique it was. The third annual National Concrete Canoe Competition, staged two weeks ago in Amherst, N.Y., by the American Society of Civil Engineers, brought together engineering students from 19 colleges for two days of racing—and scientifically explaining the buoyancy of—the two-person concrete canoes they had built.

"If you think about it, concrete is seven times lighter than steel, and steel is what they make barges out of," said Michigan State senior David Jeakle, copaddler for the Spartan men (each school was represented by a men's boat, a women's boat and a coed boat). "You pretty much know it's going to float. What you worry about is whether the bottom is strong enough that you don't crack it when you kneel."

Though the canoes weighed an average of 175 pounds (down from an elephantine 300 last year), none sank, and only one, from the City College of New York, suffered significant cracking. The vessels earned points for design, construction, speed and maneuverability; 60% of each team's score was based on oral and written presentations, 40% on sprint and distance races. The paddles, by the way, were made of fiberglass, not concrete.

When all the points were tallied, Jeakle and his Michigan State teammates had edged Maryland for first place, thereby winning $5,000 in scholarship money for their school's civil engineering department. While Michigan State claimed to have trained harder than other teams, the Spartans also may have benefited from the lightness of their boat, a 109-pound, shiny-hulled beauty named the Rowing Stone.

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